Dec 18 2009

Ban social media, lose the marketing war, lose staff

Yesterday I came across a great post: Why multinationals are losing the marketing war, by Chris Rand who asserts:

the biggest barrier to engaging with customers and prospects online remains the corporate IT environment.

He says too many companies block access to tools like Facebook and Twitter just as they used to restrict access to the internet to a few carefully selected websites; “And these companies’ sales teams wonder why smaller competitors always seem to have got into customers first”. His final paragraph should be printed out and nailed to the forehead of every short-sighted corporate IT manager who thinks employees will meekly comply with social media bans and that it won’t affect the business:

“It’s easy to absolve the corporate IT department of any blame for this state of affairs, because they’re only obeying orders (although that’s one reason why they’re often referred to as the Network Nazis). But they’re complicit in this rank stupidity, because if the senior management is ignorant enough to think their staff won’t find ways around rules if that allows them to do their jobs better, then someone should be advising them that the rules aren’t practical. I follow one company on Twitter whose posts are clearly being sent from an iPhone. What next? A memo to IT asking if it’s practical to block mobile phone use within the building?”

A similar point was made by Benjamin Ellis at the recent Dell Social Media B2B Huddle in Bracknell, when he described a business in which one person got round the corporate firewall by using a netbook and 3G card (see also: Going to the toilet puts UK economy down the toilet). Over coffee, I told a very similar true story to another delegate….

A cautionary tale

I have a friend (let’s call her “Belinda”) who worked hard as an office manager in the regional office of a well-known contractor. Most days Belinda would sit at her desk at lunchtime and while she ate her sandwiches she would surf the net, using Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with friends (also colleagues and contacts in other companies). Typically her break would last 25-30 minutes, and, being at her desk, she was also happy to field incoming telephone calls, answer colleagues’ questions and the like.

Then the company decided to block employee access to social networking sites and to monitor web use. Determined to maintain her online conversations (and more than a little cheesed off!), Belinda started bringing her netbook and 3G dongle to work. Instead of bringing her sandwiches back to the office, she ate them at a table in the local sandwich bar while she surfed, and she now took her full one-hour lunch-break entitlement. This also meant that the company had to find someone else to answer incoming telephone calls, not always as efficiently as she did, so affecting other peoples’ productivity. Very recently,  she left the company to take up a post in a graphic design consultancy with a more open and mature attitude to their employees’ web access.

By treating their employees like children (to reuse a Chris Rand phrase), the company’s managers managed to:

  • disenchant one experienced and previously committed individual (and probably many others)
  • lose more than half an hour of her voluntary overtime every day (over, say, 10 weeks that’s 25 hours)
  • provide extra administrative work for her colleagues (a few more man-hours), and
  • create a vacancy that will cost £100os of pounds in recruitment expenses, management time, training, etc)

So much for the productivity improvements from banning social networking…!

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  1. The cautionary tale is a great example! Businesses are dependent on the discretionary effort of staff. If you adopt a ‘non-discretionary’ approach to staff, eliminating flexibility and demanding your ‘rights’ then staff will be inflexible and exercise there’s. The only people who loose out of that deal are the company owners.

  2. I find it astonishing that this is still prevalent enough to be an issue. How can any business be so very short-sighted?

    And indeed, if you cannot trust your employees to work in the best way they can for the business, then something is wrong and needs to be addressed. The time for those companies who value their staff and their business to shine and grow apace with social media and all the benefits of such.

    Thanks for a great article, Paul

  3. My previous employer had blocked facebook, ning sites and twitter. I also figured out a work around. Though I have now started a business in the architecture industry that is fully embracing these tools with great success.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! I posted about this same issue in the legal services sector yesterday coincidentally – where many solicitors are actually advising their clients to ban social networking sites.

    On the flipside there are a number of lawyers who are making great use of social media to grow their own businesses – but needless to say these are not the ones who are writing articles suggesting they should be banned.

    http://peninsulawyer.wordpress.com if it is of any interest.

  1. […] have written before (eg: Ban social media …) about how IT departments can block effective adoption of Web 2.0, often prompting employees to […]

  2. […] as a barrier, with negative publicity a major fear. To me, this is not a barrier or a reason to block access, but a reason to be prepared. As well as harnessing technology to monitor how the […]

  3. […] argued (Why social media bans won’t work), such bans can easily be bypassed, and can backfire (Ban social media, lose the marketing war, lose staff). And it must be better to positively encourage responsible behaviour (Let’s be positive on […]

  4. […] as a barrier, with negative publicity a major fear. To me, this is not a barrier or a reason to block access, but a reason to be prepared. As well as harnessing technology to monitor how the […]

  5. […] have written before (eg: Ban social media …) about how IT departments can block effective adoption of Web 2.0, often prompting employees to […]

  6. […] Original blog post now at http://www.blog.pwcom.co.uk/2009/12/18/ban-social-media-lose-the-marketing-war-lose-staff/ […]

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