We just published a report explaining all the risks inherent in the use of social media and presenting best practice tools and techniques to manage those risks effectively.

Social media is one of the top three concerns for enterprises in 2012, according to our recent Forrsights Security Survey, and it’s easy to see why: Malware, social account hijacking, data leakage, HR concerns, regulatory compliance — these are just some of the most frequently cited challenges. And with new social media gaffes coming up all the time, like KitchenAid’s offensive tweet during one of the US presidential debates, American Apparel’s Hurricane Sandy Sale, and news of Twitter user accounts getting hacked recently (as well as LinkedIn accounts earlier this year), companies have good reason to worry about their workforce having free, unrestricted access to social networks.

Here’s the problem: You can’t stop it. Sure, you can institute a zero-use policy and completely forbid your workforce from using social media at your company, but we found this is an impractical and ineffective solution.

Moreover, enabling your workforce with access to social media during the workday can have real benefits for your company. Here are four reasons for why empowering employees with social media and retracting that prohibitive social media usage policy is a good idea:

  1. Social media can improve worker productivity. A regularly cited concern is diminished workforce productivity due to employees wasting time on social networks. However, there’s research suggesting that the opposite is true; the Harvard Business Review projects that social media could increase worker productivity by as much as 20% to 25%. Employees can find relevant information quickly, they can use LinkedIn to search for prospective clients, recruiters can find qualified applicants for a job opening, and there are many more examples of benefits to functions such as customer service and crisis communications.
  2. It can become a competitive advantage. In all likelihood, even if you do not currently allow your workforce to use social media, at least one of your competitors does. Are you willing to fall behind? Even companies in highly regulated industries, such as Morgan Stanley, are finding ways to equip their employees with social media. It can become a selling point in recruiting and retaining talent as people look for flexible, innovative companies; this is especially for younger-generation workers who have grown up with social media and expect to have access to it. Even current employees may appreciate their newfound freedom and become an advocate of the company, spreading a positive company message online.
  3. Employees will use it anyway. In reality, whether you give employees permission or not, they will still use social media. Employees can access social media on their personal mobile devices or on their home computer, and they will use social media outside of normal business hours. Without establishing appropriate guidelines and training employees what’s acceptable behavior, they are more prone to use social media in an ill-advised manner.
  4. Blocking social media is not easy either. You can’t just institute a zero-use policy and then turn attention to other more pressing matters — this doesn’t work. Whether you choose to block or allow social media, you need to establish policies with effective tools to enforce them. So, even when you do block social media, you still need to scan social networks regularly, monitor and control social media behavior, and have sufficient remediation methods in the event of a policy lapse.

So what does this mean? It means you should stop looking for reasons why social media isn’t a good thing for your company, and start managing the risk using practical solutions and emerging technologies.

Our report goes into a lot more detail on this topic, providing more prescriptive advice about where to begin. We also highlight four different technology categories that can help you manage risk and compliance efforts in this area: 1) social control systems, 2) social engagement platforms, 3) social marketing management platforms, and 4) social listening platforms.

We recommend you take a look!

Best regards,

Nick Hayes