I run a SME which means that I can afford to be a fan of the ‘only-introduce-a-policy-when-someone-takes-the-piss’ form of management. But I guess when you’re running a MNC you need to be more strategic in your approach to the use of social networks at work.

It was interesting to see that the study by Clearswift found that the reason behind blocking access to Twitter and Facebook had nothing to do with concerns about what employees were up to online, but instead was part of a general clamp down on internet use in response to a number of recent high profile hacking scandals.

The reality, however (according to the FT at least), is that social networks are seldom responsible for data breaches, and it seems that many organisations are simply using hacking as an excuse to get tough on something the bosses fear or don’t understand.

But I would warn those companies to think twice before taking this step and, at the very least, consider that in b2b social networking (as in many areas of business), inaction has consequences. By all means take the step of blocking social access to networks at work, but to make sure your decision is an informed one, you should be answering these questions first.

If you cannot answer them, then you have probably fallen victim to scare mongering and are engaging in panic-blocking. The questions are:

  • Who in the organisation is using social networks? Which networks are they using? How are they using them? How are they benefitting?
  • What are your competitors up to? Which networks are they using? How are they using them? How are they benefitting?
  • What opportunities for social engagement exist (particularly those that are not being used by competitors)? To what extent are these worth pursuing? What forecasted benefits can they bring? What is the cost of implementing them?
  • What problems has use of social networks by staff caused for the organisation to date? How serious were these? How were they dealt with?
  • What is being said about your organisation on social networks? In particular, what is being said by non-employees? If you blocked all internal social networking, what would that look like on Twitter, Facebook etc? Would the social conversation go on without you? How damaging would it be to ignore it?

Now I’m not entirely against blocking social access at work, and I agree that there are some industries in which it could be the right approach. All I’m saying is that the decision should only be made once all the facts have been considered.