Social networking sites are used by more than two-thirds of IT professionals on a Network World reader panel.
Social networking sites are used by more than two-thirds of IT professionals on a Network World reader panel, and while personal use of these tools is common, IT professionals spend more time on social networking sites for business reasons than for play.
LinkedIn is the most popular social networking site, with 41% of IT professionals calling themselves users of the site designed to facilitate business contacts. More than one in five of these IT professionals use MySpace, with similar numbers logging on to Slashdot and Facebook.
"A lot of these social networking sites, they simplify things I want to do anyway," says Rob Koplowitz, an analyst at Forrester who was apprised of the survey results. "We don't really go to Toastmasters anymore, we have other ways of [networking] and it's far more effective."
The Network World survey about use of social networking sites was conducted last month with 663 IT professionals who read Network World and are members of the magazine's Technology Opinion Panel.
Social networking sites are used by 453 of the 663 respondents, the survey found. Among those 453 users, 68% log on to social networking sites at least once a week, and 16% do so each day. About 18% use the sites once a month, and another 13% visit the sites less frequently.
If anything about the survey results are surprising, it might be the extent to which IT professionals use social networking sites for business purposes. About 42% of the survey's social networking users go to the sites mostly for work. Some 30% use the sites mostly for play, while another 28% split their time on the sites evenly between work and play.
"The interesting thing is they say they're using them for work. That's very cool," says Gartner analyst Tom Austin, who also reviewed the survey results. "That's a perception that's really not out there broadly. I think this data will shock people."
IT professionals who embrace social networking are typically looking to gain business contacts and knowledge about technology, Koplowitz says.
The social networking sites included on the survey were LinkedIn, MySpace, Slashdot, Facebook, Digg, Del.icio.us, Technorati, Stumbleupon, LiveJournal, Reddit, Xanga, Furl, Newsvine and Mixx.
But there are other Web sites IT professionals might access to increase their knowledge of technology, Austin notes. The popular video site YouTube, for example, has technical videos and demos of technologies such as Google Gears, he says.
Austin, who is conducting a similar survey, predicts company executives will increasingly appreciate the business opportunities of social networking sites and devise ways to take advantage of them. A large company probably has many employees using Facebook and similar sites already. Management should approach these people, find out if they are doing anything of business value, and where there is value try to expand upon it.
While caution is necessary – you don't want employees spending all day looking for dates online – completely blocking the sites won't pay off either, Austin says.
"It's an opportunity lost to say 'just shut it off, we don't need it.' You need to explore how people are using it beneficially," he says.
One Fortune 50 company Austin interviewed found that, unbeknownst to management, a number of employees were using Facebook to collaborate with each other because the company didn't offer a similar type of service. (Compare collaboration products.)
Some vendors are developing social networking tools that companies can use internally for their own employees, a method some might prefer because of fears about the release of confidential information, Koplowitz says. Overall, Koplowitz thinks IT departments are more often leaders than impediments when it comes to using social networking for business.
"Facebook and MySpace are very social applications and business can be very social as well, and can benefit from being more social," he says.