Gartner Advises Employers: Embrace Social Networking, Balance Risk and Performance

Lora Bentley

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 20, 2009 6:21 PM M Ellard M Ellard  says:

Interesting question.

Some of the same issues no doubt came up when email got started. And blogs and the like also provide ways in which employees are getting the word out about their companies.

Agree with Gartner: it's going to be out there. The trick is to make it clear to employees what is and isn't okay in the social media context. It comes back around to ensuring that all employees are versed and vested in what what can and what shouldn't be public knowledge. A solid set of governance rules limiting what gets said by whom (and, as necessary, outlines what occurs when one steps over the line) - are necessary. Policing it then, however, is another matter.


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