Thursday, 29 October 2009

Social Networking Costs Business

Look out, the boss is coming. Make sure that Facebook page is hidden and make it look as though you are doing work.

We have been here before. I can remember when everyone told us that word processing was the biggest drain of office productivity as everyone started writing their own documents instead of handing them to typists. Then we had the lunacy of email when we would send a mail to someone seated next to us rather than talk to them, then chat facilities like MSN started to catch our attention. Well now it's Social Networking.

In a recent study, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are estimated to cost UK businesses around £1.3bn of lost productivity according to research done by Morse, a systems integrator.

There are now cases of companies banning such sites from use on company networks, while many others are changing their Employee Handbooks to include notices that stop workers from using such sites during working hours and only on breaks. I worked at one company where virtually the entire sales floor had Facebook as their homepage and throughout the day people would be sending messages to one another via their pages yet they sat not a few feet away from each other. I felt quite the old fart for not using it and sniggering along to rude pictures and jokes circulating around - most likely about me.

However, in the Morse survey, around 76% of the people surveyed responded by saying their employer had yet to issue guidelines on the use of social networking sites during working hours. But more worrying was that around a third of those surveyed said that they had seen sensitive information posted, but 81% reckoned that they should decide what they should be able to post. This a warning bell for any company.

This particular issue is of great importance to companies. A growing problem to companies and individuals is what is posted on social networking sites. It could be sensitive data, it may be compromising pictures or it could defamatory remarks. The potential for lawsuits is growing and many users of such sites often post material without regard to the potential issues they may cause or worry about who reads it.

There is a real urgency for company HR departments and management to get to grips with their policy documents and ensure that they protect themselves as an organisation from the potential outcomes of postings by their employees.

There is a whole legal debate yet to be had about whether the information posted on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube et al is construed to be the property or thoughts of a company rather than an individual. In the case of LinkedIn, there is already a case in UK Law which ruled that the entries were governed by employer confidentiality and property clauses in contracts. If that is the case, then postings made to social networking sites during work hours might possibly lead back to the companies the people work for. It's best to make sure you are properly 'disclaimered' for such circumstances.

A further concern is that many people follow links on social networking sites despite the fact that 81% of those asked thought there may be potential security risks in doing so. It seems people cannot resist a good potential link and that is hugely dangerous for a corporate network.

It all points towards companies taking a real interest in protecting themselves both legally and technically against the growing use of social networking. Quite apart from the loss in productivity which is bad enough, companies are exposing themselves to potential security and legal threats which could amount to a far greater cost to the business.

It can be no longer the case of 'What goes on on tour, goes on Facebook'. Companies need to be aware of the potential threats to their business from social networking.

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