Using Facebook for socializing at work

I have been reluctant to jump on MySpace, Twitter, etc because it seemed to be so personal focused. I honestly didn't have much I wanted to share with public or even friends that they weren't getting from me and my family directly.

There has been so much buzz about Facebook and it's ability to cater to both it's original college crowd as well as appealing to corporate users.  To add to the buzz, there are the constant rumors of Microsoft investing in Facebook.  I decided to try it out after some hallway conversations with product team people who said they use Facebook all the time.

So far, I have found it to be addicting at times and completely non-intrusive other times.  Here are a few things I would like to highlight.

  • I like "my wall" as it shows me what is going on with friends, even though they throw in some advertising.

  • I think Facebook has completely missed the boat on groups as you have to navigate into groups and then "see all".  They need to have an RSS feed or "wall" of posts for your groups.  I would participate a lot more in my groups if I didn't have to drill into each to figure out they added a discuss or posted on the group wall.

  • Watch your "security settings".  The entire world of Facebook or even my Networks don't need to see everything about me.  I limit my profile to friends only, and have very little about me available to the public or even Networks I am in.

I got dinged a bit this year in my yearly review because as a senior person in our group, I should be fostering a sense of community.  It's hard to do this if you aren't in the office, you have a family (like most in our group do), or if techies are somewhat anti-social to begin with.  Other groups at Microsoft do a lot of stuff together because they all sit in the same hallway/building, but us field people only visit the office to drop off expenses or grab a soda from the fridge before heading to our paying customers.

So, it dawned on me: Why not use an electronic medium to create community?  I looked at MOSS 2007, and MySites have a bit of this as well as blogs and wikis.  But we would all need to VPN to corporate to have access, and some customer sites don't allow VPN.  I also wanted something that is flexible enough for those coworkers that really want to participate, and those that want to "sip".

So, I sent the email below to my group.  We have gotten okay participation, and it has been more popular than most of our happy hour turnouts.  I have gotten to know a few people that I normally wouldn't, and they can see things about me that they normally wouldn't know from hallway conversations.  Feel free to use it as a template if needed.

A (virtual) sense of community

I know, I know, every year we talk about getting to know others in our group better especially those in our particular city.  And, every year we start by having a few happy hours that are poorly attended, or host a poker party that 6 people show up for (not holding a grudge or anything).

After 7 years at Microsoft, I have resigned myself to believe that this is part of our culture.  Especially for MCS (Microsoft Consulting Services), we are individual consultants working for a great company, but rarely get to work with each other or on a cohesive team.  When we are asked to attend a party or happy hour it takes time out of our lives normally reserved for family, customers, exercise, hobbies, Xbox, etc.

That said, we are happier employees when we have a sense of what others are working on and their personalities.  In our case, there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between camaraderie and revenue, so there isn’t a large investment into making us a closer group.  I think a sense of group is more important for employee retention as well as  having a network of people to bounce ideas off, answer questions, and have diverse points of view.

We all are unique, and whether we are single, married, divorced, young, old, male, female, goth, or love Hello Kitty, we have different amounts of time to dedicate to getting to know people in our group at work.  I think what might work for our group, and groups similar to ours is a type of “RSS feed” of community.  The great thing about RSS feeds are:

· You get to pick whether you subscribe to the feed or not

· You get to pick when and how you read it

· You can ignore it for a week, but pick it up later

So, in thinking about how we could create an “RSS Feed”, something hit me in the “face”.  Facebook!  What is Facebook?  It is kinda like MySpace, but it feels much more mature and focuses on companies as well as individuals.  There are currently 13,971 Microsoft employees on Facebook and that number has grown 3,000 users in the last few weeks.  Facebook uses Networks to determine company affiliation and you must have an to be in the Microsoft Network.  Once you are in a network, you can browse people in the network and request to add them as friends.  Once they are a friend you may select to describe how you know them.  Your customer might have a network as well, so you can get to know them as well as they get to know you.

I only joined Facebook a few weeks ago, but have already reconnected with many consultants I have worked in projects over the years as well as one or two people that I went to High School with.  In fact, I discovered that some of the people that I work with at my customer went to the same High School, so I can leverage those relationships to move things forward.  The more you use it, the more addictive it becomes because you realize you have a lot in common with coworkers and customers.

You can set permissions as to how much information is revealed to people in or out of your network, as well as how much your friends can see.  There are a bunch of groups on Facebook that have discussion groups, which I don’t think that Facebook has done a great job of integrating into the experience of your “wall” yet.  Your “wall” is your homepage that is a lot like an RSS feed that shows things that have changed about your friends.  To participate in groups, you have to go into that group page which I think could be integrated much better in to your overall wall.

Other cool things about Facebook is that people are constantly writing applications that do some cool things.  I have added the “Cities I’ve Visited”, “My Questions”, “Locations” and “Texas HoldEm Poker” applications which let me compare things with my friends or play against them (outside of work hours of course).

So, why am I telling you about a product that runs on competing platforms and goes directly against some of our properties such as MSN Spaces?  Because Microsoft doesn’t have anything that is even close to this integration, and because I think we can all benefit by having a virtual community.  The real benefit here is that we can start to see each other’s interests, and leverage our diversities when we need too.

Facebook is one of the biggest users of Microsoft’s advertising engine, and there have always been rumors that we might acquire or invest in them.  Why not use SharePoint?  Because it doesn’t have the same flexibility, features and you have to VPN to it. 

It’s up to you, but if you want to see what the Internet is buzzing about, and have a peak into your coworkers, check out Facebook.  Just make sure and keep confidential things where they belong, on Microsoft assets not on Facebook.

Update: I have been getting a few requests for friends on Facebook from strangers, I assum are from this post.  Please don't take it personal if I limit my profile to you or ignore your request.  Like I said above, I don't want the world to see my profile but am happy to add people that I know.

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