Gartner Analysts Decry Facebook, Twitter Bans at Work

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-08-07

Gartner Analysts Decry Facebook, Twitter Bans at Work

Gartner analysts Anthony Bradley and Nikos Drakos say corporations should not ban social applications such as Twitter or social networks such as Facebook and MySpace in the enterprise.

Their arguments come after banks such as Credit Suisse Group have stopped their employees from using such tools.

Web collaboration tools are software applications that help users connect with each other to work on projects or to share information. They are key ways for users to leverage the Internet in the enterprise, allowing users to e-mail, send instant messages, set up Web conferences or create shared wiki sites.

Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Connections are examples of these tools tailored for the enterprise. But with 90 million-plus users leveraging Facebook, businesses are increasingly looking at the social network as a business networking tool, the way professionals leverage LinkedIn.

Partly because of this utility in the workplace, Bradley argued that organizations should not shun Web participation for fear of bad behavior.

Instead, they should create a trust model and policies that dictate fair use of Facebook and its cousins, as well as microblogging tools such as Twitter and Plurk. This trust model would include a definition of community and its characteristics, the likelihood of positive and negative behaviors, and a framework for guiding behaviors.

I agree with Bradley. Now, it's disclosure time: My employer, Ziff Davis Enterprise, has a group on Facebook. Most of the editorial staff has friended one another. Facebook, along with LinkedIn, Twitter and the like, is another way of keeping connected.

I can't imagine our company would ban its use. Of course, we are in the business of disseminating information, and as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is fond of saying, Facebook is about sharing information. Why would we ban it?

Why Companies Should Be Cautious About Social Tools

I could think of a reason or two why some companies might ban Facebook. One would be its productivity impact. Some people spend so much time on these networks that their use of social apps could impede productivity.  

There are people in my Facebook network that daily-and I mean daily-send me invitations to invoke Good Karma or to participate in Mob Wars. That can't be productive, which is why IT should monitor traffic to social apps and networks from within the office.  

There is a related concern. Hypothetically, if hundreds of employees are running virtual reality apps on Facebook or watching YouTube videos at the same time, wouldn't they be sucking the bandwidth lifeblood from the company's pipes?

We all like to believe the company we work for has the fattest Internet pipes in the world and can leverage applications and other computing resources to the max, but this is simply not the case.

Accordingly, Gartner's Drakos said company managers should create a usage policy and a general policy statement for expected online behavior, respecting corporate policies on appropriate and ethical behavior.

Drakos, who actually argued against using Facebook in the enterprise during a mock debate at a previous Gartner show, said employees must be aware that if their profiles on public social networking sites identify them as employees of a company, then their postings can have an impact on the company's reputation.

Moreover, businesses concerned about employee misbehavior, such as copyright infringement and inappropriate brand use, should compile a second set of relevant policies without impinging freedom of speech.

The report from Bradley and Drakos complements research from fellow Gartner analyst Nick Ingelbrecht, who argued in July that while the potential of social sites for business remains largely untapped, they will become more important to the competitiveness of large enterprises in the future.

"Work in this area is still immature, and in the meantime enterprises should be aware of what is happening in the world of consumer social networking and implement appropriate usage policies for employees' use of services such as Facebook and MySpace on company time," Ingelbrecht said.

Does your company allow you to access social networks? Why or why not?

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