With open access, employees can become valued content curators

After not too long a wait since submitting my request, I got an invitation to set up a Storify account. Storify bills itself as “a way to tell stories using social media such as Tweets, photos and videos.” It is, in fact, a content curation tool. You set up a story on any theme you like, then find just about any kind of content available on the Net and move it into a timeline over which you have complete control.

Beta account holders have set up Storify stories on the role of social media in the Middle East, Charlie Sheen’s first tweet, and a variety of other topics. I’ve already reported on NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin’s use of Storify to manage the information he accumulated from long-cultivated resources in the Middle East — in tweets, blog posts, videos, and photos — as his resource for reporting on the uprising in Tunisia, all from the comfort of his Washington, D.c.-area home.

If you want more information on Carvin’s use of Storify, Burt Herman has (of course) created a Storify story covering it. It’s also covered on the Storify blog.

I’ve started my first Storify story on why companies should open network access to social media for employees. You can find it on Storify.

As I’ve worked with Storify (which is staggeringly easy to use), it has occurred to me that employees can create amazing Storify stories. To begin with, they can collect new and archived information about their areas of subject matter expertise. I can envision Storify stories about the latest innovation in certain scientific endeavors (useful in a pharmaceutical company, for example), recruiting practices, engineering techniques, the list goes on. The value of these curated “stories” comes from applying their judgment to a collection of content that filters through the clutter in order to provide meaningful and timely information to colleagues and peers.

Product managers can keep track of the most relevant and interesting reports about brands. Even employee communciations managers can collect the most interesting tweets, blog posts and other social content about the company to help employees understand how the public perceives them.

The fact that these collections would be available to the broader public isn’t an issue, since it’s simply a filtering of content that is already accessible to everyone. Yet by embedding the stories on the intranet, the colleagues of these volunteer curators become the primary audience for their efforts.

Storify is just one of a flood of new curation tools hitting the market, any of which engaged employees could use to help their co-workers digest only the most relevant, important content from the web. Of course, employees in most companies would be stymied from even making the attempt because their employers block access to social channels.

The reasons for blocking are as overblown as ever, but the pace with which useful, usable tools are emerging that benefit the organization is gathering steam. Smart organizations will harnass these tools and their employees’ passions to make online information more meaningful, resulting in the achievement of core organizational objectives from improved customer satisfaction to larger market share and higher earnings.

The stupid companies will just keep blocking.

(This item is cross-posted from my primary blog.)

Watch a viral video, improve your problem-solving capabilties

Apel Mjausson forwarded this story from Time Magazine’s Healthland site, which reports on research from the University of Western Ontario that shows companies can improve creativity and problem-solving capabilities in the workplace by letting employees share non-work-related YouTube videos.

Well, not YouTube specifically. The study, reported in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, divided participants into three groups, then sought to affect their modds with three different types of stimuli:

The first group listened to an upbeat Mozart piece and watched a video of a laughing baby; the second listened to a musical score from the movie Schindler’s List and watched a news report about an earthquake; and the third listened to music and watched a video that were shown not to affect mood. Volunteers were then asked to learn to recognize a pattern that existed in a problem.

The first group — the “happy group” — was better at identifying the pattern than the other groups. “If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you do that,” said researcher Ruby Nadler. TIME’s conclusion: “Next time your coworker sends you a link to the latest laugh-inducing viral video, take a moment to check it out before tackling the most complicated item on your to-do list. Your boss will thank you.”

It’s one more bit of research that indirectly supports leaving employee access to YouTube open. It all starts to stack up against the non-research-supported moves to block access based on FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Is social media “stupid and vainglorious?”

In response to the last post, challenging Barclay Communications’ rationale for blocking employee access to social media, a blogger named Jeremy Probert, on the wordmonger’s blog (lower case is his, not mine), declared social media to be “stupid and vainglorious.” He wrote:

It’s been a long time, gentle readers, since I came across something that deserves an award for its icky, sticky, company hippy nature, its inherent stupidity and intellectual laziness and its truly horrible smug and self-satisfied tone. But today is the day – it chills my very soul to introduce this, the Stop Blocking website and it disheartens me even further to link to this, a piece entitled ‘Demolishing Barclays Communications’ Blocking Argument Point-by-Point’.

At first, I dismissed this as just another business pundit whose worldview hasn’t shifted since “The Organization Man.” But Jeremy does make points that are worth addressing debunking.

Most of Jeremy’s challenges are based on the fact that he read just this post, and didn’t bother with the rest of this blog where his arguments have been addressed repeatedly. Still, there’s nothing wrong with reiterating and reinforcing these points (which Jeremy generously calls “idiocies”):

Apparently, all workers, regardless of status or paygrade, put in extra hours and therefore compensate for any time that they may waste using social networks. Of course they do. In the same way that they all love the company that they work for, its senior management and its brands

We’re mostly talking about information and knowledge workers. And no, not every one of them put in extra hours. However, there is clear evidence from substantial, empirical, comprhensive research that Millennials do. As for those who don’t (and this point will re-emerge repeatedly), clearly communicated and enforced policies will deal with abuse.

Monitoring and addressing productivity is a supervisor’s job, not a IT’s. The consequences of blocking everybody as a means of addressing problem workers is a great way to kill engagement and drop employee trust to zero. As American Express’s vice president of communications James Lynch said yesterday at the Ragan Social Media Summit here at SWIFT headquarters in Belgium, blocking access is not a smart risk-mitigation strategy.

By the way, I’m a believer in public execution. Reward and recognition are the only way to drive culture and behavior change in organization. Announcing to the entire organization that an employee was terminated for violating the company’s policy can do more to keep employees on the straight and narrow than blocking policies that employees can override as easily as pulling out their smart phones.

Productivity suffers if employees can’t connect to social networks at work (thanks, University of Melbourne!). Apparently use of social media ‘resets an employee’s concentration’. How DID we manage to concentrate before?

First, the University of Melbourne didn’t produce the only study to reach this conclusion. Independently, for example, MindLab International conducted research that arrived at the same results. Jeremy can sniff at these results all he likes, but until he can produce research results to the contrary, I’ll continue to point to these studies.

As for how we managed to concentrate before — we didn’t. A colleague of mine — who manages a team at a global consulting firm that produces technology solutions — told me he and his team are under intense pressure to produce a high number of billable hours. Yet after five or six hours of continuous work, concentration slides so badly that work produced after that needs to be redone, so the pressure to put in the hours becomes counterproductive. And he lauds his team as the cream of the coding crop. It’s just, he says, that at a certain point without breaks, concentration declines.

If anyone believes that the workers sitting in rows of desks begins supervised by stern overseers to make sure they didn’t waste time were more productive than today’s workers who do take breaks and visit their online communities is simply deluded.

Because the US Department of Defense has opened its networks to social media, does not mean that LargeCorp Industries LLC (in the business of profit, not homeland security) should – it’s not a question of risk from cyber-attack, it’s a question of perceived need and value. (In any case, I would ask whether the ‘private in the field in Afghanistan’ is free to change his status willy-nilly (‘Safe behind a wall’ to ‘In a ditch with blast concussion’) or to share any sort of geographic or temporal information)

Jeremy, I have to ask if you read Barclay Communications’ argument at all. The very point they made is that opening networks to social media puts networks at risk to cyber-attack. That was their entire point. That’s what I was responding to.

And no, Jeremy, of course not: The Department of Defense, once it decided that social media was a “field of maneuver” rather than a “fortress to be defended” implemented training to ensure soldiers kept both themselves and the unit safe. As DoD senior strategist Jack Holt put it, the military teaches soldiers to be safe in the desert, on the seas, in the skies; they can train them to be safe online. Should you be interested, Jeremy, you can listen to my interview with Jack here or his interview with Eric Schartzman here.

Clearly, I never suggested that companies should simply open their networks. They need to implement policies and guardrails so employees can protect both themselves and the company, and the organization can ensure that they reap the benefits of employees’ online activities while mitigating the risks.

(Doesn’t all of this just sound like common sense? Somehow this escaped Jeremy. Sadly, he’s not alone.)

Company ‘confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator’. True – but your average elevator holds 12 people and Facebook holds a potentially eavesdropping audience of 450 million. Go figure

I’m not aware of any Facebook account with 450 million friends. Are you? And a privacy violation is a privacy violation. The HIPAA fine won’t be any larger for violation on Facebook than it would be for a violation in an elevator.

The point is that closing off access to Facebook doesn’t solve the problem; educating staff about privacy does.

Of course, Jeremy ignores the rest of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO’s larger point: blocking Facebook shuts down the ability for employees to build community, and it closes off the communication channel of preference among younger employees. Paul notes that he often gets useful suggestions and ideas from employees who don’t use email. (If you have children who are teens or in their twenties, you know this.)

‘Many employees carry smartphones – or they can (access social media) from home after work’ – again, true. But what they do on their own time is their own business – unless it contravenes company policy on how they may represent themselves as employees, or the laws of the land – in which case they get fired. In the workplace – well, the clue is in the name – ‘work’place. Not ‘fun’place or ‘do-your-own-thing’place

I am frequently accused (as Jeremy does) of being some kind of employee rights advocate. I’m not. I’m a business advocate. Understanding that Millenials (and, to a great degree, GenX) operate in what they call the “weisure” world — the cross-over of work and leisure — is vital. Work happens where it makes sense, whether it’s in an office or at the beach. Why? Because they have grown up as hyperconnected individuals where proximity is not required for work to be done. The idea that proximity is a requirement for knowledge/information workers is a relic of the era from which Jeremy has failed to move.

A study noted by American Express’s Lynch noted than39% of Millennial employees won’t work at companies that block Facebook — or will leave if a new block is implemented. That’s not because they want to have fun, but because Facebook is how they communicate and collaborate. Consider, for example, the results of the study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” conducted by SAP in conjunction with the Society for New Communciation Research (SNCR). The study found that organizational decision-makers who have access to their social media peer groups make better and faster decisions. Where, primarily, do those professional peers reside, according to the study? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Seventy-six percent of those professionals visit these networks once or more per day, where they…

  • Access thought leadership and information unavailable inside the walls of the company
  • Showcase the company (building brand recognition and supporting organizational goals from recruiting to sales)
  • Increase the speed of collaboration
  • Research business decisions

Another study showed that 40% of IT professionals use social networks to seek advice from peers on technology purchases. Clearly a stupid and vainglorious activity.

As for the whole “fun” thing, no, the workplace doesn’t need to be fun. But employees do need to be engaged (which means they make discretionary effort on the company’s behalf). Companies with large populations of highly engaged employees produce greater growth by far than others. It’s hard to imagine engaged employees in organizations where the first message they hear is, “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.” It’s also hard to imagine companies blocking access showing high levels of job satisfaction.

As for “do your own thing,” perhaps you’ve heard of a concept called “innovation.” Google practices it, with employees required to spend a certain amount of time innovating based on their own ideas. Have you checked Google’s valuation lately? I’d also point you to the book “Empowered,” by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, which promotes the idea that employees “own thing” ideas of how to use social media to better serve customers can produce a significant marketplace differentiation.

‘If normal use of bandwidth (this refers to employee use of social media) is slowing (your) network to a crawl, get more bandwidth.’ Just go to your finance guys and ask them to approve an increase in your budget, to purchase bandwidth to allow your employees to update their Facebook statii. That’s bound to work. Job done

Jeremy, please allow me to introduce you to the notion of “making a business case.” This concept involves demonstrating that the investment will produce results that exceed the cost.

All of this is hopelessly Utopian – the ideals of an imaginary world where everyone is nice, contented, loyal and trustworthy. Well, here’s the wake-up call. They’re not, and you need to bear that in mind when thinking about social media use in the workplace.

If your hiring practices result in bringing in employees who don’t embrace the preferred culture of the organization, that’s your fault. You can dismiss all this as “utopian” all you like, but companies like Cisco Systems and zappos.com seek culture fits above all else in their recruiting, and they reap the benefits. Hiring people you don’t trust is an archaic practice. If you engage in it, you have nobody but yourself to blame. To suggest that it’s simply not possible is nothing more than lazy.

Social media is wasteful and vainglorious.

First, this seems odd coming from somebody writing on his blog. But still…

This is the lynchpin statement that showcases the author’s stupendous ignorance. I hear it repeatedly from people who have not made the slightest effort to explore the research that proves precisely the opposite. General Motors is selling cars by allowing employees to talk about their driving experiences on Facebook from work. Sprint is solving customer problems it identifies through employee volunteers on Twitter. Best Buy is driving customers to its stores via 2,500 employees who answer consumer product questions posed on Twitter — from the floor store. Home Depot’s staff can produce videos or test results to respond to home improvement questions posed through social media channels. Through the employees’ social networks, companies are improving recruiting, identifying competitive intelligence, sourcing subject matter expertise, obtaining training…the list goes on.

There are thousands upon thousands of case studies, and hundreds of research studies, that prove the stupidity of such throwaway statements as “social media is wasteful and vainglorious.” The simple fact is, supported by policies and processes, employee engagement in social media can drive growth and profitability.

What is stupid and vainglorious is leaders who dismiss social media despite the avalanche of quantifiable evidence to the contrary.

Demolishing Barclay Communications’ blocking argument point by point

An article by Barclay Communications appearing in a tech publication from Northern Ireland is strident in its insistence that blocking employee access to Facebook is a requirement in the face of so much risk.

“According to a recent MyJobGroup study, over half of the UKs workforce could be trying to check and update their social networking sites in work,” the article asserts. “As a result social networking has become one of the biggest and most dangerous time wasting activities in the workplace.”

With glee, I’m going to destroy every argument Barclay’s IT services manager, Stephen McPeake, makes. After all, the four “biggest risks” McPeake cites are exactly the four I’ve been shooting down for the last couple years. (In fact, I’m developing an 11-part video series that covers these — along with the benefits organizations can accrue from employee engagement in social networks — that I’ll upload to YouTube as I complete them.)


McPeake says: “Consider an employee on minimum wage, working an 8 hour day, but wasting two hours of that on social networking. In the end that one employee could cost a company up to £3,000 a year in lost working hours.”

True enough, if that employee…

  • Only puts in eight hours in the office. He doesn’t come in early, he doesn’t stay late. He clocks in at 8 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m.
  • Never works away from the office. He never takes a conference call, responds to email, or does any other work at home, at the beach, at the park, on vacation. Increasingly, this is a ridiculous assertion, particularly as the Millennial generation enters the workforce with its concdept of “weisure” — the blending of work and leisure both in the office and at home.
  • Engages in online activities that produce absolutely no value to the organization, such as evangelizing product, sharing competitive intelligence, or seeking subject matter expertise that can’t be found inside the organization.

The fact is, productivity stands to suffer if employees can’t connect to Facebook or other networks. The University of Melbourne has produced research that shows productivity increases 9% among employees who are able to acccess the Net for fun during work. That’s better research than the insipid back-of-the-envelope calculation McPeake (and his ilk) has produced.

But productivity from the use of Facebook goes beyond the Melbourne rationale — that spending some time on the Net for fun resets an employee’s concentration, bolstering his ability to get work done efficiently. Last month, a Gartner representative predicted 20 percent of employees will use social networks rather than e-mail as their business communications hub by 2014. Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also sees the importance of Facebook as a channel of staff communication, writing that blocking Facebook “creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”

So much for productivity. Let’s move on to McPeake’s second risk:

Attacks from hackers

MckPeake says: “Social networking is one of the newest and most effective ways for hackers to gain entry into peoples’ computers. They pose as trusted friends or connections and then send you a private message recommending a site, video or link. Since they are your ‘friend’ you think nothing of viewing, opening or even downloading whatever they are recommending.”

Tell it to the Marines, Mr. McPeake. After all, this past February U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a directive opening social networks on all of the Department of Defense’s networks, enabling everyone from a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a private in the field in Afghanistan to participate on Facebook and other social channels. The rationale was simple: The DoD decided that the Net was a field of maneuver, not a fortress to be defended. (That’s my favorite metaphor for this whole issue, by the way.)

So how does the DoD protect its network from hacker attacks? After all, whose networks require stronger security than the military’s? Multiple approaches are taken, including strong network protection from infection. According to my contacts in the DoD, there hasn’t been a serious infection since the decision to open the network so soldiers and staff can participate in social networks.

If the U.S. Military can do it, so can your organization.

Frankly, Mr. McPeake’s recommendation to shut down access is nothing more than the easiest, laziest way to protect a network. It’s (obviously) not the only one.

So with network security behind us, it’s time to shift gears and address Mr. McPeake’s third risk:

Data Leaks

The article points to multiple instances of employees compromising intellectual property using social networks, then points out: “Last month many German companies, such as VW and Porsche were so afraid that their employees would give away trade secrets and be less productive with social networking sites that they completely blocked them.”

The stupidity of this argument is so deep it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s start with Beth Israel’s Paul Levy who, in the same post cited above, notes that confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator. Employees don’t need Facebook to do it. That reminds me of the instance of the Coca-Cola employee who stole a vial of liquid and some papers from a filing cabinet and tried to sell them to PepsiCo (which, to its great credit, turned the employee in; she’s now doing time).

Facebook and other social channels are nothing more than one more channel through which company IP can be distributed — and it’s not much different than email, when you get right down to it. And let’s not forget that employees don’t need the company’s network in order to disclose IP. Many employees carry smartphones with access to social channels, or they can do it from home after work. Blocking access does nothing to stop this bad employee behavior. Training, education, and enforcement of policies will do far more.

And it’s also worth noting that Porsche, as clueless as its blocking effort is, opted to keep YouTube open because of the wealth of training material available through the video sharing network.

That leaves only one more argument from Mr. McPeake:

Slows a company’s internet connection

Barclays Communications argues, “Streaming videos, constantly updating news feeds, playing games and downloading pictures will utilise a large majority of a company’s broadband speed.”

Technically speaking, this is true. I know one hospital that reluctdantly locked down staff access to Pandora, the music streaming service, because so many people were using it and leaving it on all day that vital patient data was moving slowly through the network.

But consider the parallel situation 25 years ago when communication was largely print-based rather than digital. Did you ever here of one of those organizations proclaim that they wished they could send out an employee newsletter but, damn, they just didn’t have enough paper.

The notion is absurd. Companies bought enough paper to meet their communication needs.

Bandwidth is the paper of the digital age. If normal use of bandwidth is slowing the network to a crawl, get more bandwidth. It’s easy to make a business case for this bandwidth, particularly as organizations begin to recognie the substantial business value that exists when employees (adhering to policies) can access social media from work.

That’s business value to which Mr. McPeake is blind. Instead, he says, “We would recommend that you completely block social networking sites with a Firewall such as Smoothwall.”

Do you get the feeling Smoothwall is a Barclay Communications client?

In any case, my advice to Mr. McPeake is to stick with IT and leave business decisions such as these to people who understand that the risks he cites are no risks at all when properly addressed. You have to wonder if Mr. McPeake ever read a quote from Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, who has spoken widely about opening access for all BC employees. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.

And, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted, “Email as we know it will soon give way to a more fully networked form of communication, which companies will learn to adopt. The only question is whether they will do so early or late.”

It’s time to chuck recommendations and arguments like Mr. McPeake’s into the trash, where they belong, and begin looking ahead to the networked realities of the world of work.

Activate employees who already use social media, improve business literacy for the rest

Cross-posted from A Shel of My Former Self

The various reasons companies block employee access to social media can be summed up in one word: fear. Among the many things that make employers afraid, from lost productivity to network infections, worry that employees will say the wrong things — or, worse, bad things — ranks near to the top.

A Forrester study released last week (and reported by Josh Bernoff) offers a good-news/bad-news outlook on the behavior of employees — specifically information workers — online.

  • The bad news — Nearly half of information workers are likely to talk down the company; fewer than a third are inclined to promote it
  • The good news — Among staff who already use social media, nearly half would recommend a company’s products or services; only 22% would bad-mouth them

The Forrester study, principally written by Matthew Brown, appliced a slightly adjusted version of the Net Promoter Score to its research. The 5,519 information workers from five countries were asked to answer this question on a 1-10 rating: “How likely are you to recommend your company’s products or services to a friend or family member?” You were a promoter is you scored your answer 9 or 10 and a detractor if your ranking came in between 0 and 6. The NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of your detractors from that of your promoters.

Among information workers across the board, the NPS was -23%, but among those already active in social channels, it was 26%.

Two lessons emerge from the study:

  1. Let the employees who are already using social media do so from work and, with appropriate policies and training, let them serve as enthusiastic ambassadors for the organization.
  2. Start focusing on the detractors. Your organization needs to look at the culture, the steps required to boost engagement, and the pressing need to bolster product, brand, and business literacy.

When employees are aligned with the company, there’s no end to the benefits they bring to the organization, as reported in this article from Advertising Age which argues (in the same excerpt Josh used in his post)…

While employees have always been the front line of customer interactions for brands, particularly those in the service industry, a number of factors of late have brought them more to the fore, including a more transparent and socially engaged society, a still-fragile economy where everyday value trumps aspirational brand attributes, and an ongoing lack of trust in corporate America and CEO spokespeople.

Your first step is to take the pulse of your employees. How does your employee population compare to the Forrester sample? If it’s as bad (or worse), you need to identify the reasons, then introduce the cures. It’s not easy, but it can be done — in fact, in the current business environment, it’s not optional. Ogilvy PR’s Rohit Bhargava, quoted in the AdAge piece, says, “Employees are the actual heart of the brand.” Without their support in a world increasingly characterized by the interconnectedness of people, a brand not represented by its people is at a disadvantage that can be impossible to overcome.

Interview: Baylor Health Care System unblocks employee access

This audio interview is cross-posted from “For Immediate Release,” my regular podcast.

Media Relations Manager Ashley Howland speaks with FIR co-host Shel Holtz about successful efforts to unblock employee access to social media properties, notably Facebook, at Baylor Health Care System in Texas.

Ashley HowlandHowland is the media relations manager with Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, TX, specializing in emerging and social media. In 2009, she helped launch Baylor into the world of social media by collaboratively creating an online strategy, vision and voice for the organization. She currently manages Baylor’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; creates content and serves as an online spokesperson for the health care system.

Ashley joined the Baylor Health Care System Media Relations team in 2004. In 2009, she was awarded a Silver Spur from the Texas Public Relations Association. Ashley received a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2003.

Is social media a fortress to be defended or a field of maneuver?

In re-listening to an interview I conducted a few months ago with U.S. Department of Defense Senior Strategist Jack Holt, I waas struck by a sound bite that encapsulates brilliantly the reason organizations should stop blocking employee access to social channels and provide them with the training and guidelines they need to operate safely and productively in these spaces. Holt, who focuses on new and emerging media for the DoD, said (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Will we treat social media as a fortress to be defended or as a field of maneuver?

You can hear a brief segment of the interview (less than four minutes) in which Holt makes this case here:

The DoD regularly sends soldiers into harm’s way in pursuit of military objectives. To ensure success, soldiers are well-trained to operate in various environments, from tropics to the desert to urban centers. If they can be trained to be safe and effective in these environments, why (Holt asks) can’t they be trained to operate safely and effectively online?

The DoD’s answer — encapsulated in its policy opening its networks to staff access to social media — is yes, they can.

That philosophy has led the government of British Columbia to open its networks to employees, as well. The guidelines issued by the province to its public servants not only opens access, but encourages employees to use these channels. Stories about BC’s policy quote Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, making the case for open access. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.

British Columbia’s decision runs counter to many government agencies — particularly provinces, states, cities, and towns — which assume that any employee spending time on social sites is using taxpayer dollars to screw around. According to Seckel, staff using social media were able to deliver updates during emergencies and engage in public consultations.

“We don’t block access any more to social media,” he said. “We want to say to our employees that we trust them — and we do trust them — to be responsible,” Seckel told the Vancouver Sun.

Nevertheless, organizations worldwide continue to treat social media as a fortress to be defended, keeping their staff behind the moat rather than teaching them to maneuver on the field to the organization’s advantage.

For example, luxury car maker Porsche has banned employees from social media sites based on fears of industrial espionage. Corporate security honcho raier Benne told the business publication Wirtschaftswoche that the company was afraid of employees leaking information via Facebook, noting that foreign intelligence agencies systematically use facebook to connect with employees and extract information.

Blocking access, of course, does not keep employees off Facebook, whether they use a mobile device or connect when they’re at home. Again, training and education is the better solution, which then allows employees to evangelize the brand among their social graphs. Clearly, Porsche hasn’t paid much attention to GM, which encourages employee engagement in social media and has linked car sales to employees’ online brand ambassadorship.

Employee use of social media should no longer be viewed as a source of risk. Treating social media as a field of maneuver can help focus organizations on strategic approaches to mitigating risk while reaping the benefits of engaged employees interacting with their online communities.

Cross-posted to a shel of my former self.

The illusion of security vs. building community

Pretty much everyone in the healthcare world is buzzing over a Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week that superficially made a strong case for blocking hospital employee access to Facebook.

The article, by Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, chronicled the case of 60-year-old William Wells, who died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, where he was brought after suffering severe knife wounds inflicted by a fellow resident of his nursing home.

Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.

The article chronciles a number of incidents at other hospitals involving staff violating patient privacy (and HIPAA) on Facebook, along with the fates of the nurses who posted the information (several were fired). The article has inspired conversation in the healthcare community about the need to block employee access to Facebook.

It’s a kneejerk reaction. After all, before social media, it was just as easy to share inappropriate, confidential information via email. (And, at one point in the early 1990s, organizations everywhere resisted the use of email for exactly that reason.)

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO Paul Levy has written perhaps the best analysis of the St. Mary case and the resulting flurry of blocking commentary. Levy’s excellent post concludes:

If you block Facebook on the hospital server, will it nonetheless be used in the wrong way by misguided people? Yes. They will use their iPhones or some other such handheld devices.

I know this sounds like the pro-gun argument, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” However you might feel about that issue, this one is different. By blocking this medium on your hospital server, you will remove a highly effective communications tool, all because you are fearful that a few misguided people will misuse it. You trade the illusion of security for a loss of community.

In an earlier post dating back to October 2009, Levy also noted that blocking Facebook creates “a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”

I’m currently reading a book, “The 2020 Workplace,” which delves deeply into the work habits and expectations of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1997); indeed, email is viewed (correctly) as an inefficient means of communication given more effective tools. As your Millennial kids how much they use email.

Blaming Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter or what-have-you) for human behavior that can be practiced with email, Usenet news groups, the telephone or in the elevator is not only misguided; it turns a blind eye to the more effective channels for communication that can actually improve communication in your institution. If you remember policies banning email in your organization in the early 90s, it’s easy to see today’s blocking policies as a failure to learn from mistakes made a mere 20 years ago.

The entire post is worth a careful reading, especially if your organization is on the brink of blocking staff access with the deluded expectation that it’ll solve a problem the roots of which have nothing at all to do with Facebook.

Why can’t business behave more like the U.S. military?

I continue to be impressed with the way the US Department of Defense (DoDis handling staff use of social media. As most organizations continue to succumb to the FUD factor by blocking employee access, the DoD recognizes the importance of online engagement by staff at all levels — from Pentagon workers to soldiers in the field.

If ever an organization was security-conscious, it’s the DoD. Yet they’ve managed to address security concerns while trusting hundreds of thousands of members of the organization to represent the DoD well in social forums.

A Social Media Hub has been added to the DoD’s arsenal of social media tools — another approach from which mainstream business can learn. While the DoD hub is accessible to the general public, it would be equally easy to create something like this on a corporate intranet as a resource for employees.

The home page of the hub proclaims, “ocial media is an integral part of Department of Defense operations. This site is designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities.”

The site offers three core categories of information:

  • Learning and Resources — “I’m concerned about social media and I need…” reads the introduction to this section, which leads to education and training resources, social media guides and examples.
  • Policies and Procedures — This section begins with “I manage an official DoD social media presence and I want to…” which directs visitors to policies, user agreements and a form to register a page with the DoD.
  • Collaborate and Connect — “I have questions about social media,” reads the introduction to this section, “and I want to…” Visitors can access discussion forums, FAQs and an Ask the Experts section (a contact form).

The page includes many of the elements more commonly seen on inidividuals’ social media channels, like retweet and Facebook share buttons. The site walks the talk in other ways, such as the embedding of SlideShare presentations in the Examples section.

Access to resources like this can reinforce policies and training and raise the confidence of employees who know they have somewhere to go where they can not only review the rules but ask questions, view case studies and have conversations with others in the organization.

Once again, I’m left wondering: Why can a command and control-centric organization like the US military take such a rational approach to social media while the average US corporation behaves more like we’d expect the military to behave?

(Cross-posted from a shel of my former self.)

The futility of blocking social media

Tuesday at Gartner’s Security and Risk Management Summit, research director Andrew Walls told attendees that although infosec pros may worry that social networking will lead to uncontrolled malware outbreaks, phishing, breaches of confidentiality and trade secrets, and even damage to the corporate reputation, trying to take control or even block its use is akin to monitoring employees’ home phone calls and rifling through their postal mail.

“All this message traffic is not in your infrastructure,” Walls said. “It all takes place out there in the cloud,” plus it can be accessed from anywhere, and users’ privacy settings can make monitoring nearly impossible. “At the root of it is staff productivity, and security isn’t responsible for monitoring and managing the productivity of the organization.”

Some believe social media represents a growing platform for malware distribution, but Walls countered that argument, noting that antimalware vendors he’s spoken with say social networks are being victimized by the same malware plaguing email and websites. “So if I’m going to block social media on the basis of malware distribution,” Walls asked hypothetically, “why not block email?”


The article goes on at some length to chronicle Walls’ arguments against blocking social media in the workplace, even making a vital point that has been at the heart of my argument: Organizations will, he said, come to realize the value of hiring someone who possesses a vast social network. “The most valuable people,” he told the audience, “are going to be the ones who demand social media the most.”

The entire post is well worth your time particularly if you’re trying to make the case against blocking in your organization.