Should You Let Employees Use Social Networks at Work?

by Ellen Lee on November 9, 2010
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Should you let your staff update their Facebook status at work? Or watch a YouTube video during a break?

How to manage your workers’ — and your own — use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is a delicate balancing act, according to a recent report by security software maker McAfee.

U.S. organizations on average lost more than $1.5 million last year because of security breaches caused by using social network sites, such as unwittingly downloading a virus or malware infection. Six out of 10 organizations suffered large losses and altogether security incidents caused by these infections cost $1.1. billion.

Lesson learned: Don’t fall for that “sexiest video” ploy.

Besides security, leaders were also worried about lack of productivity. Close to half also said they were concerned that employees could use social media inappropriately by accident or when they were unhappy with their pay or boss. Small businesses were among the least likely to fear that employees would misuse social media sites.

Indeed, social media sites can be an effective tool for small businesses. By 2014, Gartner, a research firm, predicts that 20 percent of business users will rely more on social networking services than email for communication. Small businesses can monitor and respond to customer concerns on Twitter, as well as offer promotions and coupons to attract new customers and build customer loyalty. They can recruit and vet potential employees on LinkedIn. And they can use a number of tools, such as PBWorks, to allow their employees, including those in remote offices, to collaborate.

Social networks also have value for employees who simply need a break or a little downtime. You probably don’t disallow snack breaks or turn off access to Yahoo at work.

So how do you handle the pros and cons? Here are three suggestions from McAfee.

1) Educate yourself and your staff — Everyone needs to be savvy about accessing these sites and should know the potential risks and threats.

2) Establish rules — Nearly half the organizations surveyed by McAfee ban Facebook at work outright. While you may not need to go that far, you should have a policy or guidelines in place, both for office computers and mobile devices. It’s one thing, after all, to tweet about a new promotion your company is offering than to play FarmVille for four hours.

3) Use technology to your advantage — Back up data and consider applications such as encryption, firewalls, web filtering, and authentication tools to protect important information.

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