A 2009 survey commissioned by consulting firm Robert Half Technology reports that more than 50 percent of all US companies now block employee access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. 54 percent of the surveyed companies completely block such access, while another 19 percent permit it, but only for business purposes. A mere 10 percent surveyed permit social-network use on the job for any kind of personal use; 16 percent allow "limited" personal use, according to the results released Tuesday.
The study, reported on ZDNet Asia, conducted by an independent research firm, surveyed about 1,400 chief information officers at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, which means that the results obviously don't encompass small businesses.
It is not uncommon for businesses to monitor and even control employee internet usage, but social networks can be a two-edged sword. In addition to personal networking they do present opportunities for businesses including online marketing, customer service and networking. But social networking sites can also be counter-productive by presenting employees with easy opportunities for procrastination and wasting time.
Regulating social-network use at work is a complicated matter. There are some nuances that numbers like in the survey don't bring up: "limited" personal use of social networks sounds like it could mean anything from blocking the majority (but not entirety) of social sites to simply instituting a "don't trash your boss on Facebook" rule. Some companies, additionally, may have different standards set for different degrees of employees--the guy running the company Twitter account and the human resources department may have extra privileges, for example.
There is also not a differentiation in the results regarding which percentage of "blocked completely" workplaces use filtering software to keep employees off banned sites and which ones have a rule by which employees are supposed to abide (but might not).
Internet controls and filters in the workplace are nothing new. But social networks pose an interesting case: their potential for professional as well as personal networking, not to mention the well-publicized use of Twitter for marketing and customer service. There's also the fact that they've become so ingrained in culture and communication that some companies choosing to block them can appear draconian rather than prudent.
But they're still great for procrastination and counterproductivity, so it's not surprising that most businesses put the clamp on them.
"Using social networking sites may divert employees' attention away from more pressing priorities, so it's understandable that some companies limit access," Robert Half Technology executive director Dave Willmer said in a release. "For some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allow their use for work-related purposes."
Along with the survey results, the company also offered a number of tips for employees and social networking on the job: be aware of your employer's policies, don't complain about your co-workers or boss online, and keep tabs on your usage so that it's not too much of a time suck.
Source: Robert Half Technology (Companies Block Social Networks)