Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Business use of social media

My last post referred to be newly acquired addiction to blogging. But at least I can't access blogs when I'm in the office - my part-time employer is one of many that ban use of social media.

There has been a lot of news on companies doing this recently. Facebook is the prime subject of these. One common reason for the ban is security.

The Human Capitalist quotes a survey from Sophos as explaining:

"A large number of Facebook profile pages contain users’ current employment details, which could be used together with other stolen information by cybercriminals bent on committing corporate fraud, or to infiltrate company networks.”

The blog finds that given the need to maintain internet security and "firewalls inside organisations, it is not surprising that many organisations have security set so that a number of sites can not be accessed".

But the more common reason for restricting access to these tools seems to be fear of lost productivity with Facebook being a “procrastinator’s paradise”.

For example, The Work Clinic report on a radio programme featuring employees who are using Facebook for five hours per day while at work (definitely a case of the Living Dead).

And the Internal Comms Hub quotes the Telegraph as stating:
"More than two thirds of employers are banning or restricting the use of Facebook and similar sites over fears that staff are wasting time on them when they should be working. Several companies have warned employees that accessing the site during office hours is a sackable offence. More than 70% of businesses, including banks and law firms, have barred the sites."

And of course, there's the lack of control. The Wall Street Journal explains that

"Like blogging in business, social networking in business has been slow to take off because employees are wary of disclosing too much to potential competitors, and loose-executives can easily embarrass themselves and their companies online.”

This doesn't stop organisations using networking sites for their own ends eg as part of their recruitment strategy. XpertHR covers the agenda well in its post, 2.0 or not 2.0? That is the question.

"A recent article in People Management, the online magazine of the CIPD, reported that a number of companies have got on board the Facebook rollercoaster and are using it to advertise their wares as a potential employer. Prevalent among these is Ernst & Young, who now have their own Facebook sponsored page (log-in required) where graduates can learn more about the firm."

But there is debate about whether searching on someone's internet footprint, and particularly their use of social networks, is a legitimate tool within a recruitment process. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has compared looking at a candidate's social network page to going into someone's house and searching through their cupboards! (my view: if the information is there, use it).

And there are ongoing stories about organisations opening up their intra-network sites.

"The CIA is to open a communications tool for its staff, modelled on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, the Financial Times reports. The project, known as A-Space, aims to improve the way that intelligence agents communicate, it said. Officials believe that the online workplace will allow staff to better analyse information together."

And Jim Holincheck has drawn attention to an article on Computerworld, 'Dow Chemical to Launch Corporate Social Networks':

"The Dow Chemical Co. last week said it plans to launch multiple social networks in December to help former employees, retirees and current workers communicate
about full-time and contract job openings at the company... the so-called Dow Connect social networks will let “the overall Dow family — current and former employees — stay connected [and] stay current on what Dow is doing in case they choose to return.” Each Dow Connect social network will be tailored to specific audiences, such as former employees interested in returning to the company, women looking to better balance work and family issues, and retired Dow employees seeking to work on short-term projects. The networks will also let users “find out other pieces of information that would be difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain from an online jobs board”."

So why don't organisations feel they can let their employees gain these benefits from inter- networking sites as well? Do they really want to limit their employees' relationships, knowledge sharing and advocacy? Surely, security problems can be managed in a different way? And so what if checked out employees can't manage their social life online - they're still checked out. It might be better that they do something as innocuous as social networking than other things they may do with their freed up time (they're not going to devote their discretionary behaviours to improving their company's profitability, that's for sure).

I will leave you with a post from The Engaging Brand that I think sums up my view as well: Why I wouldn't block Facebook:

"There are a few news stories regarding employers who are blocking social networking sites, this is a dangerous policy in my humble opinion! First of all, for all the wise words on values at recruitment interviews or on the wall in the reception, this one action is saying "Despite your high salary, despite your talent, despite the fact I said I valued/trusted you.... I don't - on this occasion I will treat you like a child. I will allow the actions of a few to determine the policy for all" For me the problem is not overuse of Facebook, it is why are people that bored with their work that they spend all their time on Facebook?

What are the managers doing? Why aren't the managers dealing with the people "abusing" the open culture? Facebook is no different to any other communication. If someone stands at the coffee machine for hours on end you would talk to them, discipline them if necessary but you wouldn't ban every person having coffee (I hope!)"