Entries from November 2007 ↓

Scientists use social media

Listen up, all you companies blocking access to social media — and especially those of you who employ scientists. According to a worldwide study of more than 1,500 scientists, 77% use social media primarily “to find application and troubleshooting tips, protocols, and product reviews.”

How inappropriate. Let’s keep blocking this evil and nefarious stuff. After all, 54% of respondents said their lab purchase decisions were informed by what they learned through engagement with social media. We can’t have better purchase decisions, can we?

The study was conducted by by BioInformatics, LLC, a leading provider of market research services and co-sponsored by PJA Advertising + Marketing, a business-to business advertising and marketing agency. Read more about the study here.

Whole Foods shuts off employee participation

Evidently, the video embedded here is no longer available.

Jeremy Burton on “For Immediate Release”

Today I was lucky enough to interview Jeremy Burton, the CEO of Serena Software, about his belief that encouraging employees to use Facebook provides clear business advantages. The interview was for For Immediate Release, the regular podcast I co-host with my colleague, Neville Hobson. You can get the Burton interview here.

What we’re up against

Tony Molloy forwards a blog post about an IT security company — Global Secure Systems — that has blocked access to social networking sites rather than increase bandwidth to accommodate employee use of these resources. The company is clearly vying for the title of uninformed reactionaries of the year with this zinger from Managing Director David Hobson:

Coupled with our direct experience with social networking sites, these news reports have led us to advise our clients to block access to Facebook, MySpace and other portals of this ilk. They’re just trouble all round and have no place in the modern business environment, even during legitimate staff breaks.

Clearly, Mr. Hobson attempted zero research before tossing off this statement. If he had, he would know that many companies have identified plenty of business value, even if he opted to make the same decision.

Mashable poll asks about blocking social networks

A poll on the Mashable website — dedicated to social networks — asks whether employers should block access to social networking sites. So far, the votes are pretty evenly distributed — 72 asserting social networks are a valuable business tool, 64 arguing they waste a company’s money, and 52 saying companies should allow access but limit the amount of time employees can spend on such networks.

Take a second a cast your vote.

Two faces for business view of social networks

There seems to be a case of split personality going on in a lot of companies. On the one hand, the blocking of social media sites continues apace. On the other hand, the adoption of social media in the enterprise is also on a growth spurt.

McAfee, the security company, is out with a study that concludes that one-third of bosses block employee access to music downloading sites like iTunes to dating sites. A quarter block access to sites like YouTube. More than half wish they could block access to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, but only 20% have taken the step. McAfee suggests the rest have resisted because the sites are actually used for work-related communication. Kudos to McAfee Avert Labs Security Strategist Toralv Dirro, who tossed off this wonderful quote:

The lines between work and play are blurring… but putting fair-usage policies in place and educating people on how to be safe on these sites is the most realistic option.

That’s pretty enlightened for a security software company. It’ll be a cold day in hell before we hear similar quotes from the fearmongers at Websense.

According to surveys from Barracuda Networks, two-thirds of companies plan to restrict access to the Net over the next year, an increase of nearly 23% over this year. About half of the company’s customers already block access to social networking sites (25% block just MySpace, 6.3% block just Facebook, and 19.3% block both).

Meanwhile, the prospects for adoption of social media behind the firewall as part of a company’s intranet seem to be gaining momentum. SocialText secured $9.5 million in venture capital from its existing investors concurrent with the arrival of former Adobe and Cisco exec Eugene Lee as the company’s new CEO. (Founder Ross Mayfield is sticking around as president and chairman.) Ferris Research analyst David Ferris told http://www.internetnews.com/ent-news/article.php/3709511″>InternetNews.com, “There is a strong interest in wikis in corporate environments, and most tools don’t give you the features Socialtext offers, like access controls, which are really important in the corporate space.”

There’s more: The Radicati Group has projected the market for “business social software” at $920 million this year, growing to $3 billion in four short years.

At some point, companies are going to have to come to terms with the fact that networks cross organizational boundaries and that open access — governed by clearly-communicated policies — will produce benefits that far outweigh the costs and risks. Companies that understand this sooner — like Serena Software, which has embraced Facebook as a resource for employees — are likely to gain a competitive edge over those businesses too busy quaking in their boots over the bogus issue of lost productivity.

TUC offers up workplace advice for social networks

The UK’s Trades Union Congress has published a three-page brief outlining its position on how companies should deal with social networks like Facebook. THe PDF document covers four main issues…

  • Productivity — “We believe that good employers should consider allowing their staff personal use of the internet in general at the workplace, during break times, provided this is used responsibly and doesn’t interfere with work or could compromise the employer’s reputation.”
  • Personal conduct — “Employers may have some valid concerns about the way their employees conduct their personal lives, such as breaches of commercial confidentiality or damaging the company’s reputation by slandering co-workers or clients…(but) we’re concerned that some companies may be over-reacting to this increased level of knowledge about what their employees say about their work.”
  • Recruitment — Any employer who takes equal opportunities in recruitment seriously should not be considering this. As only a minority of potential staff will have public profiles on social networks, using information from this source can give an unfair advantage or disadvantage to certain candidates. ”
  • Security – “If employers help staff with training on IT security and identity theft, those staff will also have a better idea of how to minimise security risks to themselves and their company on social networking.”

These are just excerpts; read the entire document. I have to disagree with the TUC’s recruiting stance. After all, if I have a Facebook profile that helps me win a job over somebody who doesn’t, all I’ve done is exercise some initiative to make myself more marketable than the competition. It’s not the candidate’s problem that others haven’t figured out that a solid online presence can help you get hired.

Another pro-and-con piece

The Washington Post carries an AP story I read in my local paper, The Contra Costa Times, that gives equal time to those who see some value in letting employees freely access web content and those who see it as a dangerous place to go. Here’s the worthwhile quote of the piece:

“We suggest companies have policies concerning use of the Internet and to stress those in a positive way,” (Administaff senior HR specialist Rick) Gibbs said. “Take it from the perspective that most people are professional and they’re going to use things professionally.”

The other side of the coin

While many organizations are frantically blocking access to websites, Serena Software, a 900-person company in San Mateo, California, is taking the opposite approach, actively encouraging employees to spend time on Facebook — at least an hour each week — to keep their profiles current, interact with clients and fellow employees, and recruit from among Facebook’s millions of prospects…er…profiles. In addition, the company has set up an employees-only group to act as a rudimentary intranet where employees can share documents and videos and update business information. Heather Green has the full story on BusinessWeek‘s Blogspotting blog.

Different world, same issues

Even in Russia, HR professionals are talking about blocking employee access to online content. This article, with so-so translation, appeared in the St. Petersburg Times. In it, HR and recruiting professionals take varying approaches to addressing the time employees spend at work on social networks. Reading the points of view made me shake  my head. All those many thousands of miles away, and dealing with Russian networks — not Facebook and MySpace — and the issues are exactly the same as they are here.