Social media behavior will blur as fewer companies block access

Research firm Gartner suggests the number of companies blocking access to social networks is falling, a trend that will require proactive risk management.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

It will take years for someone to write a best practices manual for how social media can be used to helped businesses meet their objectives.

But apparently, more companies are willing to let their employees experiment on the job today than just a couple of years ago, according to a research projection from analyst firm Gartner.

That prediction suggests that fewer than 30 percent of big companies will block social media site access from their corporate networks by 2014. That is compared with 50 percent of companies that were blocking access back in 2010. Gartner said that corporate resistance to social networks and media is dropping at a rate of approximately 10 percent per year.

Said Andrew Walls, research vice president for Gartner, in a statement:

"Even in those organizations that block all access to social media, blocks tend not be complete. Certain departments and processes, such as marketing, require access to external social media, and employees can circumvent blocks by using personal devices such as smartphones. Organizations need now to turn their attention to the impacts of social media on identity and access management."

There are, of course, several different implications of this broadened access, Gartner reported.

For one thing, employees may intentionally or unintentionally behave in ways on social networks that are counter to corporate policies.

That is why anyone who understands anything about social media (I don't think you can call ANYONE a social media expert) suggests that your company have a policy in place before opening up access. Even if that policy involves nothing more than reminding employees about appropriate interactions or behavior. Businesses will need to take a proactive hand in the risk management implications raised by social media.

In addition, the challenge of verifying identity is also something that companies need to worry about, Gartner suggested.

Is an employee commenting in a personal capacity or in a professional capacity? Facebook, in particular, is a place where this dilemma might become more common, so people need to be reminded of how to take steps to separate their two worlds or at least put up some fences between them.

I believe the Gartner research also heralds another troubling trend: the move by more organizations to request access to people's social networking accounts.

This weekend, I read about the Michigan's teacher aide who lost her job after refusing to give the district access to her Facebook account. Mind you, this situation isn't a corporate situation and there is definitely a whole different level of scrutiny that public employees will endure, but it did make me think about all the stories I've been reading lately about recruiters requesting social network passwords for job candidates.

I was astonished when I first heard about this practice, but apparently it is becoming more common -- and I believe it will become moreso as employees use social networks for work purposes.

It comes down to how a person is portraying himself or herself in a given social network or social media platform. If you've established a LinkedIn account to help your company build sales leads, for example, should you really be shocked if your boss lays claim to that information if or when you leave? The lawsuit filed by Phonedog.com against an employee in July 2011 seeking access to the ex-employee's Twitter account is an example of what I'm talking about.

Social networks are about to introduce a whole new layer of ethics challenges into our work lives, and the Gartner research suggests that day is coming sooner rather than later.

(Thumbnail photo by Gavin Llewellyn, Creative Commons)

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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