Blocking Social Networking Sites in the Workplace

I hope that everyone is having a great holiday season.

This morning, the topic of blocking social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, was brought up on EverythingCU.com.

Employee productivity in the workplace is obviously a big issue. Being distracted from work, from customers/members who need help, is not a good thing. But employees are people too, and want to be connected to the people that are important in their lives.

Food for thought:
• Email becomes popular. Companies block email. Companies now can’t do business without email.
• The web becomes popular. Companies block the web. Companies now can’t imagine doing business without access to the web.
• Cell phones become popular. Companies create rules to disallow cell phone usage in the workplace. Professionals now can’t imagine living without their cell phones. (Notice a pattern? Let’s continue on….)

• EverythingCU.com becomes popular. Credit unions block their staff from accessing EverythingCU. (Can you believe there are many CUs where this is still true?)
• Blogging becomes popular. (With 100 million blogs in existence, there is no practical way to block them all. Though I’m sure some companies have tried.) Companies can’t imagine the use/purpose of blogging for themselves. Forward thinking companies adopt blogging techniques for their own web sites.
• Facebook becomes popular. Companies block facebook. (What will happen next?) People adopt twitter, and update their facebook status via twitter.
• Twitter becomes popular. Companies block twitter. (What happens next?) People enable their cell phones to work with twitter and facebook, updating both their twitter and facebook accounts via text messaging.

Many companies are shutting down access to these kind of sites. And they simlutaneously wonder two things: Why can’t they retain talented employees? And why aren’t they reaching youth and new customers?

People are GOING to communicate with their colleagues, friends and family, and there exists now a myriad of ways they can do it.

Perhaps instead of spending time blocking access to these sites, the company could focus on learning how to embrace these kinds of new technologies to enhance their members’ experience with the institution. Are there cell phone text messaging applications that should be created?

Perhaps instead of monitoring employee MySpace/Facebook/Twitter usage, empower your employees to use these sites get the message out about your what your company stands for, and what’s happening there. But that’s just my idea. I would love to hear what you think.

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24 Responses to “Blocking Social Networking Sites in the Workplace”

  1. Andy Says:

    Ok, MSCU is a great example of this. Instead of blocking sites as they are found, they’ve locked down everything and only allow access to the MSCU, CU Succeed, and CUNA web sites. I think its funny, and a bit disconcerting, to see the disconnect between the board looking to bring in younger members while reacting in a fearful way toward the very thing that will connect them. I’ve got a meeting with them in January about social networking, so hopefully I can knock a bit of sense into them!

  2. Mike Templeton Says:

    As a member of the “younger audience,” this topic is near and dear to my heart. My company has blocked access to YouTube and banned the use of instant messaging applications. I realize that employees come to work and get paid to do a job, but coming down hard on things like social networking, IMing, etc. seems like it could do more harm than good.

    For example, if an employee spends all day sitting on YouTube watching videos, they aren’t going to get their work done. Not getting their work done will get them into trouble with their supervisor. If it happens too many times, the employee will be out of a job. IMO, that seems like enough of a deterrent not to do those types of things. They shouldn’t have to block people from accessing those sites simply to keep people honest.

    Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Flikr, Google and the like are forward moving companies that are changing the way people live their lives, so why not allow those companies to help us (CUs and CUSOs) change the way we do business to match what our members and potential members are doing?

    I also like your point about trying to retain talent and seek out youthful markets. If you are locking down and banning the innovative tools that these people are using, why would you expect them to stay working for you? Or choose your CU over the financial institution that lets them get statement balances through their cell phone?

    I’m anxious to see how other people respond to this issue.

  3. Andy Says:

    If your employees are watching YouTube all day, are they the kind of people you’d want to employ in the first place? I think companies need to start looking specifically for people who can use these tools efficiently to accomplish something.

  4. Morriss Partee Says:

    Great comments, Andy and Mike. Trying to ban individual web sites is a never-ending task, as there are hundreds of thousands of new sites coming online every day. And the other approach, banning everything except a select list seems amazingly sad to me. What about vendor relationships with your CU? Are those sites allowed? What about community sites? Cutting off access to external web sites seems like putting yourself onto an isolated island. Is that how the CU views itself?

    Matt, the Credit Union Warrior has been using YouTube to engage his community with his CU’s fantasy football league and give holiday greetings to his members. Josh Cook in Iowa, winner of credit union marketing awards, is using YouTube to extend the reach of, and go beyond, the TV advertising he does for his CU.

    Thanks for the responses. I’ll be interested to see if we get more. Of course the people who are shutting things down aren’t reading anything here, so I think I know what type of responses we’ll get. I agree that what is really desired are employees who use these tools/sites responsibly, and it’s important to educate rookies about safe cybersurfing so that they don’t unknowningly download viruses and malware. But my jaw is on the floor thinking about the people blocking access to all web sites except CU-approved ones. Didn’t the Dark Ages end in about 1000 AD? 😉

  5. Andy Says:

    Safety is a big issue, we actually had somebody get fired for accessing MySpace through the credit union connection…except it wasn’t really because she got on MySpace, but because she redirected the credit union connection through a proxy service and opened up the data processing program to pretty much anyone who wanted in. Its stuff like that that makes it seem sensible for the credit union to lock down everything.

  6. Andy Says:

    well, not sensible to me, but sensible to IT 🙂

  7. Morriss Partee Says:

    Yes, safety is certainly a concern. We definitely need to protect our members’ information and not compromise the CU’s data. I’m trying to understand what exactly the fired employee did. She routed the CU’s internet connection through a proxy server in order to access MySpace? How did she do that?

  8. Andy Says:

    she visited proxify.com or some similar “anonymous proxy” thinking it would make her invisible to the IT department and bypass the site filters (which it did). Unfortunately, it only makes you invisible to OUTSIDE sources, not your IT department’s switches and routers. So the connection ended up being routed through some unknown open connection letting her access myspace, but compromising the boxes security. This was on the teller line as well, so the data processing software being compromised was a much bigger deal than a visit to myspace.

  9. Ginny Brady Says:

    Hey Morriss, was it my Twitter comment that got you onto this topic? Just kidding! This is a provocative topic and it might be a great break out topic for BarCampBank NE. What do you think?

  10. Morriss Partee Says:

    Hey Ginny, sure, whatever topics are on people’s minds. It’s all fair game at a BarCamp! This is one of those issues that’s difficult to make a business case for either way. It’s hard, if not impossible, to quantify productivity lost due to time-wasting versus gained via happy employees who need to take a mental break once in a while. Over on EverythingCU.com, the issue of internet security and accidentally letting viruses and other malware into sensitive financial data/systems is also being raised.

  11. George Pasley Says:

    Working in IT, we’ve had this discussion quite a bit. Believe me, we’re just as frustrated that we have to block sites. My problem with it is, we can’t police everything. IT shouldn’t have to manage employees. That’s what managers are paid for. If you have an employee watching YouTube all day, why would you have IT block the site instead of reprimanding the employee? I guarantee you that upper management hasn’t even heard of Twitter. It all boils down to managing behavior, not technology.

  12. Matt Fagala Says:

    Well said George. Many CU’s are struggling with the current/emerging technologies and it all comes down to management not understanding how people are using them. I think many times the knee-jerk reaction by IT and/or Management is to just block access.

  13. Andy Says:

    What about having a couple of terminals set up in a break room where employees can access all the social networks and sites during their break. Could be on a separate network connection to eliminate some of the possibility of malware infiltration, of course removable media is still something at least the IT department here would have a fit over. Thats how they have me set up here (hence my gmail address and not a mainestatecu.org address). The IT people have a running bet to see when i get a virus…I intend to prove them wrong haha.

  14. Morriss Partee Says:

    Andy, great idea that would be a good compromise for many CUs. But still it characterizes social networking as a fringe activity, not one that is core to the CU’s activities. And marginalizing it in this way still is old-school thinking.

    Interesting that you call it a terminal… that harkens back to the days of mainframes. 🙂

  15. Christopher Says:

    Great post. I posted along the same lines a while back on the YES CU Blog – Facing Your Fear of Facebook.

    I’d ask – how can you be a credit union marketing professional…and not have access to all these newfangled sites??!? Especially if you are trying to serve Gen Y, you have to know what interests them and what’s out there.

    Also of note –
    There is also a campaign called “Stop Blocking” that argues that the benefits of sites like these far outweigh the risks. Check it out: http://www.stopblocking.org

  16. Andy Says:

    Haha, “terminal” is a fun word. I guess I’ve just always used the term for a computer that you can use, but not alter.

    I see what you mean about making it appear to be a fringe activity, but I doubt that full access on every system would be accepted from the get go. I wish that weren’t the case. I wish management would all of a sudden say “ohhhh we’ve been totally wrong all along!” but i don’t see that happening any time soon :-P. I think its something we’re going to have to introduce slowly. which makes me very, very sad.

  17. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Christopher – Thank you so much for the StopBlocking.org web site. I like that that site is very factual… reporting on what is happening at various companies, as well as giving national poll data. It’ll be interesting to check in there from time to time to understand the pulse of the country on this issue.

    @Andy – I’m sure you’re too young for this, but back in the day, a terminal meant a “dumb” CRT (monitor) that connected into a mainframe in order to run applications. That was back in the dark ages of command-line interfaces.

  18. Andy Says:

    Haha, good old command prompts. I’ve had a bit of experience with DOS on my first PC in ’94…I don’t miss those days. All I wanted to do was play games, but I had to do 10 minutes of command line work to get the thing to run, and at 8 years old that’s quite the task!

  19. Dan Veasey Says:

    Morriss,
    I remember several years I was checking a server log at my CU because an employee was ALWAYS on the Internet at work. What I found was lots of time on ebay and a b’zilliion hits on this site I’d never heard of before called everythingcu.com. Since the employee worked in marketing I just thought it was some shopping website that they were getting CU branded stuff from. Little did I know it was powering the creative engines of our credit union.

  20. J Bakter Says:

    Those site have carried viruses and malware for years and it is only getting worse.

    Yes, the integrity of CU systems is a mandate under many federal guidelines for CU’s to protect. It’s not all fun and games. There has to be a balance as these sites are good for Gen Y outreach but can carry a nasty punch.

    Security isolation may be the way to allow some CU people to surf without risking the entire CU.
    Navigating those sites is a minefield for the uneducated. Even the savvy can get burned.

    Many fun virus stories out there. Here are a few. Let your BOD know about them too as a full disclosure item.

    http://www.scmagazineus.com/MySpace-page-laced-with-fake-Microsoft-update/article/104195/

    http://vil.nai.com/vil/content/v_141428.htm

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/01/myspace_image_uploader_bug/

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/12/poisoned_myspace_page/

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=401244&in_page_id=1770

    http://www.redherring.com/Home/18988

  21. Morriss Partee Says:

    I just emailed a CU marketing person whom I met at the Georgia Marketing Council World 2.0 and PR workshop that I conducted a week ago. Here’s her response to my email encouraging her to practice commenting on this blog:

    I am blocked right now for the blogging (at work) but will check tonight from home and get the tips on the site—we really enjoyed the workshop—I was telling the IT guy here about it today, and he was a bit intimidated that you showed us all of that info, in such a short time! (IT here has a canned, consistent response to any request for new/innovative strategies: “No.”)

  22. Brad Garland Says:

    Dedicated systems? Block all SNS? Bah.
    People fear what they don’t use or understand the value for.

    They might have Facebook & Myspace blocked because people are ‘playing’ but how about LinkedIn? While in our clients networks, we see linkedin allowed over and over and over again.

    Our challenge? Having people in the right places understanding the value the SNS bring and justifications will get made.

    FI folks have a tendency to say when in doubt, block it. Morriss is dead on right in his other analogies. People will come around, and I think it’ll be sooner rather than later.

  23. Morriss Partee Says:

    John Greer, SVP Human Resources for Smart Financial Credit Union in Houston has written a thoughtful article on CUES Skybox about why “wired” employees are a good thing.

  24. Karen Sullivan Says:

    Ive been using http://bit.ly/bJwmma .
    It uses a better method than blocking social media sites because it only monitors sites like Facebook during production hours. People/Employees still have the option to use it for a breather or during breaks really . Sometimes they use it for work too in helping reach decisions.

    For me its really unnecessary to block Facebook.

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