Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Dare They Block My Facebook at Work?

If you are addicted to Facebook, you may be in for a big shock when you go to work in the corporate world. Based on a survey just last year by Robert Half Technology, over half of today’s companies block social networks completely, while another 19 percent only permit it "for business purposes." The blocking percentages are still going up, rather than down.

Beyond wasted productivity and network bandwidth, here are ten additional reasons given by employers in a recent Network World article for why they continue to place these restrictions:

  • Data leaks – social networks are all about easy sharing, and employees go too far.
  • Social networks have become a great vector for Trojans like Zeus and URLZone.
  • Keep out social networking worms, like Koobface and other botnets.
  • Phishing bait – Facebook was a lure into FBAction and
  • Shortened links ( and tinyurl) obfuscate sources, masking malware installs.
  • Twitter accounts are being used as a command and control center for botnets.
  • Advanced persistence threats (APT) – opens the door to a new class of intelligent application cracking tools.
  • Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) – technique used to spread networking worms.
  • Impersonation – Twitter accounts hacked to spread false info and malware.
  • Users haven’t learned not to trust all social applications.

On the other side, here are the major arguments I hear from Gen-Y (Millennials), on why they can’t live without Facebook and Twitter, and are ready to go to war, overtly and through subterfuge, with any employer who would dare impinge on their access to their favorite site:

  • Email is dead, takes too long, and it also is a major source of viruses.
  • Hate to pick up the phone or find the person every time I needed something.
  • My clients and customers use it, and I need to stay in sync.
  • You need to be plugged in to be career competitive with hyper-networked peers, and keep ahead of competitors.
  • Best online collaboration platform for project teams.
  • Flexible, easily customizable productivity tools.

They also point to the fact that, for some roles and professions, like real-time monitoring of news and consumer issues, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, now about one in five companies actually requires their use for work-related purposes.

The net is that most companies do dare to put restrictions on social networks “at work.” An obvious complication is that it is becoming more and more common to be “on the job”, but not “in the office.” Consider these examples:

  • Employee works at home with company computer equipment.
  • Employee works at home with personally owned computer.
  • Contractor, temp, or outsource worker off site.
  • Campus student environment with resources provided by University.

In these cases, the company often can’t control the social network activity directly, so they have to rely on corporate policy, personal integrity, and personal ethics. This is uncharted territory for some companies, who are struggling to write the “guidelines” and “code of conduct” manual.

To me, the answers are clear. When you work for a company, whether as an employee or an agent, everything you do is viewed by the client or customer as a reflection on the company, good or bad. Just as you are measured by the integrity and image of your company, your company is also measured by your image and integrity, on company time or your time.

I don’t see this as an entitlement issue, on either side. In fact, in the grander scheme of things, this is really a momentary issue. Over time, specific tools like Facebook will morph or go away, so I can’t imagine wasting any energy and jeopardizing your career for something so trivial.

Marty Zwilling




  1. As the net itself is morphing, so shall the need for use of these tools that you say will change over time, or go away. We're in a great transition period, wherein the old and new are converging, and sometimes, the old has to give up its ways, in order for the new to flourish. I wouldn't say a company that hampers its employees ability to work effectively is a trivial matter, Marty. So, I'll have to say for at least that part of it, you're wrong on this issue.

  2. I am going to agree with Batman on this one. In my last position I lobbied against the social network blockade and won. This was partially for my employer’s sake and partially for mine.

    For my employers benefit, I was able to leverage my established network to assist in generic inquiries. This was useful in pointing me to resources that might have taken some time to discover more quickly. I also believe that having a vibrant social network is an excellent way for a business to communicate with your customers on a different level. They were missing an excellent opportunity
    For my benefit, I didn't trust my employer over the long term. I wanted to maintain my network (which was pre-established) should I need them. Turns out this was a wise move on my part as I was recently part of a 25% reduction in force. When I turned to my network that day, I got a tremendous boost because it was still in place.

    This latter benefit is, in my opinion, insurance against the weak to non-existent social contract between employer - employee. My time was not wasted nor did it put my career in jeopardy. If anything, I find myself looking at a brighter future.

  3. Companies that block social media within the company are being short sighted in oh so many ways...

    Take - for example - the founding team of Zappos. Anyone familiar with Zappos are also probably aware of the CEO's twitter postings and interaction with Facebook. His interaction is a way of engaging in conversation with his customers.

    Marketing is evolving - its no longer a one way shouting match of Gross Rating Points and share of voice...a companies ability to get its message out isn't even the point any more. No one is interested in a companies one way message - they are interested in the two way conversation.

    Peter Arnell talks about fishing where the fish are - in the same way, if you want to communicate with (rather than at) your customers - interact with them where they are...Facebook, Twitter and the rest. And better yet - if you want your company to have more than just a glossed up brochure on the web - encourage your employees to add their facet of what's good about your company and its products and services by encouraging them to enter the discussion with customers too. Both your customers AND your employees will benefit from the interaction.

    Is it risky? won't, as the CEO, (gulp) have full and absolute control...but what you will have is listening posts into what customers are thinking, what they need and want - and the fact that you are proactively listening gives you the ability to 'fish where the fish are' and give them what they want better and more quickly.

    And guess where you should see the benefit? Yup! The bottom line!

    So please - don't turn off Facebook and Twitter in your company...see the future for what it is and here's a thought - why not benefit from it and become a better, more customer focused company because of it.

    Andrew / The Funding Guru

  4. For another perspective, you guys need to take a look as some comments on the same article from LinkedIn On Startups Group