10 Ways IT Managers Can Deal with Social Media

With persistent reports about hacker attacks, compromised privacy and phishing scams, social networks can be scary places. But that doesn't mean the corporate world should run. IT managers can establish policies that protect corporate network and data security without shutting out social networks altogether. Here are some of the issues IT managers should keep in mind when dealing with social networks.

Social networking is an important part of the lives of most Web surfers. After people get home from work, they go to their computers, see what their friends are up to on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and go about their lives.

There's just one problem: those social networks are being hit hard with some serious attacks. In fact, Canada's privacy commissioner said on July 16 that Facebook-the most popular social network in the U.S.-isn't doing nearly enough to keep its users safe. The country's privacy commissioner went on to say that "it's clear that privacy issues are at the top of mind for Facebook, and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates."
Of course, Facebook isn't alone. There are a variety of privacy issues impacting most social networks. Twitter has been the target of phishing scams, hijacking and other security issues. MySpace has also experienced a slew of security problems.
All the while, those users who enjoy social networks are bringing that love to work. They're now accessing their profiles from their cubicles. They're communicating with buddies on Twitter over lunch. They are becoming more social.
According to a recent study, most companies don't like that. Anti-virus firm Sophos found earlier this year that 63 percent of the companies it surveyed said that they fear social networks can put the company's security at risk. It's a valid concern. And one that no IT manager should take lightly. But at the same time, the severity of those outbreaks hasn't been great enough to justify that fear. While social networks do pose some threats to the enterprise, IT managers can deal with them as they come.
Here's how:
1. Be logical
Although it's easy to fear social networks, the reality is, most social networks don't pose the kind of security threats Windows does. Furthermore, most social networks don't pose the kind of threat e-mail phishing scams do. Is there are a danger? Of course. But it's not the biggest danger IT managers need to face.
2. Remember social networks have value
Social networks have some real value. Companies that give employees access to them can use employee profiles to promote their business. Happy employees will talk about their employers in a good light. It makes the company look good. And it might eventually bring in better talent.
3. Social networks are promotional tools
Having employees using social networks is a great way to promote business products or services. Think of social networks more as a public relations arm, rather than a security hole. Are there threats? Of course. But IT managers might just find that the benefits of promotion far outweigh the security issues that might arise.
4. Blocking only makes it worse
As Sophos pointed out in its study, blocking social networks is a bad practice. It only makes employees want to find ways to access their profiles through other means that have a higher likelihood of causing security issues in the enterprise. They will search for anonymizers. They will look for holes in security. And in the process, they might find some real trouble on the Web.
5. Education is important
Security software and hardware mean nothing without education. If employees don't know what they're doing or they don't know what to look for as issues arise, the company will have a higher likelihood of being affected. IT managers need to tell employees what to look out for. When they hear about security outbreaks on a network, they should alert employees. It's about being proactive.
6. Corporate policies work
Just allowing employees to access their social networks isn't enough. IT managers need to develop a corporate policy governing access to the sites. It should include some basic information on using social networks. It should also remind employees not to divulge sensitive information at any point while being social. It might seem rather simple, but it could help keep corporate data safe.
7. Block the fringe
It might sound counter-intuitive, but IT managers should be blocking "fringe" social networks. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bebo and FriendFeed are just fine. But don't allow employees to access social networks that have a limited community. They tend to not be as regulated nearly as well as popular social networks and they could cause trouble for the company. And most employees probably won't notice anyway.
8. Be open
Although it might be a pain to have to deal with every little employee issue, IT managers should be willing to have an open door policy with employees who want advice or answers to social networking questions. Do they want to know if they should open a file sent to them? Do they have questions about their privacy settings? If so, answer them. IT managers are the experts in that field-employees are not.
9. Be educated
In order to answer those questions, IT managers need to be educated on social networks. Don't just use them once a week; get involved with their growth. Read popular Web 2.0 blogs to stay up on the latest news. Know when new updates launch. Have a real understanding of all the features. It will make it easier to address issues.
10. Go social
What better way for IT managers to truly embrace social networking in the enterprise than to join networks themselves? Become part of the community. Understand the employees' passions. It could mean the difference between safety and danger.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...