A few years ago, social media were the bane of many businesses. Seen as a dangerous distraction for employees, some even instructed their IT teams to block access to social networking sites in an effort to recover employee time and productivity. Nowadays however, the tide seems to have turned. Companies look towards social media as a source of contact between their teams, with their markets, potential customers and of competitive information. But does that mean that the concerns about workers wasting time and possibly compromising a firm’s confidential data have been eliminated? Or is social media peril still lurking underneath the surface?
In terms of productivity, there seems to be a positive trend in how social media are considered. Good reasons to get a social network going inside a company include sharing best practices, collaborating better, improving company culture and locating areas of expertise. The use of social network as a way of communicating to customers has already been constructively demonstrated by firms using Twitter to manage crisis situations, or Facebook to gain fans, friends and sales interest. Perhaps the results of the Experian Marketing Services study that showed that workers are interrupted every 10 ½ minutes by tweets and online chat are just a necessary evil, so that the rest of the ‘good social networking’ can take place.
For risks on the other hand, the picture may be less rosy. Social media users can put their organisations at risk by divulging confidential information (deliberately or unintentionally), or can expose themselves to hacking and identity theft. The first step that many companies take is to communicate guidelines for appropriate use of social network sites and accounts. However as employees increasingly use their own computing devices for both work and leisure web access, employers must tread a fine line when trying to lay down company policies.