Social networking has become a way of life for sub-25 year olds, and according to Gartner, predictions are that 49% of adults and 84% of teenagers will access a social networking site at least once a month by 2011. In the past few months there has been much debate about whether businesses should block employees’ access to Facebook and other social networking sites.

According to security company Sophos, 50% of businesses block or restrict access to social networking sites, and that figure is climbing fast. The major reason corporates are blocking access is that they see these sites as a productivity drain. But should businesses be blocking access?

Vinny Lingham of Synthasite believes that firms shouldn’t be blocking access to social networking sites, and that the problem is simply one of poor management. “Instead of instituting prohibition of social networks, rather focus on understanding what the web is about and ensuring that your staff understand what is expected of them – and manage appropriately.” He goes on to say “The Internet is changing the way businesses operate both commercially and internally – it’s best to face the realities and be creative on how your company will adjust to this new medium.” That’s all very well, but management is costly, and firms are looking for a blanket approach to solve the problem. So whereas some businesses have imposed a ban on all social networking sites, even going as far as to ban many other ‘non-work-related’ sites too, other businesses feel that asking staff not to use social networking sites during working hours is enough.

On the opposite side, there are those who believe that social networking sites can be used for business purposes, but so far that trend hasn’t taken off. Having said that, Dell Computer has begun using Facebook for customer feedback on its products, and a number of other major corporations are slowly starting to experiment with social networking. According to Lon Safko, an innovation expert, every corporation both large and small will have to engage in social media sooner or later. Those that wait will be left behind by their competition.

It’s likely that law firms will eventually embrace social networking to keep in touch with their clients, but the main problem right now is that most users of Facebook and other social networking sites are youngsters. This means that it will be some time before lawyers and the typically older clients who can afford their services come to terms with social networking websites.

Of course, from the employee’s perspective not having access to Facebook might be insulting, and this might result in staff resigning to join a more trusting employer. At the very least, it could affect morale. A softer way to limit access is to unblock access to social networking sites during lunch hour, and outside office hours. Of course, businesses have the right to limit usage of their computer systems to business purposes only, so they are quite within their rights to block access to social networking sites. However, they may choose to go the softer route first, which is to ask employees to refrain from using social networking sites during work times.

Theoretically, one could also allow them to access social networking sites during their tea breaks, but since social networking is so much fun, employees may end up taking a longer tea break than they should. It is also important to remember that lunch breaks and tea breaks are intended to be breaks – for employees to get up from their desks, and get some exercise. It defeats the purpose if staffers spend that time in front of their computers.

There are those who believe that employees have no right to be upset at not having access to social networking sites at work, and that sites like Facebook should only be accessed from home. An anonymous blogger sums it up: “Of course I go onto Facebook at work. I have more important things to do with my time after hours.”

The issue of security was also raised by Sophos’ research. “In a separate poll by the company, 66 percent of workers said they are concerned about colleagues sharing confidential information on Facebook. Details such as employment history and mobile phone numbers have been found on the site and could be used for identity theft or to launch corporate phishing attacks, security experts warn.” However, Facebook noted that it provides users with the ability to hide personal information and “welcomes every opportunity to educate users about how to protect their data online.”


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