Mailbag: CIOs and IT Managers Sound Off About Banning Facebook At Work

When I set out to a do a story about CIOs banning social networks, it might have seemed counterintuitive to visit Facebook of all places to find sources. But it proved a good decision, when my colleague, Kim Nash, posted the following to our CIO Facebook forum:

One of our reporters, Chris Lynch, is examining how IT departments craft policies regarding the use of consumer social networks (like Facebook). Do you ban them? Do you allow them? We're finding that both strategies seem to have their advantages and pitfalls from the standpoint of security and productivity. If you're interested, Chris is under deadline and would love to hear from you. E-mail him at clynch@cio.com.

The responses I received varied in ideas and tone, and snippets made it into my story. But I thought I’d share all the responses we got in an unabridged form:

Chris,

We have not developed a formal policy position but the discussion within our organization is happening and we do not ban the use of Facebook, although clearly, in the education space there are lots of difference of opinion on the matter. While the focus is social networking there are important links that can be easily developed to support learning and education. Social responsibility and being part of a community are perhaps the most obvious place to start. The application in schools is endless but this is not to diminish the frustrations and concerns that are happening and valid today. It is a new space that teachers and educators need to harness. Of course I can see that this would be very different for businesses, although perhaps that discussion could start/centre on wellness and engagement in the workplace and then develop the creative possibilities from there. Again not straight forward and can see how many organization just dont have the time to thing about or get into it and so its just easier to pull the plug on it.

Dan Turner

Director, Information Management Services, School District #36 (Surrey), British Columbia

Chris,

This is an interesting topic and has pros and cons. Here is a summary of my perspective on this:

Concerns:

- It can become a recreational time suck for employees draining productivity from an organization

- Employees post personal opinion which can be misconstrued as the public position of the company they work for, or leak other sensitive information inadvertently while collaborating with peers across different companies

Pros:

- Its a great way for employees to network and learn what is going on in their field, real time, and get feedback. This is much more effective than the passive trade press or research consumption method.

- Its a great way to reach customers. 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 or as a way to communicate with customers, or communities of customers.

- People are going to write about you on social computing sites whether you like it or not. You may as well embrace it and at least participate.

So what to do?

Our strategy is to address this through our employee "appropriate use policy" which covers appropriate use of email, IM, and internet in general; make it clear that employees cannot speak on behalf of the company (unless that is their job) and remind employees of sensitive content. >

Banning this kind of technology is like trying to standardize on one PDA device. It's the safest, most efficient and "IT common sense" thing to do but it’s not realistic. The devices, and social computing sites are here and our employees will bring them into the enterprise. If you ban it then you are really just sticking your head in the sand and losing an opportunity to manage it. If you acknowledge it you can put a policy around it and trust employees to use it appropriately.

My 2 cents. Hope this is useful.

Regards,

Graeme Thompson

CIO

BEA Systems Inc.

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