"Many companies look the other way," but others view social networking as a "productivity killer," says Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a consulting firm that surveyed human resources pros at a recent conference hosted by the US Society for Human Resource Management.
"While many companies do not view social networking as a threat to productivity, one in three survey respondents said their companies consider the sites a major drain on worker output," Challenger says. "Twenty-three per cent of companies block access to these sites entirely."
Eight per cent of companies actually encourage employees to use social networking sites, and 10 per cent say they are invaluable marketing, networking and sales tools. Banning use of sites could also make it hard to recruit young employees.
To get a real recruiting edge, business should integrate social networking and other Web 2.0 tools "into every facet of the organization, from marketing to internal employee communication," Challenger says.
Most companies aren't formally addressing social networking sites. Fifty-nine percent do not have a formal policy on using the sites during work hours. Nearly half said social networking isn't a problem as long as employees get their work done.
Formal corporate policies on social networking are scarce because it is such a new phenomenon, Challenger, Gray & Christmas say, noting a Pew Research survey that found the proportion of Americans using such sites has risen from 7 per cent to 22 per cent since 2005.
The Challenger firm also quoted a study from UK-based IT security firm Global Secure System, which said employees are spending 30 minutes or more per work day on social networking sites. Viruses and leaking of confidential data are among the dangers raised by heavy usage.
"Lost productivity is not the only reason some organizations ban or limit the use of social networking at the office," the Challenger firm states. "These sites produce an extra demand on bandwidth. They also pose a security risk for corporate networks, making company systems vulnerable to hackers and viruses. There is also the potential for employees to leak corporate secrets or damage the company's image due to the content of their personal profiles."
More than two-thirds of IT pros surveyed by Network World last December said they use social networking sites. IT pros were most likely to use the professional networking site LinkedIn, but Facebook and MySpace were popular, too.
IT pros spent more time on the sites for business reasons rather than for play, and numerous organizations have seen business value in these tools. Vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and a number of start-ups have responded with social networking tools for the workplace. Vendor InsideView lets customers integrate social networking tools with business intelligence software.