Social Media as a Costly Time-Waster

How many CFOs think social networking is a costly waste of time and resources? According to an Accountemps survey, slightly over half (51%) of CFO interviewed said their greatest concern is that employees are wasting time during business hours using sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As students and workers spend more time on the Internet and on social media sites in particular, their levels of productivity are tanking, according to a study by an organization that calls itself Learnstuff, an organization that apparently debunks popular wisdom. It found, for example, that the average college student might spend three hours checking various social media sites but only two hours studying. Sssh, don’t tell their parents.

Learnstuff finds that workers aren’t faring much better either. Every time someone at work gets an instant message, a Facebook message, or a tweet, it takes them 23 minutes to get back on task. How the organization calculated that and other social media data isn’t quite clear, but its study, titled Social Media at Work, makes fascinating reading. Let’s look at some of the results.

The net net of the Social Media at Work study amounts to this: Social media costs the American economy $650 billion per year in lost productivity. As noted above, how they calculated that is unclear. Also, it appears they are not including productivity gains, such as more efficient customer service, resulting from social networking.

But let’s look at what else they found:

To start, the study found in the US alone 12,207,423,487 collective hours are spent browsing on a social network every day. Multiply that by 5 days per week, 50 weeks per year. That’s a lot of hours; it’s amazing anything actually gets done. It can’t all be multi-tasking.

One out of 10 workers spends more time on the Internet than they do actually working; 6 out of 10 are visiting social media sites during work. The researchers apparently assume that every moment spent on the Internet is not work. But think for a moment: you visit wiredFINANCE and it can’t be only for personal entertainment. You probably come to learn something that might help you do your job or otherwise advance the organization’s business strategy in some way.

Workers are interrupted once every 10.5 min. by things like instant messages, Tweets, and Facebook messages, and it takes 23 min. for those employees to get back on task. Not sure how they arrive at this but what about those social interruptions that actually advance their work, like communicating with a customer or partner.

Add it all up and Learnstuff finds that each social media user costs the company $4452 per year. Again, not sure how they calculated this. Are they charging executives like a CFO who may cull data from social networks as part of M&A due diligence the same as they do clerical workers who may be following celebrities?

Actually, the Accountemps CFO survey cited above identified benefits CFOs see in social networking: Provide better customer service (28%); enhance company’s reputation (22%); expand networks contacts (20%); and secure new business (18%). Not even on the radar screen, apparently, are some of the biggest benefits of social business: it expands and expedites collaboration, facilitates innovation through collaboration, gets you closer to customers, expands your universe of prospects, and, most importantly, turns every employee and partner into an evangelist for the business. Given these benefits, especially the last one, far from being a time waster social business emerges as a key value builder.