Social media and the workplace

4/4/2012 5:42:19 PM
Social media and the workplace

Even some of the most professional institutions are relaxing access to social networks and social-media sites. Ann Bednarz wonders whether that’s a good idea.

Description: Social media and the workplace

When Socialware surveyed 144 financial advisers this year, 84 percent said they use social networks for business purposes, up from 60 percent in 2010. Another 10 percent said they plan to use social media in the future.

 The public sector, too, is lifting access restrictions and wading deeper into social media across the globe. Among us government employees with access to social media, for instance, 37 percent are permitted to represent their organisations using the platform, and another 30 percent are allowed to do so with some restrictions.

A lot of businesses, small arid large, are moving away from the restrictive model of blocking social media to a more liberal access model.” Chenxi Wang, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, summed up earlier this year.

Inside organisations, the pressure to expand social-media horizons is coming from multiple sources. Sales and marketing teams want to engage customers through social-networking sites, users want to access personal accounts from the workplace, and HR want to be able to recruit, hire and retain social media-savvy employees. But it’s IT pros who have to administer the rules.

Just over halt (51 percent) of 1400 CIOs polled in May by Robert Half Technology said they allow employees to use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook on the job, provided that it’s for business purposes, up from 19 percent in 2009. Conversely, 31 percent prohibit it in the office. The remainder said social networking is allowed for limited personal use (14 percent) or any personal use (4 percent).

The disparity between what staff say they’re doing with social media and what IT departments allow isn’t unusual. Software security vendor Clearswift received mixed messages about social media when it polled 1529 employees and 906 managers for its annual research report, WorkLifeWeb 2011.

According to Clearswift, the proliferation of high-profile data breaches is leading businesses to clamp down on social- media use. Its survey found 19 percent of companies worldwide are outright blocking employee access to social media sites, up from 9 percent in 2010. A significantly higher number of managers said their companies are selectively monitoring internet activity and blocking access to certain social sites.

 Security fears are behind this retreat from social media. Half the managers surveyed think employees are oblivious to security concerns, and almost as many are worried about the leakage of confidential data via employees.

Andrew Wyatt, Clearswift’s COO, said the backlash is a short-term reaction to some highly publicised data leaks. “The research provides evidence that businesses do recognise the importance of new technologies, which leads me to believe that this is a knee-jerk reaction rather than a long-term trend”, said Wyatt.

Attempts to suppress social-media activity wouldn’t sit well with staff. Nonetheless, for the sake of security, risk management and regulatory compliance, firms need to craft and enforce acceptable use policies for social media.

These days, such policies are common, but security controls are lacking. In a recent Ponemon Institute survey, only 29 percent of firms had security controls in place to mitigate or reduce the risk.

In the end, letting the reins out on social-media use is tough because it requires trust. While it’s critical for it departments to address security and compliance, social-media thrives on uncensored communications. Finding the right balance is key.

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