Why companies should stop blocking social media

Social networking is part of the fabric of our lives. But are your employees allowed to access it at work? Here’s why they should be.


We’re living in the age of the Internet, right?

These days news breaks on Twitter, not network TV. Video chat on Facebook, Google+, and our smartphones phones is making it easy to chat with friends, in real time, no matter where you are. The speed of information is moving so fast that some millennials aren’t even using email to communicate.

Social communication has become part of the fabric of our everyday lives.

So, why is it that 54 percent of companies are still blocking access to social media sites at work?

Certainly that number has come down in recent years, but to think that more than half of all companies are still not affording their staff to access Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter during the day. That just doesn’t add up.

Now, I’m not here to say all companies should unblock social sites in the workplace. Certainly there are times and places where it makes sense. But, 54 percent—that seems too high.

Here are some business reasons why that 54 percent should reconsider:

Companies are investing in social media as a marketing/communications tool.

Nearly all of them (94 percent), according to a Digital Media Wire report.

That means that a number of companies among the 54 percent are sending mixed messages to their employees. In essence they’re saying: “We believe in the power of social media to help us market our products and services, we just don’t trust our employees because we think they’ll waste an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.”

Employees aren’t dumb. They see what you’re doing. And they will react and speak out.

More employees are relying on social networks to do their jobs.

This is especially true of business professionals.

In the PR industry, think about your work. How often do you turn to friends and colleagues online for advice? How often do you read blogs to keep up with industry trends? How often do you refer to a how-to YouTube video to better understand a particular process or tool?

Look at the data: 25 percent of employees rely heavily on social networks in the workplace. I would guess that they are most likely your star employees (usually the folks that are the most tech-savvy and with the biggest professional networks).

Do you really want your top performers looking to work for the competition?

Millennials simply won’t accept it.

According to a study by American Express, 39 percent of younger workers won’t even consider working for a company that blocks Facebook. It’s no wonder. In most cases, Facebook has become their communication tool of choice among colleagues and friends. Why would they work for a company that’s going to block the tool they want to use and are using on a daily basis to communicate, share, and learn?

Ever heard of the smartphone?

According to Nielsen, 50 percent of all Americans will own a smartphone by Christmas (compared with 10 percent during the summer of 2008). Half of your company may own a smartphone by the end of this year. That means they don’t need your network. They’ll be (and are) accessing Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and whatever other social network they want via the phone in their pocket or purse. Blocking social networks on their computers seems pretty darn pointless, doesn’t it?

Breaks equal more-productive employees.

This might be an arguable point, but recent research suggests employees who are given short breaks to surf the Web or connect with friends on Facebook are more productive than those who don’t.

Companies are blocking social media because they fear their staff will waste too much time on Facebook. But there are a couple of things faulty with that logic: First, that’s a management issue, not a social media/Web issue; and second, who’s to say Facebook and other social media sites are the only websites where your staff can “waste time”? Ever heard of The Onion? US Weekly? Laughing Squid? That list is endless. Just because your blocking “social media” doesn’t mean your staff won’t waste time in some other fashion online.

What do you think? Are you surprised 54 percent of companies are still blocking social sites? Should that number be lower?

Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications in Minnesota. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story first appeared.

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