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Facebook, Twitter becoming business tools, but CIOs remain wary

In 2010, companies will set policies governing social networking use

By , Network World
January 07, 2010 11:47 AM ET

Network World - Will 2010 be the year Facebook and Twitter take over the business world? The social networks are growing in popularity by the day, both for personal and business use, yet many IT and business executives remain wary of the risks posed by the online services and skeptical about potential benefits.

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A number of Web-savvy CIOs are using Twitter to spread their views, engage with colleagues and discuss technology, yet a survey shows that more than half of CIOs in the United States do not allow employees to log onto social networking sites "for any reason" while they're at work. Another survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that nearly three-quarters of the top brands had no official presence on Twitter, despite the service's potential for reaching customers. (See related story, 12 CIOs who Tweet.)

Business users are logging onto public social networking sites far more often than social networks sponsored by their employers, but attempts to block such activity simply will not work, says IDC analyst Caroline Dangson, who researches enterprise collaboration and social technologies.

As workforces become more distributed, and even office workers spend time working at home, people will use personal devices for business use and it will be difficult for IT to make blanket proclamations banning tools as widely used as Facebook and Twitter.

"This concept of trying to control or block [social media usage], it is not going to work," Dangson says. "There's going to be a divide, with some companies that shun public social networks and are fearful of using them, and some who embrace it and take the risk."

An IDC survey of 4,710 U.S. workers in October found that 34% use consumer social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn for business purposes, and 9% use microblogging sites like Twitter for business purposes.

Yet many of their employers are trying to stop them from doing so.

A Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs from U.S. companies with at least 100 employees found that 54% completely prohibit use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, while at work. Nineteen percent allow social networking sites for business purposes only, while another 16% allow "limited personal use." Just 10% permit use of social networking sites "for any type of personal use."

Some brands have begun using Facebook and Twitter to reach consumers, both to promote themselves and communicate about company failures. Rackspace, for example, has used Twitter extensively to communicate with users after several power outages knocked customer services offline.

But large companies are also avoiding social networking sites in droves. New Media Age, a United Kingdom publication, analyzed the top 500 U.K. brands and found that 74% have no presence at all on Twitter, and just 10% use the site daily.

Dangson believes Facebook is a good setting for businesses to reach consumers, but that there is a greater business opportunity in Twitter, particularly in business-to-business markets, because "everything is public and open."

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