For months, I've been reading and writing about social networking and the security and privacy issues such sites present to the corporate environment. Hackers see them as welcome and easy targets, and the blurry line between personal and professional on many of them makes it easier to inadvertently (or not so inadvertently) leak trade secrets and other sensitive information. Or to make comments that might be damaging to the brand, if not illegal altogether.
Remember when, during Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats, CEO John Mackey was "busted" for interacting online anonymously in order to praise Whole Foods and "ding" the competition? Or the police officer in Montana who ultimately resigned because of an ill-advised Facebook post? More recently, of course, Microsoft employees tweeted more details about Bing 2 plans than management might have wanted.
These types of things, coupled with legal and professional obligations to retain records or maintain confidentiality of certain information, not to mention productivity concerns, have caused many an IT chief or security exec to block or severely limit employee access to social networking tools like Facebook or Twitter in the workplace. Other execs, however, have embraced the "connected" nature of today's world and are working to use social networking tools in their businesses. At a recent symposium, Gartner Research representatives told attendees that executives in the latter category have the better idea.
CNET News blogger Stephen Shankland quotes Gartner VP Carol Rozwell this way: "Banning access to social media from the corporate network is futile." Instead, Rozwell and her colleagues advise managers to "find an appropriate place on the spectrums of in here vs. out there and owned vs. shared." By the same token, employees need to understand that their employers will be more involved in their social networking lives and that the same rules of conduct apply online as apply in the workplace.
On the security side, Shankland says, Gartner advises a similar balance. Paul Proctor, another Gartner VP, put it this way, "You cannot protect yourself from everything. You must learn to balance risk and performance."
Where is the proper balance? Every employer will undoubtedly answer that question differently.