Here’s a guest post from Daniel Dimov a security researcher for http://www.infosecinstitute.com/. InfoSec Institute is a security certification company that offers popular Cisco training. If you have a chance please give them a look online.
Daniel discuses in detail the specific advantages and disadvantages of social media in the workplace.
Employees using social networks such as Facebook and Google+ may not only waste a lot of their working time, but also spread viruses on their work computers. Due to this, some employers have implemented security systems designed to closely monitor or restrict, as needed, an employee’s access and use of social networks. The purpose of this article is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of restricting social media access for employees.
Advantages of restricting social media access for employees
The restriction of social media access for employees has four advantages; namely, it (1) increases employee productivity of, (2) decreases the risk of getting malicious software, (3) increases the availability of bandwidth, and (4) prevents identity theft. These four advantages are discussed below.
Increasing the productivity of employees
Surfing in social networks may waste a lot of an employee’s time. A Proskauer International Labor & Employment Group survey conducted in 2011 indicated that forty-three percent of businesses using social media have dealt with employees’ misuse of social networks, and approximately a third of all businesses have taken disciplinary action against employees concerning this. It is also worth mentioning that, on the basis of an analysis of the web traffic of 1,636 companies, the firewall supplier Palo Alto found out that there was an increase in employees’ use of Facebook to run web apps and games. The wasted time spent there can be otherwise used for completing tasks assigned by the employer or for educational purposes. This is why implementing security systems that restrict access to social media may improve the productivity of the employees.
It should be noted, however, that a study conducted at the University of Melbourne found out that employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. Dr. Brent Coker, a researcher involved in the study, noted that employees who can reward themselves between the completion of one task and the start of another with a visit to their Facebook or MySpace page are more motivated than the workers who do not use social networks. The study found out that workers using social networks get 9 percent more accomplished than their blocked counterparts. Consequently, it is doubtful whether the restriction of social networks should be considered as an advantage.
It is important to note that the study of Dr. Coker should not be interpreted as stating that the use of social networks cannot decrease the productivity of the employees. Social networks may increase productivity only if they are used moderately. As Dr. Coker said, “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity.”
Decreasing the risk of malicious software
Often, social networks are a place where users can easily exchange files, some of which may contain viruses. In this regard, it should be noted that, after analyzing the web traffic of 5,500 PC users in 20 nations, firewall maker Barracuda Networks discovered that one of every 60 Facebook posts and one of every 100 Twitter tweets contained malicious code. The press regularly publishes reports noting the appearance of new types of Facebook viruses.
For example, a new computer virus labeled Steckt.Evl has been recently discovered by Trend Micro. This virus spreads via the chat window on Facebook. In particular, a message from a friend appears in the pop-up window that is used for person-to-person chat. The message contains a link to an innocent-looking website. If the victim installs the virus on his computer, it instantly disables and removes the existing anti-virus software. Then, it spreads itself by opening chat windows on the Facebook friends of the infected user.
Increasing the availability of bandwidth
Social media may generate a lot of internal traffic. This is because the use of social media websites is often accompanied by the use of video sharing websites, such as YouTube. In this connection, Patrick Wood, senior director of product management for Exinda, a provider of WAN optimization and application acceleration products based in the US, stated that, “While it varies from organization to organization, we have seen instances where as much as 60 percent or more of network resources are being consumed with things like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”
Preventing identity theft
Social networks can be used by criminals to steal identities. For instance, photo- and video-sharing websites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube may provide a lot of information about their users. Moreover, such social networks may contain information about the family and the friends of the users.
Disadvantages of restricting social media access for employees
There are seven main disadvantages of restricting social media access for employees; namely, the (1) decrease in morale of the employees, (2) missed opportunities for free advertising, (3) missed opportunities for team building, (4) missed opportunities for skill building, (5) missed opportunities for internal and external communication, (6) missed opportunities for networking, and (7) the attraction of new employees becomes more difficult.
Decreasing the morale of the employees
The main disadvantage of restricting social media access for employees is that the employees may feel oppressed by the employer. This may affect employee morale and satisfaction from their work. In this regard, Ann Cavoukian, a privacy commissioner for the Canadian province of Ontario, noted that blocking of social networks in the workplace is a mistake. She also said that “It’s like waving the proverbial red flag in front of your staff – it’s almost a challenge to them to find a way around it.”
Missed opportunities for free advertising
In most cases, employees add to their social network profile the name of the companies for which they work for. Thus, each of their friends can see the name of the company. Taking into account that, in 2012, the average number of Facebook friends of U.S users at 18-24 years of age was 429, an employer with 10 workers who restricts social network access will lose thousands of views of his/her company name and logo.
Missed opportunities for team building
Social networks allow employees to know more about each other. It may lead to a better cooperation between team members which, in turn, will improve the team’s performance. Social media also gives team members the opportunity to communicate on a personal level. This may bring them closer together. Moreover, social networks may be used for organizing team building events. For example, Facebook has a comprehensive system for event scheduling. The organizers of events in Facebook may not only post information, including audio and video content, about the event, but may also see the users who are going to attend the meeting or not.
Missed opportunities for skill building
In the past five years, there has been a steady increase in the users of social networks. As a result, effective skills in using social networks are a must for anyone willing to practice certain professions, such as PR and Marketing. Allowing the employees to use social networks may serve as a valuable training for them.
Missed opportunities for internal and external communication
Communication between employees, and between the company and its potential customers, is very important to the success of any business. Social networks provide excellent opportunities for internal and external communication because it is more interactive than traditional means of communication, such as email and phone.
Missed opportunities for networking
Business networking allows the employees of a company to know what other companies are doing and obtain information about recent developments in the company’s field of activity. A business network can be very well supplemented by an online social network. Through an online social network, the people who have met in person will be able to receive more information about each other. The most prominent business social network is LinkedIn.
Making the attraction of new employees more difficult
Many potential new employees may get to know that the company restricts social media access for employees. Some of them may not apply for a position at the company because they may consider the restriction of the access to social networks as a form of oppression.
The restriction of social networks at the workplace has both advantages and disadvantages. The decrease in the productivity of employees seems to be an often cited disadvantage. However, a recent study has indicated that employees who have access to social networks may be more productive than employees in companies that block access. While it is debatable whether or not the restriction of social networks increases the productivity of a company, it is certain that the use of social networks may be a source of malicious code. Consequently, the restriction of the use of social networks at the workplace may be considered as a preventive information security measure. It should be added that doing so may not only limit the risk of getting viruses, but also protect the employees from identity theft. As many know, the results of an identity theft can be catastrophic for both individuals and companies.
The restriction of social networks has several disadvantages as well. One of the most important disadvantages is that some employees may feel oppressed as a result of the restriction of social networks. The decreased morale of the employees may then negatively affect their productivity. Besides, by not allowing employees to use social networks, the employer may deprive himself of free advertising that employees would otherwise make using social networks. Moreover, the employer will also miss opportunities for team building, training the staff in skills related to social networks, developing internal and external communication, and networking. Last but not the least, the restriction of social networks may have a negative impact on attracting new employees.