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Social media or no social media? That is the question

New research has revealed that a large majority of CIOs across Europe and the UK currently restrict access to social media for employees inside the corporate network. There are numerous arguments in favour of such actions: a fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding, the concern that employees won’t work with online distractions around, and so forth.

To some extent, these concerns are valid. A report by Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic indicated that Angry Birds could be costing businesses over $1.5 billion in lost wages and fantasy football could cost $10.5. Yet by blocking all social media, CIOs risk antiquating themselves, alienating clients, and angering employees. Extensive online blocking is a bit like taking a sledge hammer to a dysfunctional kettle or toaster.

Unfortunately, CIOs are taking this approach. A study conducted by Easynet and Ipanema Technologies in July 2012 indicated that 67% of European CIOs and IT Directors block Facebook. 60% block YouTube, 49% block Twitter, and 56% block all online video.

Such blocking can impact productivity. Within the office, it threatens to create tension between employees and management staff. Social media is oxygen to today’s tech-savvy younger generations. It’s vital for communication, education and information. Additionally, today the lines between the office and home are becoming blurred. Employees are now checking their emails at home and on the go after they have technically left the office. Insisting employees cannot use social media during office hours seems an odd double-standard and certainly isn’t something our own young employees would tolerate.

Blocking social media could also hurt sales as consumers shift online to make purchases. As consumers look to social media to engage with customer service and marketing staff, such blocking could close a vital line of communication. It could ultimately keep a company in the past rather than moving it toward the future.

Social media isn’t without risk for enterprises

It is true social media presents certain risks – specifically, IT risks, productivity risks, and security risks. From an IT perspective, there are threats to a company’s business-critical systems. When too many applications, like Facebook or YouTube, stream over a company’s networks, bandwidth can effectively be eaten up. Then things that matter to the operation of the business (like email, SalesForce, cloud-based tools, etc) won’t be able to work. Traffic from these critical applications can become stuck in traffic jams like too many cars crowding on a busy motorway.

From photo sharing to social networking, employees operating on their own devices are more likely to use ‘at home’ applications while in the office. Companies, who currently don’t know what applications are being used where and when, will be operating more blindly than ever. Control is lost and business productivity is jeopardised.

The third way

The solution isn’t to block all social media. Nor is it to allow social media to run unmanaged. The first is unrealistic and the second threatens productivity. Rather, the answer lies between the two extremes. CIOs must understand how employees are using their networks, and prioritize business-critical applications above others. New tools enable CIOs to slow down applications such as Facebook and YouTube in order to allocate more bandwidth and network space to business-critical operations, reducing IT risks. Simultaneously, by slowing down certain social media applications, CIOs reduce the appeal of these potential distractions. Employees can still access social media, mitigating any tension that might rise from extensive blocking but are less likely to use such tools en masse.

Adapting to change is something CIOs have had to do since the role was first invented. Social media is part of this evolution. Rather than treating it with suspicion or trepidation, we advocate an approach which analyses its effects on the wider IT set-up. Only then can CIOs truly understand if social media blocking is the right course of action for their organisation.  

Thierry Grenot

Thierry Grenot

Thierry was responsible for the design and implementation of numerous telecommunications systems, including large multi-service high-bandwidth networks. A recognized expert in the fields of networking and quality of service, he owns numerous patents. Before Ipanema’s creation, he was VP of Engineering, at the Corporate Network Business Unit of Thales. Thierry is an E.N.S.E.R.G. graduate.

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