According to research we did recently with Easynet, 52% of businesses are blocking Facebook, 43% are blocking YouTube, and 42% are blocking Twitter. Even access to professional services like LinkedIn is being denied by some 21% of businesses. Instances of social media blocking are the most common in the US market. There, 69% of companies restrict staff access to Facebook, and 65% restrict access to YouTube.
These numbers are down slightly from last year, but they are still high.
There are numerous arguments in favour of such actions: a fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding, the concern that employees won't work with online distractions around, and so forth.
To some extent, these concerns are valid. A report by Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic indicated that Angry Birds could be costing businesses over $1.5 billion in lost wages and fantasy football could cost $10.5 billion.
Yet by blocking all social media, CIOs risk antiquating their organisations, alienating clients, and angering employees. Within the office, it threatens to create tension between employees and management staff. Additionally, today the lines between the office and the home are becoming blurred.
Employees are now checking their emails at home and on the go after they have technically left the office. Insisting employees cannot use social media during office hours seems an odd double-standard.
It's also unrealistic to think that by blocking social networks, employees won't be logging in - especially as 60% of UK mobile phone users have a smartphone and can log in whenever they like.
The solution isn't to block all social media. Nor is it to allow social media to run unmanaged. The first is unrealistic and the second threatens productivity.
Rather, the answer lies between the two extremes. CIOs must understand how employees are using their networks, and prioritise business-critical applications above others. New tools enable CIOs to control this situation by inspecting traffic flows and prioritising those that contribute most to business success. Facebook and YouTube can take a back seat, but remain operational.
Simultaneously, by slowing down certain social media applications, CIOs reduce the appeal of these potential distractions. Employees can still access social media, mitigating any tension that might rise from an outright ban but are less likely to use such tools en masse, causing an impact to the performance of Microsoft 365 or Unified Communications applications.
CIOs have a role to play in enabling their organisations to benefit from IT systems that can help their employees work productively. Today, that definition almost always includes social media and CIOs need to put the network foundations in place that can accommodate a dramatic rise in social web traffic.