Facebook in Pinstripes

Last Updated Oct 26, 2007 2:16 PM EDT

Forget Microsoft Office and Excel. Your next powerful business tool could be Facebook.

In a post earlier this month, Andy McAfee, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert on Web 2.0 technologies and their applications in business, argues that social networking software brings certain types of people together in a much more efficient (and potentially cheaper) way than what many companies try to do by designing elaborate interaction spaces, conducting offsites, and creating carefully chosen work teams.

In fact, those corporate efforts are better at encouraging "strong-ties" among members -- long-term, sustained relationships. Weak ties arise from infrequent and more casual interactions.

It turns out, says McAfee, that weak ties are better at promoting knowledge sharing and innovation because members with weak ties are more likely to interact with other groups. "Strong ties are unlikely to be bridges between networks, while weak ties are good bridges. Bridges help solve problems, gather information, and import unfamiliar ideas. They help get work done quicker and better."

Enter Facebook and other social networking programs. You won't read it in Facebook's About Us, but SNPs are tremendous platforms for organizing weak ties. Says McAfee: "Facebook and its peers should be highly valuable for businesses because they're tools for increasing the density of weak ties within a company, as well as outside it."

Now comes the hard part: convincing your Baby Boomer CEO to bankroll a tool his teen-age daughter uses to "poke" friends and organize hook-ups.

Have you used Facebook or a competitor at work to encourage collaboration? Did it work? What did the boss think of your effort?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.