Should employees be allowed access to social media at work?

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The proliferation of social networks – and their increasing importance to companies online – is making the issue of allowing employees access to social media at work a conundrum. We asked two experts whether you should lock or liberate your staff’s online access.

Are you a locker or a liberator? Have your say on our Facebook page now.

Social media can be a frightening beast. Just ask the bosses at troubled music retailer, HMV.

If its troubles weren’t bad enough of late, it faced the embarrassment of having angry staff offering live updates of the ‘mass execution’ via its corporate Twitter account at the end of January. The story, rather inevitably, garnered headlines across the board.

It’s an episode bound to bring many managers out in a cold sweat and reaching for the firewall button in haste. But is it really enough to justify locking down your employees social media access?

The locker – J Peter Bruzzese, technology blogger

‘The more successful a social networking site is, the better it is at engaging its users, eating up their time. The ads are targeted, it’s all personalised, it’s reaching out to you. Letting it into your office can only decrease productivity.

‘When you’re at work, you’re there to work and, for nearly everyone, Facebook and Twitter are just not work. Even companies that wisely don’t allow access to these sites have their own internal Twitter-like services, or areas on the internet where ideas can be crowdsourced.

‘They regularly fall out of favour, and they carry real risks, too. Real-life conversations are transient. Spoken words tend to fade. Online stuff is real and permanent. If you cross the line, it’s tough to get back on the other side of it.

‘Large, successful financial services companies have been around for a lot longer than social media. The rules are clear, right down to the dress code, and those companies’ business cultures stem straight from them. Chatting to friends, sharing pictures of your cat and gossiping about American Idol – they’re not part of that culture, and for good reason.’

The liberator – Mark Hamilton, social media spokesperson, KPMG

‘Staff at KPMG can use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, everything. Many staff – our partners, for example – tweet in a professional capacity. Social media has become the new channel to reach clients and targets, and we’re very active on Facebook in the world of graduate recruitment – we have to be.

‘In this day and age social media has become so much more prevalent. People are working on tablets and smartphones. They send work emails from them, and use social media. We have guidelines that are published on our intranet: don’t speak on behalf of the company, and make it clear that you’re using it in a professional capacity if you are.

‘We understand that our staff are real people, with real views and opinions. It’s another way of engaging with the real world. Technology means that social media is increasingly going to be the way people live. A company that ignores social media is doing so at its peril.

‘Yes, there are risks. But to ignore it and shut it down would be even more risky. We need to recruit young bright talent every year. Social media is second-nature to young people today. They would find it odd to come into an environment where it was locked down. They might just turn round and walk out again.’

Are you a locker or a liberator? Have your say on our Facebook page now.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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