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Cloud Talk

Andre Yee

Should Corporate IT Block Social Media Sites?

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It's a debate that's been raging for more than a couple of years now - should corporate IT block social media sites like Facebook and Twitter? According to a Robert Half survey of CIOs, more than half of businesses block the use of social media sites altogether and another 19% permit it for "business purposes" only.

Their concern? Security and employee productivity.

At a recent RSA security conference, the increasing presence of social media security threats was a recurring topic of discussion... with good reason. According to a ComputerWorld article, here's what Graham Cluley, a security expert from Sophos said -

"Hackers recognize there are more and more and more people spending more and more time on social networks...that makes social networking sites attractive to cybercriminals. If you've got hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, then why go to all the effort to infect their computers which has antivirus software?"

Like many "platforms", major social media sites have become targets of hackers and it's only going to get worse before it gets better.

Employee productivity
Unlike security threats, the concern for employee productivity is a lot more controversial. It carries with it, a certain "us vs them", "management vs employees", "union vs labor", mentality. It smacks with the overtones of distrust. Unfortunately, it's fueled by reports like this one from Nucleus - 1.5% loss of productivity due to Facebook. According to the same report, 77% of surveyed employees have Facebook accounts and two thirds access it during work. Headlines like "Facebook Costs Employers $5B A Year" don't help either.

To Block or Not to Block?
OK - what should a CIO do? Does it make sense to block social media sites at the workplace? I say no and here are a few reasons why blocking Facebook and other social media sites simply doesn't make sense for most organizations -

1. Loss of productivity stats seem misleading and unreliable. Frankly, the reported 1.5% productivity loss made me question the report more than the potential distraction quotient of Facebook. Seriously, what's the margin of error on that report? I'm guessing it's more than 1.5%. Making a policy decision based on that kind of "false precision" is the folly of bureaucrats.

2. Productivity is more about the quality of employees than accessibility to data/information. If distraction of employees are a problem, you'll have to cut off Internet access, not simply Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. And, by the way, here's a counterpoint to the Nucleus report by an Australian researcher who has concluded that moderate web surfing can actually improve productivity by 9%.

3. Social media is about business. CIOs need to wake up and understand this - social media sites aren't just about family reunions and catching up with college roommates - it's about business in a Web 2.0 world. Corporate websites are fast becoming secondary to corporate Facebook pages as more business traffic is directed to Facebook. Linkedin handles are becoming just as important as email addresses. And Twitter is just the consummate smart, aggregated feed for business information. Cut this off from your employees and you're putting your company at a disadvantage.

4. Security is about managing risk, not eliminating it. Social media risks are real and growing but the answer isn't to eliminate access to social media. Instead IT organizations should mitigate these risks through education and the use of security tools. There are risks inherent in email but we don't eliminate email - we mitigate those risks. As new technologies from the consumer world like IM have found their way into corporate setting, they've certainly presented new security challenges. (in a prior life, I've developed technologies to address IM related threats and advocated best practices to mitigate IM risks). However, thought leading IT organizations find a way to harness these tools for productivity and to mitigate the risks associated with them.

Instead of blocking these sites, I think smart CIOs should be figuring out how to lead their companies into leveraging these sites for competitive advantage.

What do you think?


You bring up an excellent point. I think at this point it is too vague to determine whether or not productivity is increased or decreased. Besides, Palabra PR uses social media every day to measure trends, which is something other companies should consider.

Stepheny - thanks for your comment. Regarding corporate use of social media, I think the pros far outweigh the cons at this point.

I’m a consultant working with Palo Alto Networks; they have an excellent whitepaper on the subject of blocking social networking apps that you may have to worry about, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?? here:


It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.) Let me know what you think. Pass it onto your IT department. It will help with increasing social media productivity as well as keeping your network safe.

I agree, open it up. It's inevitable. But it should be done for a reason and with caution.

When we rolled out our social media program we had a debate in an executive committee meeting. As CMO I proposed that we allow access. IT and Finance immediately defended our policy insisting that we deny access. I calmly stated that we wanted to pursue a program that had been agreed to by that group and needed to discuss how we amended the policy.

The knee jerk reaction of IT was "heck no". Once they were presented with the business case and rationale behind the request they found a way to partner, not block.

After 9 months we have noticed no productivity drain, improper information disclosure, or other significant mishap.

Kelly - thanks for sharing your thoughts on the balance of security with an open social media policy.

Doug - I think the knee jerk reaction is normal and to be expected but in this day, social media is no longer a "nice to have"- it's part of doing business. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with this

If you liked the whitepaper, Palo Alto is doing a follow up webinar to explore the subject further. Enjoy! http://bit.ly/cR80Al

Andre Yee blogs about cloud computing, SaaS, Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies that matter to businesses.

Andre Yee

Andre Yee is an entrepreneur and technologist with nearly 20 years of experience in the business of technology.

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