The Social Networking dilemma and the CIO

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It is no surprise that approx only 50% of businesses said they had policies against unauthorised access to Web 2.0 sites, and only 28% had included Web 2.0 in their risk management process. A lot has been said and written about social networking. There are not many sites though that provide advice to the CIO on what should be done. This article should provide food for thought for CIOs considering on what to do next in the field of Social Networking.

The one element that most CIOs seem to be hung up on is how to go about controlling it or simply not allowing access to most social media. That is not a productive idea. That is as bad as stopping access to the Internet once was.

Instead, CIOs need to ask themselves, how can I use social networking for creating competitive advantage? In my opinion, an appropriate social networking policy needs to be created that addresses, a few key areas:

  1. Employees identify within social networking sites that the views that they air are their own (unless sanctioned by the public relations department) and should understand that any personal information passed through such sites that goes into the public domain could be linked to the business’s name (including employees own time/out of hours). This is very important as these views could potentially be challenged in the courts as being that of the business.
  2. Computer usage policies prevail and time spent on such sites while at work should be limited as per the computer usage policy, including access during breaks/out of hours.
  3. Some sites, allow “recommendations” for employees, (both former and current). This should not be allowed either as the business could be held liable for such recommendations (e.g. former employee recommendation was flawed or not appropriate). Such recommendations should be made only by Human Resources.

These sites should be thoroughly researched by in house innovation departments and recommendations made by them should be followed up to ascertain ways of engaging the public through these sites. For example, creating mini business sites or groups on these sites that allow interaction with the public or customers can pay dividends.

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About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

5 Responses to The Social Networking dilemma and the CIO

  1. mubbisherahmed says:

    Dan Bailey, Managing Director at The Global Continuity Advisors, after reading this article commented in one of the forums, I am a member of:

    I would start out by saying…it depends on how strict the organization is. I would absolutely bring your HR group in to draft and implement the policy. Bring in other leaders to provide input, as well. Just make sure that the policy outlines to every employee that they are representing the company and that their representation needs to be professional, loyal, and appropriate. In most cases, you should be able to make it a condition of employment…which is why HR has to be in charge of the policy.

    In reply, Rajesh Gopinath, Engagement Director at HCL America Inc commented:

    It depends on the department one is working in, for eg sales function depends on contacts. HR function also depends on contacts. We are not very far off on depending on social networking for our improving and growing our businesses on what ever front we are talking off.

    Andrew Kagan, CTO at Planet Technologies updated the post by saying:

    I have a slightly different view on this subject.

    First of all, I would not consider Social Networking to be a special case or category (that requires special policy), in my opinion it simply falls within general Acceptable Use Policy (say under Internet). Going too deep into classifications (Social Networking Sites, Web 2.0 Sites, etc.) makes it a bit too granular for a policy type of document and as a result may require major rework when new category, for example Web 3.0, needs to be introduced. After all, these are all Internet web sites or Internet based services that only need to be categorized based on their applicability to the business at hand (work related or not). Without a doubt, there are significant benefits associated with harnessing the power of Social Networking, but by the same token there are plenty use cases that do nothing but distract and waste your employees time. So, based on your acceptable use policy and information security practices it is OK to allow access to some sites and block others (of course, keeping these lists balanced is far from being trivial).

    Secondly, and more importantly, it is not the Social Sites your employees visit that present the major problem (even if you have a balanced approach discussed above, there are many ways it can be circumvented – for example by using personal smart phone such as iPhone, Blackberry, Pre, etc.) it is what they do once at those sites. The real problem of integrating Social Networking into an Enterprise is “the thin red line” that separates corporate and public knowledge. The technology makes crossing this line very easy without imposing any serious restrictions.

    I would venture to say that the best solution here is – education, education, education. Conduct regular (mandatory annual and on-boarding, optional monthly) End-User/Employee Training sessions (part of general IT or information security training, with online being the easiest of options to deliver). The goal is to provide a decision making framework that people can use in conjunction with their common sense to make determinations about what kind of information is appropriate for corporate vs. public circulation.

    Bipin Bhatnagar, Deputy General Manager – IT at M. P. Power Trading Co Ltd, agreed and said:

    I agree with Andrew. Awareness through education is better option than restricting social sites.

    Dan Bailey, Managing Director at The Global Continuity Advisors, after reading this article commented in one of the forums, I am a member of:

    I would start out by saying…it depends on how strict the organization is. I would absolutely bring your HR group in to draft and implement the policy. Bring in other leaders to provide input, as well. Just make sure that the policy outlines to every employee that they are representing the company and that their representation needs to be professional, loyal, and appropriate. In most cases, you should be able to make it a condition of employment…which is why HR has to be in charge of the policy.

    In reply, Rajesh Gopinath, Engagement Director at HCL America Inc commented:

    It depends on the department one is working in, for eg sales function depends on contacts. HR function also depends on contacts. We are not very far off on depending on social networking for our improving and growing our businesses on what ever front we are talking off.

    Andrew Kagan, CTO at Planet Technologies updated the post by saying:

    I have a slightly different view on this subject.

    First of all, I would not consider Social Networking to be a special case or category (that requires special policy), in my opinion it simply falls within general Acceptable Use Policy (say under Internet). Going too deep into classifications (Social Networking Sites, Web 2.0 Sites, etc.) makes it a bit too granular for a policy type of document and as a result may require major rework when new category, for example Web 3.0, needs to be introduced. After all, these are all Internet web sites or Internet based services that only need to be categorized based on their applicability to the business at hand (work related or not). Without a doubt, there are significant benefits associated with harnessing the power of Social Networking, but by the same token there are plenty use cases that do nothing but distract and waste your employees time. So, based on your acceptable use policy and information security practices it is OK to allow access to some sites and block others (of course, keeping these lists balanced is far from being trivial).

    Secondly, and more importantly, it is not the Social Sites your employees visit that present the major problem (even if you have a balanced approach discussed above, there are many ways it can be circumvented – for example by using personal smart phone such as iPhone, Blackberry, Pre, etc.) it is what they do once at those sites. The real problem of integrating Social Networking into an Enterprise is “the thin red line” that separates corporate and public knowledge. The technology makes crossing this line very easy without imposing any serious restrictions.

    I would venture to say that the best solution here is – education, education, education. Conduct regular (mandatory annual and on-boarding, optional monthly) End-User/Employee Training sessions (part of general IT or information security training, with online being the easiest of options to deliver). The goal is to provide a decision making framework that people can use in conjunction with their common sense to make determinations about what kind of information is appropriate for corporate vs. public circulation.

    Bipin Bhatnagar, Deputy General Manager – IT at M. P. Power Trading Co Ltd, agreed and said:

    I agree with Andrew. Awareness through education is better option than restricting social sites.

    I replied:

    Thanks, everyone for your valuable feedback. One recent problem has been that some employers have started to class recommendations as references for some reason and have stopped their employees from making recommendations. I wonder what the legal stance would be, if it ever went to court. Now that’s another discussion!

    Bipin Bhatnagar, Deputy General Manager – IT at M. P. Power Trading Co Ltd, added:

    I think expressing the views about any person or policy is not restricted by law in any part of globe. Therefore employer can not stop anybody to comment for any person. However, all they can say that the opinion or comment is the personal comment and the company has no responsibility what so ever.

    The employer can also restrict the employee using office time or resources for such activity if they want.

  2. mubbisherahmed says:

    Christian Pielow, Social Media Manager at Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) commented:

    Very interesting topic, one that companies are increasingly having to consider. I personally believe, it is up to the individual to strike the balance between business and social worlds – especially at the senior level. Banning websites suggests a level of mistrust of your employees, but I have seen some situations where this has been necessary (not at a senior level).

    In regards to using social networking to form a competitive advantage, many employees can become excellent brand ambassadors. The caution of misrepresentation, as your rightly point out, should be made clear.

    However, one area I disagree on is your thoughts on recommendations. Recommending someone on LinkedIn for example is different than providing a reference. It is a small insight into the executives working style and ability and extremely useful in fostering connections on social networking sites. I have yet to hear of a situation where someone is held liable for offering positive feedback.

    Thanks for providing such an interesting topic (for myself especially…)

    Oh one additional question I have about Social Networking.. do senior executives use facebook for any professional reasons (or social for that matter)?

    We have a page here so you can receive links to executive search articles direct to your home feed – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Executive-Search-Network-AESC-BlueSteps/93250328273

  3. mubbisherahmed says:

    Lou Rotolo, Builds and Supports New Computer Technologies, after reading this article commented in one of the forums, I am a member of:

    I agree with the article, especially not cutting off access to these sites altogether. It would be like plugging a hole in a leaky dike. If you block one site, another will eventually come on line that would need to be blocked.
    I think it’s best for a company to write a policy on what is permissable access to these sites. You wouldn’t want to stop employees from writing things that would have a positive impact on the company, such as tips on using a product, or information about a new initiative that shows how the company is a leader in their industry.
    I realize the many companies have a PR department that wants to strictly enforce what is said about their company by employees, but I think that with some reasonable guidlines, a policy like this could work.
    I think that hearing positive things about a company from one of its employees holds more weight than a press release.
    Companies that simply ignore the issue are leaving themselves open to a potential problem down the road.

    Jill Noack, Software/Business Analyst added:

    Yes, there is definitely a fine line between productive company time versus “fun” time on the social websites. Having a policy in place would at least give the company a leg to stand on when problems arise with any employee who abuses their internet privileges.

    I replied:

    Thanks, both for your valuable feedback. One recent problem has been that some employers have started to class recommendations as references for some reason and have stopped their employees from making recommendations. I wonder what the legal stance would be, if it ever went to court. Now that’s another discussion!

  4. creative minds to nurse and develop,such a system……learning.,behaviour,………personal perception…..ie..business……market business and family business in house and home…..sustainability everywhere…….why?….

  5. mubbisherahmed says:

    Dr Devendra, please explain further as I am having difficulty grasping your train of thought. Are you responding to someone’s comments or my article? I would love to respond.

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