What Happens When Companies Block Social Media Sites?

by Angie A. Swartz on November 10, 2009

Over 50% of Companies are blocking social media sites from their employees in the workplace.  Some reports say this statistic is as high as 85% indicating that only 15% of companies allow employees to freely use social media sites during working hours.  Are these companies demonstrating smart social media strategy or is this statistic an indicator that companies really have no social media strategies aligned to their core business goals? Are these companies in a reactionary mode to new technological trends they don’t yet understand?

I see Blocking Social Media in the Workplace as one of the most important economic and societal factors because of the impact it will undoubtedly have on COMPANY CULTURE and EMPLOYEE/TALENT RETENTION.

Secondly, at this very important economic turning point, where every company is trying to understand how to make money in the new economy, this is an opportunity.  The companies who choose to embrace social media, learn it and maximize it will be the winners.  They will attract the best talent.

How can one decision have such a large impact? Let’s consider a few questions contrasting companies who block social media sites to those who don’t:

  • Where would you expect a more communicative, creative and naturally entrepreneurial employee to migrate?
  • Conversely, where would you expect the opposite to go?
  • Where are the millions of Generation Y workers likely to choose? (Note: These workers don’t consider social media sites an option but a right).
  • How will the generation even younger than Generation Y feel about employers who block social media sites? (Note: some have deemed them Generation C for Communication because of their constant need for updates and on demand information).
  • Is an employee base your most powerful group for spreading your brand if they are truly in love with your product or service? Shouldn’t they BE in love with your product or service if they are going to serve you well as an employee? Don’t you WANT them talking about your product or service if they are indeed your biggest fans?
  • Do you want to create an environment where employees are tempted to break the rules? Afterall, most everyone has access to the internet via their phones.


Blocked Social Media Org Comparison Chart

Copyright Square Martini Media 2009

I recently spoke at the San Diego Social Media Symposium on Social Media in the Workplace.  Below are my comments from the day after speaking.

By no means will it be easy to embark on open social media waters. Like all new things, blocking social media sites is the easiest thing to do because social media is new and it can be a wildcard. Perhaps a CEO might ask his/her legal department for counsel and what will they say, “BLOCK!” and rightly so because an attorney’s job is to protect the company from risk.  New things bring risk.  But they also bring opportunity.  A CEO’s job is to run the company from all aspects and to forge ahead looking for new frontiers like William Shatner on his best days of at the helm of the USS Enterprise (or maybe his best days at Priceline.com ;-).

What would the world be like if we made all of our decisions based on fear and uncertainty? With a few guidelines, a few pilot samples, a little trust and the realization that our employees are people who are responsible (and who most likely want to do a good job if you let them), you might just have the best opportunity sitting right in front of you. Are you willing to let it pass you by just because of a little fear?

If I can help you start this conversation at your company, feel free to call, email, chat, tweet, facebook me.  Our company doesn’t and will never block social media.

Further, we welcome your comments and discussion on this very important topic.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Global Patriot 11.10.09 at 10:17 pm

As a former CIO I went through this issue many years ago when there was only websites and email to worry about, and while I understand the issue with employees spending their time tweeting on Twitter or flirting on Facebook instead of working, prohibition doesn’t work.

The smart companies have figured out that it’s best for their employees to embrace technology early on, as that approach allows their employees to be better informed about the new habits that society is adopting and to use the technology internally to their benefit.

When the web first arrived the companies who restricted its use fell behind those that not only allowed open access but began building intranets to share information – smart move!
.-= Global Patriot´s last blog ..Technology Transfer and Climate Change =-.

Steffan Antonas 11.11.09 at 4:13 pm


The employee retention argument is a really important one to make that I haven’t heard many people raise. Shifting internal culture towards encouraging employees to blog, tweet, use facebook etc definitely has positive effects as long as you’ve got happy employees who feel free to express themselves. Zappos is a perfect example. They proudly put everyone in public (twitter.zappos.com). What happens is you get a blast effect – the social grid around zappos lights up with a constant stream of positive messages over the web. The employees are marketing the zappos brand for free AND they’re happier AND they’re more connected to one another.

I see this often in the working world – you’ve got a huge majority of younger more open people that want social media access and a small minority of higher ups that are afraid of it and want control. Unfortunately, just dipping your toes into social media doesn’t work. You’ve got to make huge shifts internally before you start to see the massive benefits materialize. It’s a huge leap of faith that most corporations aren’t willing to take.
.-= Steffan Antonas´s last blog ..Trends That Are Influencing The Future Of Work =-.

Amy Miyamoto 11.21.09 at 7:36 am

I agree 100%. This one decision regarding the place that social media will take in a company is a very visible expression of the deeper core values of the company, which are what are ultimately the bigger issue.

One of my favorite examples of a massively successful company that really “gets” this new paradigm shift from the CEO – CORE VALUES – CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is http://www.zappos.com .

Tony Hsieh has guided this company to create a set of Core Values that celebrate the power and potential of social media and they are demonstrating, at all levels of the company, how to leverage its power to enhance the customer experience which is ultimately the top priority of every employee they attract. This starts with the employment application, interview process, and initial employee training / orientation which is all about infusing of the company’s unique culture and values. It’s an exciting example of the impactful shift that is possible in big business.
Amy (On twitter @LotusAmy)

Zappos Core Values:

As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the Zappos core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies. These are the ten core values that we live by:

Deliver WOW Through Service
Embrace and Drive Change
Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
Pursue Growth and Learning
Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
Do More With Less
Be Passionate and Determined
Be Humble

Murielle Stephenson 12.10.09 at 4:04 pm

I wholeheartedly agree. Social media is a great medium, one that has yet to be fully exploited, and I say “exploited,”in the best possible sense. I’m in sales and cannot tell you how many of my customers are using, Facebook, Myspace Twitter and other social networking sites. Unfortunately the company that I work for has those sites blocked. I believe their thinking is that these influences may prevent growth; however, I have personally seen a decrease in productivity since opting to block.

Kelly Monroe 05.17.10 at 1:43 pm

I’m a consultant working with Palo Alto Networks, a network security company that helps enterprises manage social networking apps on the corporate network. IT departments are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They know that end-users and the business units will revolt if these apps are outright blocked. At the same time, they know these apps carry risks and can’t leave them unchecked. It requires a good balance between enablement and security. There is a good whitepaper on the subject of blocking social networking apps, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”
It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, AIM, SharePoint, etc.)
Let me know what you think!
Share it with your IT Dept.

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