Social media - part 1

Is it really risky business?

At three major IT service management conferences that I attended in 2010, social media played a big role in communicating the content, the mood and the social aspects of the conference. At two of these conferences, I witnessed and participated in lively discussions on whether companies should block social media in the workplace. Whether the presentation topic was on social media or not, there was obviously a desire to get this on the table for discussion. And it was heated – every time! Many people have strong views on this topic, so this paper will look at the current industry commentary, and discuss the benefits and the risks of allowing staff to use social media in the workplace.

In 2009, DigitalMedia Wire published an article stating that the majority of US companies ban social media sites at work. The following is a breakdown of the statistics:

  • 54 per cent of businesses block employee access to social networking sites •
  • 19% allow social networking for work-related purposes
  • 16% allow limited personal use
  • 10% allow full use

According to University of Melbourne research, social media and music sites are the most productive ways employees can relax at work. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is reported as saying employers continue to block many online services to employees, including personal email and internet banking, as well as monitoring internet use when there is no need to.

Dr Brent Coker, a lecturer in Marketing at the University of Melbourne who carried out the research, said:

The enjoyable stuff is better for people than the mundane stuff…the more escapist, relaxing type of feeling [the better]. Reading what your friends are saying on Facebook, playing a little Mafia Wars, or whatever, and then getting back to the job.

The findings also demonstrated that people who surf the Internet for fun, for less than 20 per cent of their work time, were 9 per cent more productive than those who don’t.

The research was based on a sample of 300 workers with access to the Internet at work. Some organisations are taking an innovative approach to recruitment by using social media. For example, Ernst & Young (EY) believe that graduate recruitment is more about developing a marketing strategy and differentiating the brand.

Building a Facebook presence was one of the ways they did this. This allows them to connect with and deliver recruitment messages to their target audience. As of today, they have over 15,000 ‘likes’, and their Facebook page is communicating the fact that they are currently recruiting for their Graduate Program 2011. I would hazard a guess that their staff members have access to social media in the workplace.

Read Part 2 - the benefits of social media. Read Part 3 - risk management

Breed Lewis is a director of Macanta Consulting, Melbourne, Australia. She can be contacted at or via