By Jenn Riggle
There’s a myth that ostriches stick their heads in the sand when frightened. Come to think of it, CIOs are doing the same thing when they block social networking sites.
An October 2009 survey released by IT recruitment firm Robert Half Technology reported that over half of U.S. workplaces block social media. Fifty-four percent block social networks “completely,” while 19 percent only permit it “for business purposes.” Only 10 percent of those surveyed allow people to access social networks for personal use and 16 percent allow “limited” personal use.
The reason behind blocking these sites is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of lost employee productivity. Fear of security breaches. And for hospitals, fear of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations.
The irony is that CIOs think if they ignore social media, it will go away. Instead, they would be better served by creating social media policies and helping their organizations safely navigate the social media waters.
And it looks like CIOs who are looking to block employees from social media may have another trick up their sleeve with the creation of a read-only Facebook. A new firewall developed by Palo Alto Networks allows companies to switch Facebook into a “read-only” mode, so employees can’t make posts from the corporate network.
But by blocking social media sites, CIOs may be winning the battle but losing the war. Why? Because:
- Blocking employees’ access to social media is only a temporary solution. Employees don’t have to use the network to post updates on their Facebook page or Twitter account. They can just as easily post updates from their smartphones.
- Employees can still post updates about your organization from their home computers. Instead, companies would be better served to develop a social media policy and allow employees to use social media at work. This way companies would understand how to responsibly use social media and the consequences if they don’t follow the rules.
- There is also the risk that by blocking social media, companies are giving a huge advantage to their competitors who figure out how to embrace it.
- By blocking employees’ access to the Internet, companies may be alienating themselves from their younger employees. A study conducted by Internet security company Clearswift showed that 79 percent of respondents said the most important thing to them (above title and pay) is being trusted to organize their own time and have free access to the Internet.
However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. More and more, hospitals are hiring CMIOs (chief medical information officers). While I’m sure they’re going to be involved in clinical health IT issues, such as electronic medical records, they will also provide another voice to the IT conversation.
According to Nigel Fenwick, VP and principle analyst at Forrester Research (who also writes a regular blog for CIOs), there’s a perception that “social” is a marketing thing and that IT shouldn’t be involved. That’s why it’s so important for marketers to stand up to CIOs and tell them their organization can’t afford not to engage in social media. They should also work with CIO and human resources to create a policy.
CIOs need to wake up and smell the coffee. Social media isn’t going away. They can either provide social media access and give employees the tools they need, or accept the fact that they’re crippling the company’s ability to be competitive.
The choice is yours.