Why Facebook Bans Are a Mistake

Despite nearly 90 million U.S. Facebook users and nearly 18 million
people tweeting on Twitter, many employers are blocking employee access
to social networking sites. Why? According to a survey by Robert Half
Technology, 54 percent of large business CIOs
polled said they are banning the use of social media sites during work
hours.

ScanSafe, a Web security software provider, reported in August a
20% increase in the number of companies blocking social networking sites
in the past six months. ScanSafe’s research found that, “Currently, 76%
of companies are choosing to block social networking and it is now a
more popular category to block than online shopping (52%), weapons
(75%), alcohol (64%), sports (51%) and Webmail (58%). Surprisingly,
employers don’t take the same stern approach to online banking and less
than half (47%) of our customers block this category.”

Most Twitter and
Facebook foes claim that logging on to social networking sites
decreases workforce productivity. Others fear the unauthorized release
of proprietary information, security risks and negative comments from
customers and employees. While these are all valid reasons, the
resources required to enforce the ban and consequences of losing top
talent due to “Big Brother-like” tactics may make the operation a
success, even though the patient dies. Since the majority of users
update their status via mobile technology, will employers next
confiscate all the employee phones? How will they monitor and enforce
off-hour use? Prohibition may propel the social media police down a
slippery slope.

Whether this is a knee-jerk reaction or well-founded
response to employees’ use of social media at work, many organizations
— small and large — are finding social media to be an effective tool
for recruiting candidates, engaging employees and supporting customers.
Many non-profits, such as United Cerebral Palsy and Red Cross are using Facebook to raise awareness and solicit donations. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using social media aggressively to spread information about the H1N1 flu. Even conservative and often stodgy organizations such as hospitals and NASA
are actively using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

So what’s the deal?
Are executives and business owners making a mistake by banning social
media? What are other management teams seeing that the social media
foes are missing? Will their caution and fear come back to bite them or
will they be redeemed if others fail?

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