From Friends to Work Colleagues to Friends at Work: The Great Facebook Circle of Life

Studies by Gallup have found that those who have a ‘best friend’ at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being and are less likely to get injured on the job. Therefore, it’s not surprising that organisations are advised to create environments whereby friendships at work can be made. Those fortunate enough to work for companies like Facebook (2018 Workplace of the year) or Google have no doubt appreciated the physical workplaces provided for them. Their physical workplaces encourage a balance of work and play, within which workplace friendships can thrive; a model that is being replicated by many others around the world now. Through leading by example with their physical spaces, is Facebook also creating an online environment that could spawn more ‘friends at work’? 

Workplace by Facebook inherits all of the playfulness and connection opportunities that Facebook provides us with. It can help us build a bigger network of connections at work. But they aren’t all really ‘friends’, are they? Friends will occupy our ‘core’ network, not just exist in our periphery. We will interact with them more frequently and our interactions will be reciprocated. More than likely our ‘friends’ will also be ‘friends’ with each other, so our core network will look like a tight central cluster of people (Figure 1). The tight interconnected core can define our friends at work; or our friends at work can define our core.  

It’s been a year now since we became a global Workplace by Facebook partner, having launched our SWOOP Analytics for Workplace by Facebook product. Perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what we have learned and observed, as Workplace adopters look to leverage the consumer power of Facebook to connect and engage with their employees.

Facebook recently exceeded the two billion monthly active users mark, or one in four people on the planet, or two in three of all people with Internet access. It is therefore likely that the proportion of employees having experienced Facebook personally would be significant. Workplace currently claims some 30,000 corporate clients, with a stated aim of having 100 million employees actively using Workplace in five years. With three billion people employed in the world, perhaps this might even be a little conservative!  

Journey from Friends to Work Colleagues  

Using the Workplace numbers, there should be at least a few million Workplace users that have now made this journey. I am one myself!  

I was an early Facebook adopter, with Facebook telling me I joined in June 2007. The news feed algorithms have evolved to become highly sensitive to any movement in my online network of friends. What they like, Facebook assumes I will like as well. The news they read is offered to me to read. The advertising they react to will also be offered to me. From a network scientist’s perspective, Facebook has done a mighty job of exploiting our social graphs. Facebook has been able to turn our friendship networks into a powerful online referral marketing engine, with most of us blissfully unaware. No longer just a social network, Facebook has become an e-business platform, with more than 65 million business pages and 450 million customers each month.  So as a user of Facebook, it’s not just reading friends’ posts and news links, but also a place to shop, or sell, for that matter. As a Facebook user, we are largely consuming content. It is not a place that conversations happen to any degree. A simple ‘like’ is by far the most common response, if any. Digital marketing counts success as eyeballs attracted. A slight hesitation while you scroll past some content will count as a ‘read’. In fact 87% of Facebook page posts go totally unanswered.

Now with the advent of Workplace by Facebook, you are presented with that same familiar interface but, purposefully, completely separated from your personal Facebook account. There are still many organisations that have banned the use of Facebook on work time, so sending the message that ‘this Facebook is for work’, through its branding as ‘Workplace’, was an imperative. For you as an employee, this is just Facebook without the ads; how good is that! While the user interface looks the same, the use cases are not always so. For example:  

  1. For the large part we have not chosen our ‘friends at work’. Workplace makes the assumption everyone in the company is a ‘friend’.  
  2. There are no Facebook ads. So if the HR or Public Affairs department wants to attract your attention, they have to get some special admin permissions to have their messages placed at the top of your news feed. No special targeting though, it’s all or nothing! 
  3. Workplace users quickly learn to use groups to attract potential ‘friends’ around a given theme or topic. What’s more, if they don’t want their postings to ‘leak out’ onto unknown news feeds, they need to create them as closed groups. 
  4. Therefore, groups can take on a different meaning in the workplace. They are not always open or transparent. 
  5. Workplace Chat plays the part of Messenger for personal or small group communications. For many, work chat is simply an effective means for managing logistics within your local teams. The ability to make audio or video calls directly from chat is also a valuable feature that carries over from Messenger. 
  6. For the large part, Facebook is a news sharing system for friends. Workplace is also a news sharing system for employees. News, however, is only one class of information that we might value at work. At work, not all news is useful information and not all information is news. 
  7. At work we need to collaborate to perform. Conversations and discussions online, arguably, take primacy over news sharing. 

In summary, Workplace by Facebook needs to do more than news sharing to become a mature and valuable work tool. And this is the journey they are on right now. 

From Work Colleagues to Friends at Work 

Do you have a core network at work? Do your colleagues have core networks at work? How dense are the networks across your whole organisation? Dense, reciprocated networks may not guarantee friendship, but friendships cannot exist without them. You will need SWOOP to find out. Look at your personal network map: 

The red lines show connections whom which you have had reciprocated interactions with, over a defined period. They form your pool of potential ‘friends at work’. 

Now if we count up all of the reciprocated interactions between everyone at work and calculate the % of two-way reciprocated connections, the perfect score would be 100%. A perfect score would mean that a strong potential exists for any employee to become friends with any other employee. Of course this is fanciful, but SWOOP can tell you how close to this ideal your organisation is.

If you select the SWOOP Enterprise tab, look for: 

62% is actually a pretty strong score. The larger your organisation is, the harder it will be to score that well. Independent of the size of your organisation, however, we do want to know if we are travelling in the right direction. Looking at how your Two-way Relationships vary over time can help with this: 

Close friendships are sustained through regular reciprocated interactions. Ideally, if you want to create an environment conducive to developing cohesive friendships at work, we would expect this time-based chart to be trending upward. A downward trend might signify a fall the cohesion that two-way relationships infer. 

You will have noticed that the analytics we are showing here are ‘relationship/interaction’ centred. The analytics provided by Facebook/Workplace are activity focused e.g. how many posts, likes, replies. They look to measure how well content has been consumed e.g. how many people saw my post? How far did it reach? Activity alone cannot predict friendship potential. You need relationship-centred measures for that. 

The potential exists for the ‘Great Facebook Circle of Life’, encompassing both home and work, to be achieved. We just need to be careful about what we measure and monitor as we traverse the journey of friends at home to friends at work.

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