Social networking from the office, The New Rules.



Social networking has changed the landscape of the way people communicate, both personally and professionally. It's also changed when and how people stay connected with family, friends, and colleagues. Over the years, companies have tried to keep up with the times, creating guidelines about, say, time spent chatting at the water cooler or on personal phone calls, or the permissibility of personal e-mails. But what happens when, once again, the business environment changes, personal and professional lives merge, and new rules haven't yet been established?

Organizations of all sizes are now confronting the use of social media by their employees on company time. Some companies have yet to develop formal policies while others have already written or even revised their policies.

A natural starting point in formulating social networking policies would be to look at the company's attitude towards Internet access. Some block access to all sites, while others simply block specific sites such as online shopping or sports. However, the solution to the "social networking from the office" dilemma turns out to be more multi-faceted than simply blocking or un-blocking certain sites. Particularly given the fact that many companies collect Facebook "fans" and many executives Twitter to huge groups of "followers" about their business philosophies and positions on politics or current events.

We reached out to a few of our clients and friends to see how their organizations are dealing with the changing landscape.

The Vice President of IT for McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants, Dan Cunningham, said his company addresses the issue of access to social networking sites from a security perspective. After extensive due diligence, they decided to allow access to Twitter because their system could be secured and protected by firewalls. The company is still evaluating Facebook and the site is currently blocked because of network related security concerns. Mr. Cunningham said that the policing of productivity is left to department heads, as access to Internet sites is only one of many ways employees can be unproductive. However, the company has begun to use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites for both marketing and recruiting. To get around the security concerns, they set up separate PC's on a connection outside the company's network.

Ideally, limiting access to these sites to "business only purposes" might seem to be the simple solution. However, the line between business and social purposes often blurs when it comes to social networking.

The New York-based international non-profit amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, does not block the use of social networking sites from the office computers and does not have a formal policy on their use. In fact, many of the employees actually use their personal social networking contacts to positively promote the organization's mission. Interestingly, several other non-profits apparently have explicit policies about what employees can say about the
organization online.

The management team at Questar Corporation believes it is an easy decision. Chuck Stanley, the Chief Operating Officer of this $3.5 billion oil and gas exploration and production company,
told us that the company blocks access to all social networking sites.

The Chief Human Resources Officer of one of the leading law firms in the country indicated that not too long ago, the firm held an internal seminar for attorneys and staff on the value and use of LinkedIn. That said, they are currently revising their policy and "grappling" with all the issues surrounding the use of social networking sites, blogging, the use of logos, and privacy. This executive noted that, that once a policy is determined, the challenge will be
writing comprehensive guidelines that make clear the firm's position and are easily understood. She added that, "you want to just say, 'use your judgment,'" but, employees' interpretations can vary widely i.e., "casual Friday" dress codes.

The Chief Operating Officer of another premier law firm tells us that they currently have no formal policy because they have not seen any abuse by employees of social networking sites. While a policy may be developed in the future, his inclination is to allow access to these sites but spend time educating users as to how they can avoid embarrassing themselves and the Firm.

The formulation of policies regarding the use of social networking sites appears to be a work in progress.

What is your company's policy? What do you think?




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