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Social Media Cannot Deliver Business Value If Employees Are Denied Access

By Andrea Di Maio | October 08, 2009 | 0 Comments

social networks in government

A survey of 1,400 CIOs in the US published by Robert Half Technology (see press release) shows some interesting – and indeed worrying – results about the number of enterprises that prevent their employees from accessing social media sites from the workplace.

Here are the results:

CIOs were asked, “Which of the following most closely describes your company’s policy on visiting social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, while at work?” Their responses:

Prohibited completely                                   54%

Permitted for business purposes only       19%

Permitted for limited personal use              16%

Permitted for any type of personal use     10%

Honestly, I find these numbers quite appalling. I do appreciate that security and productivity concerns are still dominant, but I suspect this is directly connected to a limited understanding of how social media can deliver value and the mechanisms to get there.

It is clearly easier to block access than put the onus of assessing employee performances on managers. For sure there will be employees whose productivity drops due to social media use, but there will be others – and presumably many more – who will be able to leverage social media in ways that make their work more effective, more productive and – last but not least – more fun.

I am pretty sure that some of these same enterprises have their own web 2.0 plans where they aim at engaging both employees and customers through social networks that they build themselves, on their turf, under their control. But isn’t this a recipe for failure? Haven’t corporations and government agencies understood that social networks are a bottom-up. peer-to-peer, grass-root phenomenon that cannot be planned or engineered by a formal organization? How long will it take before they understand that only blurring personal and work boundaries will unleash the value they are desperately seeking (and yet denying) in social media?

Although I cover social media in government, I start to believe that most of the advice I give my clients equally applies to private sector organizations. A few months ago I wrote two posts about whether governments should use consumer tools for social networking, and looked at how codes of conduct for the use of social policies are easier than many think. I’ve also come across multiple cases where consumer social media are already mission-critical for some organizations, as decision makers do use their connections on Linked, Facebook and the likes to actually do business. I have also coined the term employee-centric government to indicate that key to unlock the benefits of web 2.0 is to understand its peer-to-peer nature (see my latest post on this).

For Gartner clients, there is a wealth of resources on strategies and tactics to support the use of social media at work, to establish frameworks to guide employees through finding business value in those media, and to identify and manage the security and reputational risks they pose. My colleague Anthony Bradley has just provided links to some of this research and suggested blog readers to take a quick survey to compare results. An additional piece of research that may be useful (available to clients or for a fee) is one describing the Gartner SOCIAL framework , which suggests a six step approach to value realization, i.e. Seek, Observe, Complement, Involve, Assess and Leverage)

Staying in denial and closing the fences is not an option. Whether to attract the best employees, or to make them more effective and productive, whether to stay closer to their customers and suppliers, whether to sense emerging needs and trends, enterprises in all sectors will have to let their staff join social media. Of course this won’t be a free ticket to waste time on browsing family pictures or arranging dinners with friends. But the boundaries between personal and professional use will blur forever, and the ability to assess, identify and nurture business value from social media will become a critical capability for enterprises (and their managers) in all industry sectors.

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