• Many companies block employee access to Facebook and other social network applications
  • But these environments actually improve performance
  • Social networks like Facebook allow people to be more productive, and are very inexpensive
  • Facebook’s new email client is an example of how these environments can provide companies better services at lower cost – supplanting existing email, for example
  • Those who embrace advances early gain an information advantage, as well as a cost advantage
  • The new Facebook email client is a big deal for business, and should be explored by everyone

A year ago I was on a panel at the Indian Institute of Technology global conference.  My fellow panelists were mostly IT heads from major corporations.  When it came to Twitter, Linked-in, MySpace and Facebook – the world of social networking – universally they all blocked access.  The reasons given were primarily data confidentiality (fear company information would escape) and productivity (fear employees would unproductively apply their time to personal efforts.)  They saw no advantages to social network applications, only risk.  Most of those companies – from pharmaceuticals to airlines – still deny access. 

This follows a long list of things denied employees by large employers on the grounds of confidentiality and productivity

  • employees don’t need a phone at their desk, who could they need to talk to and what do they need to say at work?  They can write letters or memos.
  • employees don’t need a personal computer.  All data should be kept on secured tapes and accessed by productive data center professionals when it makes sense.
  • employees don’t need a hard disk in their personal computer.  We must keep all data away from employees and keep them focused on using applications tied to central data repositories for productivity
  • employees don’t need laptops.  Who knows where they will go, and what employees will do with them.  They could let data escape, or spend time on personal letters and spreadsheets.
  • employees don’t need their own printers.  Send all jobs to a central printer location so we can control what is printed for confidentiality and to make sure somebody isn’t printing more than is necessary
  • employees don’t need their own cell phones.  What in the world do they need to say that can’t wait until they are in the office?  How will we keep them from wasting time on personal calls?
  • employees don’t need internet access at work.  There’s nothing on the web that is important for their work, and it opens a security hole in our operations.  If we give them internet access they’ll waste hours and hours browsing instead of working.

This list could go on for a long time, as I’m sure you can now imagine.  Confidentiality and productivity are merely excuses for those who fear new tools.  Reality is that all these new products improved productivity dramatically, helping employees get more done faster – and making them smarter on the job as well.  Organizations that rapidly adopted these (and other) technologies actually achieved superior performance, and rapidly saw their costs decline as these lower cost solutions gave more productivity at lower prices.  In most cases, something formerly proprietary and costly became available from an outside source much, much cheaper that worked a whole lot better.  Like how the Post Office displaced private messenger services – even though it did have security risks and made it possible for anyone to send a letter (see what I mean, you can go back in time forever with these examples.)

Today social media is the next “big thing” to improve productivity.  Facebook, Twitter and its counterparts offer full multi-media, real time interaction with people you know, and don’t know that well, globally.  You can find out about everything remarkably fast, and often quite accurately, at practically no cost.  No server need be bought – and you don’t even need a PC.  A cheap smartphone or tablet will give you all you want – soon to include conferencing and video chat.  And you don’t have to buy any software.  And you can connect to everyone – not just the people in your company, or on your server, or even on your network or your network service provider. According to Gartner, at MediaPost.comImplications of a Facebook email Client” will be noticable by 2012, and universal by 2014!

And that’s why “Facebooks Not email Announcement” (as reported in LiveBlog Twitter style on is important for business.  Facebook email is going to be better, faster and cheaper than existing email – especially if you’re still using 2 decades out-of-date products like Lotus Notes!  Something Facebook doesn’t even want to call email because of its advancements.  

An email client for Facebook goes far beyond the value of a Microsoft Live server (think Hotmail+ if you’re not IT oriented).  Even GMail, for all its great features, doesn’t offer everything you get in Facebook, due to how Facebook provides integration into everything else that makes its network wildly productive for those of us who realize we live in networks.  You even have an archive, searchability – and the capability of creating multiple virtual private networks for doing all kinds of business activities in different markets! And practically free!  Using incredibly cheap devices, in multiple varieties and platforms, that employees might well purchase themselves! 

For use by everyone from execs to salespeople, businesses will soon be able to stop buying and handing out laptops.  Even PCWorld addressed the opportunity in “Social Networks to Supplant email in Business?” Businesses will soon quit operating server farms for most communications.  Even quit supporting networks for things like printing sales documents, or creating document-loaded USB drives to hand out.  With everyone on tablets and smartphones, and connected over social networks, in a couple of years “leave behinds” will be unnecessary.  Those in sales and purchasing will be able to obtain competitive reviews, and prices, and configurations almost instantaneously by asking people on their network for input and feedback. Email will become slow, and a siloed application less useful than products that sit on the network.

With each advance, new opportunities emerge.  Doctors have long been notoriously unwilling to carry laptops, or email patients.  From the operating room to test results, finding out from an M.D. what’s going on has been problematic.  Now MediaPost tells us in “Doctors Without Social Media Borders” how patient communication is rising dramatically from adoption of social media.  It lets the physician, and others in medicine, communicate faster, more productively and cheaper than anything before. And this is just one example of how behavior changes when new capabilities arise.  Formerly unmet needs are satisfied, and people shift to where they achieve greatest satisfaction.

Once email was considered the “killer app” that made everyone need a PC – and access to the web.  Social media takes email into entirely new orbits.  Getting more done, faster, with more people, using more current data, verified by more access points, across multiple media creates competitive advantage.  Those who ignore this trend will fall behind.  Those who adopt it have the opportunity to beat their competition.  Everyone knows that those who know the most, first, and are able to apply it have a big first mover advantage.  If you’re not promoting this in your company – if you are in fact blocking it – you’ll soon have no chance of remaining competitive.  You’ll just start falling behind – and the gap will widen.