Monday, April 27, 2009

The idiocy of blocking social sites in a corporate environment, and why it's damaging your business.

I'm getting increasingly irritated with companies that block useful websites on their corporate networks.  Several times a day the solution to one of my contact’s problem can be found on either a blog, a social networking site or a media content site; all of which are often blocked by corporate networks.  I’m getting increasingly frustrated when I get email replies telling me the URL I have suggested to a contact is banned.  Just because the occasional bad egg might waste company time on a social networking site it’s unfair to ban all staff from using such sites.  If you caught one of your staff staring out of the window caught in the private reverie of a daydream would you brick up every window in your premises?

Blocking access to social sites shows an appalling lack of faith in your staff, and speaks to me of deeper problems within your organisation.  I would never work for an employer that made its contempt for my professional work ethic so blatant.  While some types of website are quite rightly blocked on corporate networks (porn/ warez for example) the blanket banning of social and media content websites is a malevolent sledgehammer being used to crack a small nut of a problem that would be better dealt with in a staff handbook rather than on a computer network.  Here’s a short list of frequently banned websites that can greatly benefit your business;

The banning of Twitter from corporate networks is a classic kneejerk reaction; it’s popular so it must be bad.  There is growing evidence that Twitter is being used to streamline corporate activities within companies, if you post a quick update to let people know you are working on a certain project it may well spawn immediate co-operation from colleagues elsewhere in the company.  We’ve known for years that knowledge of what ones colleagues are working on greatly greases the wheels, and greased wheels mean greater productivity, and ultimately greater profits.  When the Web Care Takers hosting arm is experiencing server issues we post updates on our Twitter account, these updates take seconds to post and keep our clients up to date on our progress.  We found that most frustrations for our clients during technical problems are caused by a lack of knowledge, they know we’re doing all we can to fix a problem but the lack of communication from our end leaves them wonder just what we’re up to.  During our last outage we posted many technical notes related to the server rebuild that we knew would mean nothing to our customers, but the lack of frantic phone calls we received from them proved that they were content that we were doing something.  Block and you are depriving your staff potential vital little nuggets of information, checking a Twitter page takes around three seconds, surely your staff can spare a few seconds?  Chris Brogan has written a list of fifty business uses for Twitter here –
Although seen by many as a vacuous waste of pixels FaceBook (if used correctly) can be a very empowering tool indeed.  Increasingly FaceBook users are connecting to professional contacts as well as friends and family.  One word of warning though, if you use FaceBook for business as well as pleasure remember that your professional contacts may not be as amused as your friends are by your tales (and photos) of drunken adventures!  To be on the safe side imagine you have your Grandma as a contact, would you be happy for her to see what you’ve been up to at the weekend?  Through applications like the remarkably useful Doodle we’ve recently been using Facebook to organise meetings.  Doodle allows you to suggest a range of possible times and dates for meetings, then have your invited contacts declare which they are available for.  When the short Doodle process is complete the system shows you the best time and date for the meeting.  Surely anyone can see just how useful that is, and what’s more it’s FREE!  There’s an article that explores the professional uses of Facebook over here –
You may not have heard of the Yahoo owned photo website Flickr but I can guarantee you’ve seen images facilitated by this site.  Flickr is also an awesome site for creative inspiration, research and even image purchasing.  Blocking Flickr is nearly as ludicrous as blocking stock image sites like iStockPhoto; banning the use of stock sites deprives your staff of extremely cheap (or even free) images to augment presentations or sales literature.  Word to the wise, we’ll all sick of seeing Microsoft clipart, why not let your staff spread their creative wings a little; it could well give you the edge over your competitors!
It’s not just videos of people having near fatal accidents, YouTube is also littered with useful instructional and professional development videos.  Block video sites like YouTube and you could be shutting off a stream of staff development training that’s not going to cost your company a penny.

As Risk Management professionals know, risks can empower your business and give you the edge in a tight and competitive market, just as long as you know how to manage them.  So maybe it’s time to rethink your policy on blocking websites, after all, it could be seriously damaging the health of your business!  It is our opinion that managing internet usage in a business environment is as much a Human Resources (HR) issue as it is an IT issue.


  1. Some companies ban access to all social sites because of concerns about time wasting. One such copmpany found that its computer system was being reduced to a crawl because of the numbers of staff checking up on eBay during the day.

    That said, Andrew Culture gives a timely warning that the baby of new business methods may be being thrown out with the dirty bath water from washing your linen in public. Don't forget the upside of risk.

  2. Thank you David, the 'upside of risk' was the phrase that evaded me when writing that last paragraph!