Is Twitter and Facebook use costing UK plc dear?

Another new report about what a waste of time social networks are - but is it missing the point?

More grist to the mill for bosses unhappy about the impact of social networking sites on staff productivity: a new survey from technology company Morse claims that the use of these sites is costing British business somewhere in the region of £1.4bn a year in wasted time. And that’s just the conservative estimate: around half of office workers admitted to Morse that they accessed Twitter and Facebook for personal use during the working day, thereby ‘wasting’ around 40 minutes a week (though they put the amount of time their colleagues spend visiting social networking sites at a full hour a week, so someone’s telling porkies). But what’s to say that all this time is wasted?

It’s certainly true that the use of these sites can have a damaging effect on a company’s reputation. Just look at electrical retailer Currys, whose staff were recently found to have posted unflattering comments about their customers on Facebook. Indeed, one in three of the 1,460 office workers questioned for the Morse study said they had seen sensitive company information posted on social networking sites. This is the kind of reason employers will seize upon as an excuse to block access to these sites (although the approach doesn’t seem to be consistent across the board - three-quarters of those surveyed said that their employer hadn’t issued them with specific guidelines on using Twitter, for example).

But while checking out your friend’s holiday snaps is never likely to be classed as a productive use of company time, it seems short-sighted to dismiss the business benefits of these sites out of hand. Far from being a waste of time, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn may help to improve communication, collaboration, creativity and knowledge sharing. So an outright ban might not only go down badly with staff; you might also be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Unfortunately, some businesses are clearly still failing to take an enlightened approach to the brave new world of Web 2.0. Or even Web 1.0 – figures from Notting Hill Internet Services, released this week, suggest that over half of small businesses still don’t have a website. A slightly worrying proportion – although at least that’s one less ‘acceptable use’ policy to worry about…

In today's bulletin:

BP shares soar after 50% drop in profits
Barratt has a bee in its bonnet over Royal Mail strikes
Editor's blog: What to make of Warren Buffett?
Is Twitter and Facebook use costing UK plc dear?
Secretaries still getting a raw deal

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