‘Over half of US workplaces block social networks’

Via a Webware.com article published last week, I learned that more than half of United States workplaces block social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. A survey of about 1,400 US chief information officers by consulting firm Robert Half Technology shows 54% block social networks “completely,” while 19% allow social networking “for business purposes”.

While Caroline McCarthy rightly points out how complicated it can be to interpret such figures, these headline figures are probably on the low side when it comes to workers in the contractual and innately conservative and risk-averse world of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and facilities management (FM). As I noted recently (see Why social media bans won’t work), other US research suggests that 67% of AEC firms block employees from social networking while at work.

Such figures are depressing (and I expect the UK experience is little different), and mean that advocates – like me – of Web 2.0 for AEC people face an uphill struggle to persuade organisations of the value. Around two-thirds of industry workers are effectively being denied any chance to evaluate the potential of the technologies to support their professional and business activities. And with little or no exposure to social media in their day-to-day working lives, it isn’t surprising that industry professionals can be sceptical and/or resistant.

Some of the presentations at last week’s Be2camp@WorkingBuildings2009 at London Olympia last week (which I helped organise) would, I think, have helped challenge such orthodox views.  Social media is not just about PR, marketing and sales. In one Wednesday afternoon alone, attendees at this ‘unconference’ heard about:

  • mobile telephone technology being used to support real-time collaboration between site and office (Woobius Eye)
  • deploying Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and social media to facilitate international design competitions (Build London Live)
  • a “micro-multinational” working across geographical boundaries to create a virtual design studio by using a combination of ArchiCAD 13 and social networking (Amonle Studio Workshop)
  • taking environmental sensor data and presenting real-time information on building performance (Pachube)
  • using a Second Life virtual world to support Health & Safety training (Daden)

Accordingly, I think this unconference clearly demonstrated that there is much more to Web 2.0 than social networking. Being Web 2.0- savvy will, in many cases, give some AEC and FM businesses competitive advantages in their products and services – but many will first have to let down the drawbridge before their people can begin to learn about and apply these tools and techniques effectively.


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    • Netsmith on 12 October 2009 at 6:31 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Paul,

    As you know I’m heavily into the whole web 2.0 scene and have been for many years – I’ve a vested interest in the people using the web more to collaborate and communicate. I still can’t help feeling that one of the biggest parts in the lack of take up at a business level my actually come down to the PR of the technology. “Web 2.0”, “Social Web” etc. I can see instantly putting businesses on the defensive. I think the ‘sell’ becomes much easier when talkers focus less on the buzz words and more on the functionality and services it brings. Once you start talking about live video broadcasting, realtime collaboration on projects it suddenly becomes much more business friendly (even though the underlying technologies remain the same)

    Thinking as I type so this might be easy to shoot down in flames, but its easy to be disappointed in companys carpet blanking of facebook and twitter – the real question is what drove them to making that decision? Crack that and then things move forward. If its just a knee jerk reaction to scaring ‘social terms’ that in their head mean ‘drop in productivity’ then that needs addressing. If on the other hand they are actually making those decisions based on network monitoring of what employees have been using those sites for then its another issue. If they are reacting to real tangible drops in productivity etc. then the companies in question need help and guidance on how to manage it. Thats a tough question to answer how do you justify whats valid and whats not? Who ‘needs’ access and who doesn’t. How do you measure that the ROI is on its use on a per person basis, ‘i’ being the time the person invests in updating his facebook page etc.

    Not that figures alone are the answer (in part I think they are partially the problem) but I would love to see the stats the companies used to come to the decision they have. What percentage of an employees time is spent on ‘social networks’ that brings no value to the company at all and compare to possible value on allowing the door to remain open.


    1. Some good points there, Chris.

      I agree with your point about the terminology. Some commentators are talking about Enterprise 2.0 or Business 2.0, and I think such terms may help so long as the business orientation is maintained. By the way, I particularly liked a comment made last week by one Be2camp Brum attendee, Adam Tinworth, @adders on Twitter:

      Officially bored of the phrase “social media” now. I’m just going to call it “media” and everything else can be “anti-social media”.

      When Portsmouth City Council recently announced a ban on social networking it emerged that employees were apparently spending an average of about 90 seconds a week on social networking sites. OK, some people won’t be on such sites at all, but even if social networking was a minority pursuit of just a third of employees, the average time would still be less than a minute a day. The Taxpayers Alliance knee-jerk reaction was to applaud the ban, but, as I explained in my previous post, I don’t believe a ban will be particularly effective in improving productivity – probably, just the opposite in fact.

      IMHO, if they haven’t already done so, organisations need to update disciplinary procedures and policies on acceptable use of corporate IT so that they give clear guidance on what is and what isn’t responsible use of social networking tools and techniques.

      Identifying the ROI of an individual’s social networking output is going to be difficult, but where organisations have actively embraced the tools, the collective efforts of lots of individuals frequently results in major business benefits, both through enhanced internal collaboration and information sharing, and through better relationships with external stakeholders (customers, suppliers, local residents, etc, etc).

    • Netsmith on 13 October 2009 at 8:28 am
    • Reply

    Hi Paul,

    I think the Portsmouth stats illustrate what I meant by ‘numbers/stats being part of the problem’ Without knowing exactly what ’90 seconds a week’ means it hard to draw conclusions from it. I’m interested to know more, does it measure posting time, browsing time, or even length of time to fetch data – it would mean quite different things in each case and also leave the door open for big drops in productivity caused by the other two if it was just a measure of one of them.

    Just playing devils advocate but 90 seconds a week in a company of 5000 still adds up to quite a lot (125hrs a week regardless of its little bits of thousands of people or days of just a few)

    Wether this time lost is worse than any other distraction such as chatting, txts, taking personal calls etc is also very debatable.

    I think the point is managers and directors need help and guidance in understanding how it can all be managed. I’m sure most can see the benefits of it when it works but the fear of what it opens them upto is too much at the moment. I’d love to see some blog posts from big corporations discussing how they monitor and manage it on their networks. I would imagine there has got to be some quite sophisticated tools out there now to help.

    I agree that what ever measurement tools you have though or what ever access you give to you employees, its no substitution for proper usage guidelines and disciplinary procedures. (The tools just help back you up when trying to enforce them)

    As for naming, personally I feel the whole ‘2.0’ thing is wearing thin. Its been around long enough now for it to feel ‘out of date’ itself. On top of that I think its very ‘techie’ and implies a bit of a fad

    and I also don’t like the word Internet and think that should be changed to. LOL, just kidding.


    1. The key point about ’90 seconds a day’ is that it is such a small amount of time, and – as you say – could just as easily be taken up by an individual chatting about last night’s football to a colleague, texting someone or popping to the loo to reapply their make-up.

      Managers certainly need help and guidance. I exchanged some emails and blog posts with HOK architects earlier this year and they have a very enlightened and integrated approach to social media (see this guest post). Implicit in a lot of what HOK have done is trust and delegation of responsibilities, but I dare say that the HOK people nominated as ‘community managers’ for the different channels are also monitoring what HOK people are saying at the same time as they monitor what others say about HOK.

      Yes, there are some very sophisticated monitoring tools (both for general content and for social media) – though I heard someone say at a recent seminar that one content monitoring tool blocks his access to websites about pig-farming (too many flesh-tones, apparently – he worked for Farmers Weekly)!

      Guidelines should explain the organisation’s view on what is appropriate use of social networking – and what isn’t. Some of the guidelines in this online database are excellent models, not just identifying restrictions but also making positive suggestions to educate and to encourage responsible use (eg: “add value … provide worthwhile information and perspective”).

    • Netsmith on 13 October 2009 at 10:19 am
    • Reply

    I like the HOK post – nice to see a forward thinking company like that. They are obviously happy with the way its worked out for them.

    Found this, which covers similar ground to my playing with numbers post above.


    • Netsmith on 13 October 2009 at 10:27 am
    • Reply

    Just wanted to add – I’m not condoning Portsmouths actions, the more I read the more it sounds like just another knee jerk reaction.


  1. I am looking to find more good case studies of AEC firms deploying social media in a strategic way. I’ve use Asite as another case study (see post), but it would be good to have some non-IT, non-SME examples too – preferably from among contractors and consultants.

    There was a good presentation about Hull-based contractor Hobson+Porter and its use of blogs, etc at last week’s Be2camp@WorkingBuildings2009.

    Love the Mark Pack blog post!

  2. Glad you liked my post – thanks!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Mark. Your Portsmouth City Council post was so on-the-button, particularly when trying to explain how social media/Web 2.0 can be interpreted differently depending on how you ‘spin’ it.

  4. This CIOZone article gives a great overview of the pros and cons of corporate social media bans.

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