Social networking at the branch, the downside

* Things to consider if companies want to allow or encourage social networking

Though there are benefits to bringing social networking sites, such as Facebook, Linked In, Myspace, and YouTube, to the workplace, there are disadvantages, too. And companies must weigh the two and develop an appropriate policy regarding the sites.

Though there are benefits to bringing social networking sites, such as Facebook, Linked In, MySpace, and YouTube, to the workplace, there are disadvantages, too. And companies must weigh the two and develop an appropriate policy regarding the sites.

Last week, I wrote about these sites and their relevance to the workplace. About 26% of businesses use social networking sites, 28% are evaluating or planning to use them, and 46% have no plans. Only about 7% of companies actually encourage social networking, and, 42% explicitly block the sites, according to Nemertes’ latest research project, Unified Communications & Collaboration.

Social networking sites are another collaborative tool to help keep remote workers connected with business associates and friends and they let companies essentially advertise their products, services, and strategies, or help them find new employees. But they have been primarily a personal tool rather than a business tool, and melding the two can be quite challenging.

If companies want to allow or encourage social networking, they must consider the following downsides:

• They are distracting. When non-supervised branch employees check their Facebook, it could spiral into an hour-long distraction from work. IT should use monitoring tools that report on how much time employees spend on the sites. Or, they can restrict their use during a designated lunch hour, or before or after work.

• They can give away too much information about employees or the company. If employees don’t know how to use the appropriate security settings, everyone can see everything on the site. IT and business units must train employees on what’s appropriate to share with what groups of people.

• Employee safety issues can emerge. If employees open their sites to everyone, they risk handing out personal information to potential scam artists, criminals, or stalkers. Again, the appropriate security settings can help.

• They use bandwidth—potentially, lots of it. Posting and viewing photos and videos significant bandwidth. IT executives who have tracked this have told us it can use anywhere from 10% to 20% of bandwidth during peak periods of use. That translates into higher WAN costs.

Completely blocking the sites may be difficult (technically and from a business perspective) moving forward. Employees can use their broadband wireless cards, for example, to bypass the company WAN. And creative marketing folks will justify ways that the sites can help the bottom line. So organizations should develop acceptable use policies and train employees on safely and efficiently using the sites—and IT should provide supervisors with reports to demonstrate who’s violating company policy.

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