Social networking draws mixed reactions

Some companies have restricted access to social networking sites, but others like Cisco are embracing them.

Different strokes for different folks. Some companies have put a cap on access to social networking sites, while others are encouraging their staff to lap it up.

Social networking sites such as Facebook have come under scrutiny for a host of reasons, of which productivity is currently the top most concern of companies, according to Sophos.

The security company revealed that approximately 43 percent of workers polled said their employer has blocked off access to Facebook completely, while another 7 percent said access to the site have been restricted, depending on whether it is needed for a particular job.

These Web sites are also becoming targets for malware, further posing security risks for companies. Last week, security vendor McAfee identified social networking and Web 2.0 sites as one of the top 10 security threats of 2008.

However, networking giant Cisco, a huge proponent of Web 2.0 technologies, maintains a positive view of social networking sites.

William Oei, Cisco's PR manager for South Asia, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the company does not restrict the Web sites that its employees access during or after office hours.

"We've always emphasized responsible business practices, including corporate accountability and environmental responsibility," Oei said. "As long as our employees do not contravene any local or copyright laws, and as long as what they do with company resources ultimately contributes to individual, team or company objectives, we allow them to exercise discretion with what they do online."

Oei added that the company encourages its employees to "explore social networking especially with regards to how they can be used as business tools". In addition, Cisco has presence in social networking sites such as Second life, and the company uses "blogs and wikis internally and externally to create a richer and more collaborative workspace".

When asked if the company is worried that access to social networking sites could pose major security risks to the organization, as well as impact its employees' productivity negatively, Oei said Cisco views security "holistically".

He said the company has established "a comprehensive security system and process" and "strongly believes that the power of the human network will lead to increased productivity and not diminish it".

"Web 2.0 and other social networking technologies hold a lot of potential for increased collaboration for companies, [and] this can lead to exponential productivity gains," Oei added. "The sooner companies recognize this, the better off they will be. The laggards will find it a struggle to play catch-up."

Other companies are also tapping on the benefits of social networking sites. The Australian division of GE Commercial Finance is leveraging on Facebook as a tool to educate its employees on good staff security practices at work, while Serena Software, with its CEO's blessing, has made Facebook its company intranet.

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