Banning Social Networks a Losing Battle

IT executives from a variety of industries concede that social networks are here to stay, but they are still working to find ways to give employees what they want and protect the company at the same time.

By C.G. Lynch
Wed, February 27, 2008

CIO — The increased use of Facebook and MySpace has caused some companies to reassess their electronic use policies, with some organizations banning social networks outright over worries about security and drags in productivity, according to several IT executives contacted by CIO.

Mark Lappin, director of IT for Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry (which owns eight retail shops in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi), says he banned Facebook because it was a huge productivity drain, especially for the younger members on staff.

"Some were spending 4-5 hours a day on it," Lappin says. "As soon as we shut it down, we saw a huge increase in productivity. Reports that had been taking four hours started getting done in two hours."

The reaction by Lappin to social networks mirrors that of other IT practitioners dealing with the disruptive changes brought on by the explosion of consumer technologies in the workplace. In CIO's annual consumer technology survey, slightly more than a third of the IT decision makers surveyed claimed they "shut down" any unsupported technology as soon as they detect it. In addition, nearly 10 percent of the survey's 311 respondents listed social networks as the top consumer technology threat facing their organizations.

But analysts who follow the social networking space say banning social networks, while the natural reaction, is most likely a losing battle. For one, people always find workarounds, such as visiting their Facebook pages via their iPhones. In addition, employees can use social networks as another means to communicate with customers.

"Isn't this always the knee-jerk reaction of IT and management?" says Jonathan Yarmis, an analyst with AMR Research. "It didn't work in the 1980s [because] there were very good reasons to give workers PCs. It didn't work in the 1990s [because] there were very good reasons to give employees access to the Internet. And it's not going stop the deployment of social networks now. They should be trying to understand why users find the platform attractive and how to leverage it from both an internal communications and a customer-facing perspective."

Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Ban

IT leaders acknowledge social networks can be good for business. "It's a great way to reach customers," says Graeme Thompson, CIO of BEA Systems, an enterprise software vendor. "Like other forms of traditional media, if it draws a large audience, we can't ignore it as a valuable source of feedback from customers."

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