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Managing Cloud Complexity

Allow social media vs. ban social media at work

To Tweet or not to Tweet? It's a complicated question.

By , Network World
November 02, 2011 06:08 AM ET

Network World - The pull of social media is proving hard to resist. Even some of the most buttoned-down institutions are rethinking bans and relaxing access to social networks and social media sites.

The highly regulated financial services industry, for instance, has been slower than most industries to adopt social media, but the potential to tap new prospects via social networking has firms moving past the "wait and see" stage. When Socialware surveyed 144 financial advisers this year, 84% said they use social networks for business purposes, up from 60% in 2010. Another 10% said they plan to use social media in the future.

The traditionally tech-lagging public sector, too, is lifting access restrictions and wading deeper into social media. When Market Connections polled federal, state and local government employees, just 19% said their agencies ban some or all social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, down from 55% in 2010.

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Among government employees with access to social media, 37% are permitted to represent their organizations using social media, and another 30% are allowed to do so, but with some restrictions.

"A lot of businesses, small and large, are moving away from the more 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 organizations, 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 wants to be able to recruit, hire and retain social media-savvy employees.

Right in the middle of the action is IT, which bears responsibility for making sure that social media activities don't expose the company to unnecessary risk. While the financial analysts polled by Socialware and the government employees surveyed by Market Connections suggest that social media is becoming part of everyday work life, IT executives paint a less permissive picture.

Just over half (51%) of 1,400 CIOs polled in May by Robert Half Technology said they allow employees to use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook on the job as long as it's for business purposes, up from 19% in 2009. On the flip side, 31% prohibit it completely at the office. The remainder said social networking is allowed for limited personal use (14%) or any personal use (4%).

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The disparity between what end users say they're doing with social media and what IT departments say is allowed isn't unusual. Wildly divergent views emerged when Actiance (formerly FaceTime Communications) surveyed 1,654 IT managers and end users in 2010. In the study, 62% of IT professionals estimated that social networking was present on their networks, while the actual data from deployed appliances showed social networking present in 100% of cases. Web-based chat was found to be in use in 95% of locations, although only 31% of IT professionals estimated that it was in use.

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