To Block or Not to Block: Facebook at Work

As social networking has increased in popularity, employers are faced with a dilemma. Should they allow employees to continue to access sites like Facebook and Twitter, or should social networking be blocked?

There’s no denying social media is a productivity drain for workplaces that still allow access. Computer World reports that more than half of all U.S. companies block social networking. Of those companies that still allow it, Computer World reports a 1.5% drop in productivity among workers. In fact, Nucleus Research found some employees surveyed admitted to spending as much as two hours a day on social networking sites.

While sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare can be time-wasters, The Register warns that blocking access could affect employee turnover. The U.K. study found less than half of employees surveyed would stay at a job with strict social media policies.

But the real danger, experts warn, is in missing out on the most important marketing tool of our time. As television advertising reaches smaller audiences, advertisers are turning to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about new or existing products. In larger companies, the advertising department takes care of social networking, often through an intern or newer associate. But, small businesses likely don’t have that kind of staffing luxury.

Small businesses can take advantage of social networking-savvy employees. If your small business doesn’t already have a social media presence, allow your Facebooking and Tweeting employees to set one up for you and monitor it daily. Chances are, these employees will be happy to do the company’s social networking and you’ll benefit by getting the word out about what your business is offering.

These employees could also be valuable resources as your business decides how to best utilize social networking. Having one or more staff members who are familiar with social networking from a user standpoint gives you an insider. Ask for tips on spreading your business message without scaring off the very customers you’re trying to attract.

For many companies, though, concerns will remain. PC World reports that in addition to concerns about employee productivity, some employers are concerned about employees sharing too much on Facebook and Twitter.

“Employees may not like it, but these websites can represent a security risk if used carelessly,” Graham Cluley, of security company Sophos, told PC World.

A recent court case ruling in favor of employee privacy when that employee was fired for Facebook postings has employers nervous. While negative company talk has always been a part of the workplace, social networking has a far wider audience, with malicious commentary about a company spreading quickly. If an employee’s social networking page is private, employers can’t even see the negative words, leaving employers to wonder what’s being said.

Blocking social networking won’t necessarily prevent this from happening, experts warn. Negative status updates can be posted during an employee’s non-working hours or even while at work, using smart phones. Consider having a company-wide confidentiality agreement, as well as a computer security policy, which employees are required to sign. While these agreements won’t trump an employee’s freedom of speech, it will help to protect your business against anything an employee posts should legal issues arise.

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About Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.