Many businesses view social networking as nothing more than a distraction for staff, but new research from AT&T suggests that employees using social networking tools in the workplace are more efficient.
The survey of over 2,500 employees across five European countries revealed that 65 per cent believe that social networking has made them and/or their colleagues more efficient, while nearly half (46 per cent) said that it has sparked new ideas and personal creativity.
Three quarters of those surveyed believe that there are benefits to using social networks and online communities in the workplace, as they are a good source of knowledge and can provide ready answers to many problems.
Such activities are also viewed as a way of harnessing the collective knowledge of employees, customers and suppliers, as well as stimulating team building and better internal collaboration.
The report revealed that social networking is not without its problems, however. Half of the respondents cited it as a distraction to employees, and 45 per cent expressed concerns over leaks of confidential information.
"The change is sociological rather than technological, so it will be difficult to justify with traditional return-on-investment models," said Martin Silman, executive director at AT&T.
"Social networking is changing the way corporations communicate and, if the corporate vision incorporates and builds on the move to social networking and Web 2.0, the key performance indicators will easily follow."
However, before people start demanding that Facebook and MySpace be unblocked at work, the research did indicate that online social networks were not nearly as widely used as other social networking tools within organisations across Europe.
Companies' own collaboration sites on intranets topped the list at 39 per cent of firms, followed by internal forums at 20 per cent and corporate video material shared on intranets at 16 per cent.
Online social networks ranked fourth, beating only external collaboration sites on the web and internal blogging sites.
Although social web sites may still be on the company blacklist, the study shows that many businesses are adopting the principles of social networking as part of their working culture. Geographically it seems that the rate of adoption is most popular in Germany at 72 per cent, while the UK lags behind with 59 per cent.
"The research shows a clear trend across Europe for business users to embrace the benefits of Web 2.0 technology to underpin collaboration, improve productivity and embrace business efficiency," concluded Silman.
"It is clear that CIOs and their colleagues need to think about the implications this has for their own internal networking strategies, and ensure that they are equipped to make the most of the opportunities created by social networking."
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