Facebook was launched when my older sister was in her senior year of college. I remember her saying she avoided the social network because she “didn’t need another distraction.” That’s an admirable decision; I personally have spent many hours browsing bumper stickers to avoid term papers. I’ve had multiple friends suspend their profiles for months at a time because they “can’t get on a computer without getting on Facebook.”
A recent survey stated that “22% of firms ban social networking websites.” Their reason? Facebook lowers productivity. I completely agree. However, what would all of us do if we couldn’t get on Facebook once or twice (OK, ten times) a day? The end of the article does note that some firms use Facebook for actual work purposes, so a ban would not be feasible. Here at Engauge, we need to have access to Facebook to study it as marketers. So what’s next? Will there be a way for firms to add a filter to their employees’ Facebook pages so that only “approved” pages can be viewed?
I think it would be interesting to conduct an experiment where you could baseline the productivity of employees at work and college students at school. Then, suspend their Facebook accounts and re-measure their productivity after a few months. Are they more productive now? Or, did they find another way to procrastinate? (Word of Warning: good luck finding participants, I know I won’t be volunteering!)
Now take a step back and think about this. We’re addicted to a social network. Not a website that tells us what’s going on in the world, but a social network that tells us that “Sally is excited for the weekend” and which of your friends are attending (or “maybe attending”) the party on Saturday night. Have you ever tried to explain Facebook to someone who isn’t on Facebook? Chances are you got the same look my parents gave me, which is utter confusion and astonishment at the amount of time I’ve invested being on Facebook.
So why do we invest all of this time and energy into Facebook and other social networks (keep in mind that many of us are maintaining multiple social networking accounts)? Below is a picture of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow says that there are five levels of needs; each level needs to be fulfilled before we can move on (and up) to the next level.
So if you’re on Facebook, it can be assumed that your Physiological and Safety needs have been met, otherwise, how and why are you on a computer? The next level is Love and Belongingness (i.e., Social Needs). Does Facebook really make us a sense of love and belongingness? I believe it does. When your friends write on your wall or send you a bumper sticker, it means they were thinking about you. Come on, admit it, you love getting notification emails from Facebook.
Recent research has indicated that in-world interactions in virtual spaces have improved users real world social skills. So I believe that Facebook, while still the primary cause of my procrastination, has its benefits. Facebook is similar to other virtual worlds or online games in this respect: it gives shy users a level playing field. While some people may be too shy to go out and interact with strangers, the use of a computer makes the situation much less intimidating.
So in the end, we all must decide for ourselves if Facebook is a friend or foe. I vote friend!