Who Let the Fun In?

originally posted on Concept Hub

This past Thursday I had the great pleasure to speak to a full house at the Georgia Center for Nonprofit’s Raising Change Event. A couple of participants shared stories about their recent experience in social media. One woman discussed the success of raising awareness about her cause by reaching out to friends on MySpace and the resulting sales of a book. Another woman discussed how fun it was that she found several friends from her old MIDDLE SCHOOL and that she had recently returned from her Middle School reunion.

But there are still two questions/concerns that seem to linger which were asked at the event. One is how can we keep our personal life and our professional life separate? The other is how will social media affect productivity?

The brief answer to keeping your private and professional life separate is to use the privacy settings within social networks. For example, my husband’s high-school friends set up a private group on Facebook just for them to share old pictures and stories. Be sure you let your old friends know to respect your boundaries. Remember, most likely you are not the one who owns the most embarrassing picture of yourself. I have even heard people suggest creating two online identities; one for your personal life and one for your professional life.

As far as productivity, my standard answer is that the tools do not change people. A person who is responsible will get their work done and most likely will use social media as a means to be more efficient. Team members should be held accountable for end results. A person who is slacking and playing with friends on Facebook all day has bigger issues than having access to social networks. This same person would be emailing friends all day or on personal phone calls all day as well.

But social media in the workplace has been part of a larger trend. A trend to make the workplace more fun, to humanize the experience of working with teammates, vendors, and clients.

Last August Inc Magazine declared that Fun was the new Core Value. The goal of fun is to attract and keep good employees and customers.

Why is this important? Employees and customers have more choices than ever. When faced with a choice between a dull, regiment, structured experience, or one that is creative, full of life and surprises, where do you think people want to be?

So, where does social media play into all of this? I have met with a number of people throughout the city who at one time expressed concern of exposing their personal life in social networks like Facebook. I have watched them tip their toes in, create a profile, connect with some people. I have seen them post a picture or two, write on a wall here and there, poke a friend, accept a few drinks, and then the next thing you know they are the life of their Facebook party.

How has this affected their business? Well, at this time I can only speak from my perspective, but I have found that I have more in common with many people I have known for a long time. As people loosen up I feel that we are more comfortable with each other. I believe that the social element of social networks like Facebook has strengthened the bonds of people who do business together.

But there are remaining questions.

What about people who chose not to do business with you because of what they found on Facebook? Is that a bad thing? Would it have been a mutually beneficial working relationship in the first place?

How much information is too much information to share? Will we get to the point where we risk pushing/imposing our ideas and values on others?

What happens when we prefer to connect and collaborate with our friends and peers online more than we want to collaborate with our own team at work? How will that compromise an organization’s IP and more importantly, what will be the effect on internal team dynamics?

The point is we can not stop people from being attracted to experiences where they enjoy themselves and find benefit in both their personal and professional lives. Does banning employees from being on social networks for their jobs benefit anyone? Not really. People discuss their jobs at personal events all of the time – both online and off. People discuss their personal life at work-related events all of the time, both online and off. People want to be where they are enjoying themselves.

Social Networks, like Facebook, have not changed who we are as people, but they are changing our work environments and putting a greater emphasis on the ideas of fun and comradery with the people we do business with.