Social networking: IT vs HR

Social networking costs UK businesses £6.5bn a year, according to a poll conducted by Global Secure Systems and Infosec 2008.

Social networking costs UK businesses £6.5bn a year, according to a poll conducted by Global Secure Systems and Infosec 2008.

The poll was conducted "amongst 776 office workers, who admitted to spending at least 30 minutes a day visiting social networking sites whilst at work", according to their press release. "The end result is potentially billions of pounds in lost productivity, maintain GSS, plus the extra demand on bandwidth which is an additional cost to a business in terms of efficiency, maintenance and resources."

That bandwidth cost? As much as 30pc, according to some CIOs.

But here's the interesting thing: according to Infosec event organiser Claire Sellick, "it would appear that most CISO and IT Directors loathe social networking sites and if they had their way would ban them completely, but what is also coming across loud and clear is that the HR departments actually welcome the use of these sites – so there is a lot of internal pushing and shoving going on between HR and IT over how best to manage these sites."

I recall recently sitting next to a tech (OK, tech PR) recruiter at an awards dinner, and this chap was telling me that any applicant he screens is going to be at a disadvantage if they're not on certain social networking sites. Recruiters and HR love the things. Like stalkers, it gives them an opportunity to learn a lot about a person without having to actually speak to them (yet another reason to be careful what you put up there).

And, of course, then there's the yoof. Over to GSS MD David Hobson: "Social networking sites are now integral to the way that many of the latest and youngest recruits into the workforce communicate and work, so for some sectors social networking sites may have a part to play in terms of competitive advantage or used for research or as a marketing tool. It comes down to a fine balancing act – and mostly a case of introducing a 'reasonable use' policy."

Security concerns aside - I'm not ignoring them, it's just that they're obvious - I really wonder how many of these lost-productivity stories take into account the value that social networks can bring to a business. How many deals are kicked off through some event that one party only finds out about through a contact's mini-feed? I notice that these stories only ever talk about MySpace, Facebook and Bebo - what about, say, LinkedIn? Just because it's for suits doesn't make it any less of a social network, and a huge chunk of its user base is surely also merrily tapping away on Facebook.

If social networking is stretching your bandwidth usage, deal with it. Better yet, start lobbying the telco industry to up the bandwidth and cut prices. Like it or not, this is the new world (sorry, "paradigm") - like anything, it comes with good and bad. Sticking your fingers in your ears is not sustainable.