Facebook at seven: The business case

But whilst there are clearly great rewards to be reaped by marketing over Facebook, some recent research has indicated social networks in general may not be bringing such great benefits to e-retailers.

A ForeSee Results report indicated social media interactions were a primary influence for only three per cent of visitors to e-retail websites in the UK.

Only two per cent of the approximately 10,000 people surveyed in the study said they would like to be contacted by e-retailers over social networks.

Of that two per cent, 33 per cent said Facebook was the first-choice platform. Is a third that much? Considering there are really only two other major social networks in Twitter and LinkedIn - perhaps MySpace - it is perhaps a slightly less-than-expected share for Facebook.

"Serious thought needs to be given to finding out whether social media is worth the investment for their business, and then if the answer is yes, they need to make the most of it by making sure that interactions on social media meet the needs and expectations of customers," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive (CEO) of ForeSee Results.

"Otherwise, the effort is wasted and could even be detrimental to the business."

Being sensible

Whether Facebook is helping drive sales for companies or not, businesses should really be managing employees' use of the service. This is where Facebook could be really damaging for a company.

The fact is, Facebook is not a collaboration tool for businesses. It was created to connect friends, not to connect businesses.

Facebook is not a collaboration tool for employees to work with one another in house either.

In reality, there are a host of other, business-orientated social networks allowing workers to share corporate info.

Evan Kirchheimer, practice leader for enterprise telecoms at analyst firm Ovum, pointed to Cisco's collaboration tool in particular for offering a decent "corporate version of Facebook."

Kirchheimer said he would never advise companies to use Facebook for internal collaboration.

But staff will go on Facebook during work hours regardless and as personal and working worlds collide, companies need to manage the related risks.

"In theory, a number of people, what they post could be open to people outside of the enterprise," Kirchheimer said.

"There is no way for an enterprise IT department to manage Facebook as a platform."

He suggested companies match the way employees can use Facebook to their company culture.

"I think it's nave to say companies should just be more open," he told IT PRO.

"In some industries, particularly highly-regulated industries or where there's a lot of personal data that's regulated by privacy and security Acts, we are not going to see necessarily the wholesale adoption of an open culture, which tends to carry through to things like social media."

Companies may well find Facebook to be a real boon for customer service and interaction, but as an in-house collaboration tool, it's perhaps best to look elsewhere.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.