Why social media bans won’t work

I have heard suggestions that more than half of all construction organisations prohibit employee access to social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (a recent white paper from the US-based Society for Marketing Professional Services Foundation gives an even higher figure of 67% of AEC firms blocking employees from viwing social networking sites while at work). And I have spoken to audiences drawn mainly from architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) businesses where people have complained that their employers have included social networking sites on firewall blacklists.

This topic was raised at the recent CIMCIG event (post) and I mentioned the recent news coverage (see BBC story) given to Portsmouth City Council’s decision to block staff access to Facebook, Bebo, Twitter and eBay. As I said at the time, given that the average employee was apparently spending – gasp! – between five and six minutes a month (equivalent to maybe 90 seconds a week!), I think such blanket bans are often overkill. Far better, surely, to check when employees are using such sites, and how much, and tackle any perceived abuse on a case by case basis.

Moreover, I pointed out that since more employees now have access to the web through mobile devices, many staff would be checking Facebook or sending Tweets from their own phones or even netbooks – I know one lady who bought a netbook and T-mobile dongle simply so that she could access Facebook during her lunch-hour. Paradoxically, blocking Facebook access through the organisation’s IT networks could end up with employees actually wasting more time on social media networks as they have to rely upon slower connections!

And given that most UK households also have internet access, workplace bans are not going to stop people accessing social networks from home and talking – as many do – about their work, their colleagues, their employer, customers, etc (witness the recent Dixons/PCWorld debacle). It’s also worth noting that banning social networking access could hit staff morale and affect perceptions of the organisation among potential recruits – I’ve just been reading about a survey which showed many students use social media to assess potential employers.

Finally, bans can be imposed as a result of individuals abusing their employer’s trust, perhaps spending hours on social networking sites when they should have been working. This, I think, can be a sign that the organisation has not been sufficiently proactive in creating and encouraging compliance with guidelines on responsible use of corporate IT and/or social media sites.

Of course, blanket bans may restrict quite legitimate access to social media (I noted earlier this year that some PR professionals’ communication efforts were being compromised by such constraints), so it was encouraging to hear Portsmouth City Council’s chief executive David Williams say:

“We regularly revise our position on this as the internet environment is constantly changing. … Any member of staff may, under this revised policy, make a business case to have these sites unblocked if they need to use them for council business.”

If nothing else, this will at least allow some staff to keep tabs on what their colleagues and others are saying about the Council on social media sites!

4 pings

  1. […] engineering and construction (AEC) and facilities management (FM). As I noted recently (see Why social media bans won’t work), other US research suggests that 67% of AEC firms block employees from social networking while at […]

  2. […] networking platforms and those denied such access. In any event, as I’ve previously argued (Why social media bans won’t work), such bans can easily be bypassed, and can backfire (Ban social media, lose the marketing war, […]

  3. […] reputation online. I explained the futility of trying to block social media access (Why social media bans won’t work), and talked about the need to work with colleagues and develop social media guidelines covering […]

  4. […] The whole blog post is now at http://www.blog.pwcom.co.uk/2009/10/02/why-social-media-bans-wont-work/ […]

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