Many large corporations, especially in the financial services space, have a strict rule that prohibits employees from accessing social media sites. While it is understandable that sensitive information should not be shared outside the physical and virtual halls of the firm, the policy may prove harmful in the long run. In addition, there is the possibility of lost opportunities to promote the company in a positive light, and a chance to engage analysts, press and customers. Those members of senior management who are enforcing this kind of policy may feel that they have real-world justification for this position. However, based on recent studies, there is more evidence against a “no access” policy. Here are a few reasons that support my stance, as well as my counter-arguments against the main drivers behind such a restrictive policy:
1) Employee Productivity: the general assumption is that access to social media sites diverts an employee’s attention away from the work at hand. However, several studies, including one conducted by Robert Half Technology, prove just the opposite. Research strongly supports the premise that for each hour an employee spends on a non-work related website, more than that hour is spent on constructive tasks outside of the workplace. A common example of these tasks would be the checking and responding to e-mail messages during commuting times. In general, the work gets done (otherwise, there exists a distinctly different employee issue).
2) Bandwidth: open access to the Internet puts undue stress on a firm’s technical capacity. According to Ashley Wirthlin of BusinessTraining.com, bandwidth “is the paper of the digital age.” Back in the day, it would be unheard of for a company to tell its employees that correspondence — both internal and external — was solely dependent upon the amount of paper on-hand. As the cost of disk storage and servers continue to drop, this is no longer a valid argument.
3) Security: openness to the Internet allows for hacking, as well as viruses and malware. One of the key responsibilities of any IT department is to secure its networks and systems with firewalls, encryption, and valid deployment of Secure Socket Layer technology. It is almost a given as a Day One task that system security be established and maintained, regardless of the source of possible threats. It is being done now by those firms who allow social media access by their employees.
4) Employee Recruitment: I would think that today’s graduates would insist on access to social media in the workplace, as it is part of their DNA. Minor case in point: the other day, my 14-year-old daughter broke the screen on her iPhone and, realizing the social impact of her non-connectivity — the social equivalent of my being sent to school without my Man From U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox — I immediately went to Apple to get it repaired. An indulgent father? Perhaps. But I think my action was due primarily to understanding the importance of being connected in today’s world. In regards to recruitment, lack of accessing social media may turn off a strong candidate and have him/her look elsewhere. Such as the competition.
5) The Personal Power of Mobile Technology: following up on the last point, most people have access to the internet via their mobile devices; they can access any site via their phones or tablets without the aid of the company’s network. Why not, then, allow access via the organization, making each employee an advocate and evangelist for the firm? The parameters for such interaction between employees and the digital world are set via the firm’s published and agreed Social Media Code of Conduct Policy.
I have written a few Social Media Policy documents, including ones for non-profit organizations, service providers, and entertainment organizations, and while each had unique requirements, the aim was common: present the company in its best light. This is directly addressed through clearly stated clauses that promote professionalism, positivity, and personal responsibility (the 3 Ps?). An employee needs to understand what is at stake: the company’s image. A policy that is enforced by agreed disciplinary procedures as well as stated motivational clauses can create a mutually beneficial association. An association that promotes a firm through motivated, professional employees