The Facebook Effect: Rethinking Productivity

I’ve never been one for chatting.

During my full-time career, I think I went out to lunch with colleagues about three times in seven years.

These days, I tend to view any moment not explicitly tied to production as a minute wasted–60 more seconds that I’m kept away from my awesome kids.

I love to-do lists, and especially crossing them off.

And, yet, one of the quotes from The Facebook Effect that stuck out at me most is this: “understanding people is not a waste of time” (p. 143).

And that has me thinking about what productivity really looks like, and about the kinds of behaviors nonprofit organizations should reward, and about the proper role of social media in the social work workplace.

Because the truth is, of course, that social workers are not immune to the time-wasting potential of social media. We often need to relieve stress, and a few moments spent in idle browsing can turn into…a few more, until we’ve been distracted from our real purpose.

That’s not just poor time management. It’s unethical social work. We have an obligation to use our agency’s resources wisely, and to keep our clients’ needs foremost in our minds. To do less is to violate a core trust, and to abdicate our most sacred responsibility.

But what about social media usage that connects us more deeply to our constituents, helps us to engage with donors, shapes the nature of the conversation about our issues, and gives us insights into how others view our organizations, and our work?

It’s hard to argue that collecting that kind of information, building those relationships, and broadening our scope of influence could ever be a waste of time.

Even beyond “official” agency uses of social media, I think a strong case can be made for individual social workers using their own connections to engage friends, family members, and colleagues in the quest for social justice, and, indeed, to practice their listening and relational skills in this medium.

When I look back, actually, I think about the relationships that I may have shortchanged with my intense focus on accomplishing tasks. Would it have been easier for me to permeate the organizational culture with an emphasis on advocacy, had I engaged in more relational work with colleagues? Did I ever unintentionally send clients the message that they should “get down to business”, and, in so doing, cut off important relationship-building?

Did I ever make people feel that understanding them was a waste of time?

How do you use social media at work? What dangers do you see, and what opportunities? How do you balance collegiality and productivity? How would our work lives look differently if we valued building relationships as much as accomplishing tasks?

4 responses to “The Facebook Effect: Rethinking Productivity

  1. Hi Melinda,

    I think that your concerns about wasting time with social media are valid. At the same time, I also think that avoiding the various forms of social media as ways of interacting with one’s friends/colleagues could be limiting one’s ability to socialize, exchange information and be there for each other in important ways (particularly during busy times when socializing face to face occurs quite rarely).

    One way of addressing this dilemma is finding some sort of balance… One may engage in “fun” social media during office hours without interfering with work if it is during one’s break/lunch, for example.

    Some people have made the conscious decision to watch less television in the evenings to make up for the time spent on twitter/facebook. But you’re right, there are only so many hours in the day – so if you decide to put in time on twitter/social media, then time on something else must get pared back…

    • Thanks so much for weighing in! I think one of the challenges, at least for some social workers, is in figuring out what’s “work” and what’s “fun”–clearly, some activities fit neatly into one category or another, but, for example, does keeping up with community happenings and the political context of one’s work fit into work activities, or not? Or, more accurately, when does it, and when does it not? How do we draw those lines, and how do organizations mediate these boundaries for different workers? It’s especially hard for social workers, for whom building relationships is everything! How do you decide what social media feeds your mission, and what is purely recreational?

  2. Melinda,
    One of the best pieces I’ve read about Facebook – taken from a completely different angle! When I have implemented the updating of nonprofit Facebook Pages, one of the most valuable aspects, professionally, of Facebook is being able to engage in a private conversation with a fan of the page. For example: when someone is really engaged with a nonprofit’s fan page (posting or responding with comments frequently), I’ll often send a Facebook message to the person thanking him/her for his/her participation. I will also ask questions that help me to understand what he/she likes about the Facbook Page, why he/she participates, etc. I’ve received some great insights that way into who the audience is on Facebook, and what the nonprofit is doing well on Facebook.

    That said, I attended a fascinating lecture recently by Scott Belsky of He said that we now spend a lot of time doing “insecurity work,” which is essentially checking things online to make sure that they are, in fact, what they should be. Checking Google analytics, Twitter, Facebook, would all fall into this. Just another take on it!


    • I really like that concept of “insecurity work”, and, to me, there’s an obvious offline parallel, too. How much time do we spend, regardless of the medium, redoing, overseeing, busying ourselves, in ways that neither produce valuable products nor add value to our relationships. It’s as much a distraction and energy-sucker in the offline world as online, too, I think. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with Facebook Pages, and for your comments. I so appreciate your insights and so respect your voice in this work!

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