Why 54% of companies are still blocking social media–and why they should stop


Today is Monday, July 25. It’s the age of the Internet, right? News breaks on Twitter–not network TV–these days. Video chat functionality on Facebook, Google and our phones is making it ultra-easy to chat with friends, in real-time, face-to-face. No matter where you are. The speed of information is moving so fast millennials aren’t even using email anymore to communicate.

Yes, social communication has become a part of the fabric of our everyday lives.

So why is it that 54 percent of companies are still blocking access to social media sites at work?

Certainly that number has come down in recent years, but to think more than half of all companies are still not allowing their staff to access Facebook, YouTube and Twitter during the day. That’s just not jiving, is it?

Now, I’m not here to say all companies should unblock social sites in the workplace. Certainly there are times and places where it makes sense to block. But 54 percent? That just seems too high.

So, I thought I’d make a case to the 54 percent and tell them why they should really re-consider blocking social media sites in the workplace. After all, in many instances, there are some pretty compelling business cases:

Companies are investing in social media as a marketing/communications tool.

94 percent, in fact, according to a Digital Media Wire report. So, given the 54 percent number a lot of those companies are sending mixed messages to their employees, right? In essence they’re saying: “We believe in the power of social media to help us market our products and services, we just don’t trust our employees because we think they’ll waste an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.” Employees aren’t dumb. They see what you’re doing. And they will react and speak out.

More employees are relying on social networks to do their jobs

Professional employees, in particular. In the PR industry, think about your work. How often do you turn to friends/colleagues online for advice? How often do you read blogs to keep up with industry trends? How often do you resource a how-to YouTube video in order to better understand a particular process or tool? Look at the data. 25 percent of employees rely heavily on social networks in the workplace. 1 in 4 staff. And consider, those are most likely (educated guess) your star employees (usually the folks that are the most tech-savvy and with the biggest professional networks). You really want your top performers looking to work for the competition?

Millennials simply won’t accept it

According to a study by American Express, 39 percent of younger workers won’t even consider working for a company that blocks Facebook. It’s no wonder. In most cases, Facebook has become their communication tool of choice among colleagues and friends. Why would they work for a company that’s going to block the tool they WANT to use and ARE using on a daily basis to communicate, share and learn. Keep in mind, these folks are your future VPs. Really want to take the bottom of the barrel from this demographic?

Ever heard of the smart phone?

According to Nielsen, by this Christmas one in every two Americans will own a smart phone (compared to one in 10 during the summer of 2008). So, half your company may own a smart phone by the end of this year. That means they don’t need your network. They’ll be (and ARE) accessing Facebook, blogs, YouTube and whatever other social network they want via their phone right in their pocket. So, the fact that you’re blocking social networks on their computers suddenly seems pretty darn pointless, doesn’t it?

Breaks=More productive employees

OK, I know this is a arguable point, but recent research suggests employees who are given short breaks to surf the Web (or connect with friends on Facebook) are more productive than those who don’t. This is really the elephant in the room for most companies. They’re blocking because they fear their staff will waste too much time on Facebook. But, there are a few things faulty with that logic. 1) That’s a management issue, not a social media/Web issue (that’s been documented before), and 2) Who’s to say Facebook and other social media sites are the only Web sites where your staff can “waste time?” Ever heard of The Onion? US Weekly? Laughing Squid? That list is endless. Just because your blocking “social media” doesn’t mean your staff won’t waste time in some other fashion online.

So, there’s my case. When you consider the key factors, I think it’s pretty compelling. In my mind, the biggest business issue for brands is recruiting and employee retention. People want to work for progressive companies. And, companies those that truly trust their employees. And, as I said before, millennials have even higher standards. You’re blocking Facebook? See ya later. They’re not even looking at your company as a possibility.

What do you think? Are you surprised 54 percent of companies are still blocking social sites? Should that number be lower? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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91 comments on “Why 54% of companies are still blocking social media–and why they should stop

  1. Krista says:

    Very interesting, Arik…

    I recall when I started working at a communications/PR agency (rewind almost 5 years ago), they blocked external email and social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. Really, a communications agency was blocking the very sites they recommended clients launch and monitor for their products! This made it difficult for us in the PR group to do media monitoring for clients who wanted to include social media and online media outlets, such as YouTube and various blog sites. Eventually, that same agency had to slowly allow for access at lunch hour/break periods for staff.

    For that company, it boiled down to HR not knowing how to police their staff and provide adequate guidelines for social media use while on the job. Before I left the agency, a new company handbook came out that included social media guidelines for staff and also opened up all social media and online sources for staff to utilize for clients and personal use (within reason). So, there’s a happy ending to that tale, but I can’t help but feel they were doing a disservice to their employees by denying them the use of these prevalent communications tools. Just my two cents!

  2. richmeyer says:

    @PR_in_Pink @arikhanson They can block on work stations but not on smartphones !!

  3. arikhanson says:

    @richmeyer @PR_in_Pink Yep–that was my 4th point. Exactly. And by Xmas 1 in 2 Americans will have one.

  4. JGoldsborough says:

    Wow, so much goodness in the post. You laid it out really well. 54 percent still! Really? The smartphone argument is one of the most compelling, but I also find it baffling that more companies have not figured out how to equip their employees to be their most trusted marketers. Think about when you have an issue with a brand, If you know someone who works there, aren’t they the first person you talk to? You want the insider POV, right? Such an opportunity for companies. And such a waste for those not taking advantage of it.

    Companies blocking social media is like parents who put a lock on the liquor cabinet when their kids are in college and think that means their kids don’t drink. Uh, no. So why don’t the 54 percent join the rest of the not-oblivious world and teach their kids how to drink responsibly?

  5. elisdolam says:

    RT @arikhanson: great article and very true. Had the same experience and thoughts with a former employer.

  6. Narciso17 says:

    Great Post, Arik! I Believe It Comes Down to People at the Top Not Really Seeing As More Than

    + a Passing Fad

    + a Distraction

    + a Waste of Time

    Which, Ultimately, (In Their Minds) Removes Any Kind of Control on Staff. I Firmly Believe That Once the Right Person(s) See The True Business Value That (in Their Minds is) ‘This Shiny New Toy’ It Changes the Game.

    One Way to do This is to Give Them Examples of How Their Competitors Are Using (and Getting Results)…Then They’ll Be Some Urgency Behind It. Another Way to Show The Business Value is To Show How a ‘Well Respected’ Brick-n-Mortar Company Is Using It – These Conservative Co.’s Make It An Easy Sell b/c Then It Turns Into an Envy Game (i.e. ‘Man, We Should be Doing That…’)

    Til’ Then, It’s Just 54% Behind The Curve…

    Narciso Tovar

    Big Noise Communications


  7. kmskala says:

    I’m going against the grain and going to say that no, employers should not open up social networking sites. Let’s begin.

    1) 25 percent of employees rely on social networking? First, I call hogwash on this. Partially because I have no idea where Shel got his data (his source was cut off). But I find it hard to believe that 25 percent of people in the work force rely on SM. Take out the marketing, PR, ad and creative fields and how many people do you know that “rely” on social media? This data is hogwash. Very few people truly RELY on social.

    2) Millenials won’t accept it? 39 percent won’t accept a job where it’s blocked? Again, if it’s not part of your daily job responsibilites, who cares. My thoughts on millenials is well-documented, and again, this argument is hogwash. You know what I want? I want a corner office, an ice cream cart to stop by everyday at 2:00 and a fat “entertainment” spending account.

    3) Smartphone – You can look at porn on your smartphone, should you open porn sites? I could care less if access is available elsewhere. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

    4) Short breaks – The argument of giving employees short breaks and opening social networking sites are two different arguments. I get hungry in the middle of the day, should my employer provide free snacks? No, they provide a vending machine and if I choose, I can visit it.

    Those who argue social networking sites NEED to be unblocked are biased. Typically these arguments come from within our industry and from people who use it as part of their job responsibilites. I use to work for a financial institution…should the tellers be able to access Facebook from their computers? No. They had no legitimate reason to be on Facebook during their working hours. In fact, we ended up having to block certain “game” sites because we found them spending time playing hangman and it impacted our customer service. Outside of our industry, very few people need to be spending time updating Facebook (I continue to use Facebook since I assume that’s where most people would spend their time).

  8. JGoldsborough says:

    @kmskala Interesting perspective. But I would argue that all the examples you outlined aren’t social media issues. They are management and education issues. It is well documented that word of mouth is the most trusted form of marketing. Companies that don’t educate employees and provide them with the necessary tools to benefit the brand via their daily WOM conversations are missing the boat. Not to mention the impact it has on your culture when companies say “We do not trust our employees.”

    Give people rules. Then empower them. Enforce the rules. They break them, they pay the consequences. But don’t treat employees like 5 year olds or that’s exactly how they will act.

  9. WebBasics4U says:

    I lean more toward agreeing with kmskala on this one. Unless the business is PR or Marketing related, I don’t see the need to open up the social media sites. Yes, they are on smartphones and that is a management issue. But I don’t see these sites yet as ‘crucial’ to the majority of people in performing their jobs and certainly, in this economy, turning down a job because they do not allow it would be plain foolhardy.

  10. Bombatta says:

    Check out @arikhanson article on using social media http://t.co/ikUP4Vs Very interesting…

  11. arikhanson says:

    @kmskala Good points, Kasey, I do admit, fully (and it’s in the post) that “unblocking” isn’t for every company. There are situations where it makes sense. I just thought 54% was kinda high. Also, what’s with all the “hogwash” references–are you David Mullen now? 🙂

    To address your points:

    1–Depends what you’re considering “social sites.” Blogs? YouTube? If yes (and I think that’s accurate), what about IT people? Both are key data sources for them at times. I don’t know. You’re right–not sure about Shel’s data, but I think that number feels about right to me.

    2–Agree to disagree on this one. It’s been fairly well documented that for milllennials Facebook is a key communication tool. It’s part of the way they stay connected with friends and family. Now, you might say 39 percent is a bit high, but I stand by that one. Maybe it’s not a “dealbreaker” in the hiring process, but I bet it’s a factor. Would be a great poll question actually.

    3–Point here was just that blocking seems kinda pointless when 1 out of 2 Americans will own a smartphone by the end of the year. And, if you don’t think one of the first sites they’re visiting on those breaks isn’t Facebook, you’re kidding yourself.

    4–Yeah, but shouldn’t I have the opportunity to visit a social networking site like Facebook on my break? If there aren’t security issues, and you’ve given me advice on how to use the tool, why shouldn’t that be available to me on my time during my break? Isn’t it the same argument as the one you made with the vending machine? You provide access–I choose to visit it.

    Thanks for weighing in!

  12. arikhanson says:

    @WebBasics4U Like I said below, not sure not having access is a dealbreaker for millennials (or anyone else for that matter), but I think it’s a factor. I guess for me, the reason more is “why not?” rather than the other way around.

  13. arikhanson says:

    @JGoldsborough Loved your point above about how companies treat employees. Don’t trust them and lock the liquor cabinet? They’re going to behave accordingly. Seen it a few times myself.

  14. arikhanson says:

    @kmskala You stealing @dmullen’s catch phrase or what? Multiple uses of “hogwash” in your comment 😉

  15. arikhanson says:

    @kmskala All fired up for a Mon. morning! I like.

  16. kmskala says:

    @arikhanson Yes. I’m not as badass as @dmullen, so stealing his catch phrases will have to do.

  17. jessicamalnik says:

    Great points, @arikhanson It’s astonishing to me that 54% of companies still block Facebook and other social media sites. One can try and make the argument that these companies don’t trust employees. In fact, some will likely abuse the privilege. However, isn’t that simply a hiring problem NOT a social media problem?

  18. Every company needs to come to grips with more than just social sites. For the first time in the last 2 years employees and consumers probably have better technology than the companies they work for or buy from. Really puts them at a disadvantage. Companies should really look at the features or functionality web based tools offer them and their employees. If you block facebook and linkedin entirely you block two probably important features of each of these tools private professional groups and question and answers. Many professional organizations are using these tools to collectively learn and increase their professional capabilities. The Questions on linkedlin are particularly helpful to employees if they are in need some help & internally everyone is struggling for a direction or answer.

    So lumping all social media into tweets, status updates and youtube video watching is unfair and does not pain the correct picture for solving the real issue. Collaborating with all facets of the business to figure out how your internal technology integrates with external technologies and lifestyles.

    Yes @kmskala many of your points of valid, but I would argue that people need to aggressively manage their focus and just by shutting it down on the company ISP isn’t really solving the issue. It is the lazy mans way out of truly figuring out how to integrate and make tech work for company and employees. Also many IT organizations are really starting to see the benefit of social technologies to make themselves better so it is not just PR, Comm and Marketing. To me that is silo’d thinking on your part. Example if I am a project manager implementing an ERP system and I get stuck on a feature best practices and I follow some ERP experts on twitter, if I have access to twitter via co. ISP it is real easy to jump over there @reply them or DM a question, then jump back to running the project. Now if I have to pull out my phone and do the same thing this lessens the productivity factor. Oh and by the way the PM is in Operations not PR, Marketing or Comm…..

  19. nathaneide says:

    @kmskala Totally agree on all points. Not all employees should be able to access Facebook or YouTube or People of Walmart. IT & HR execs need to look at the main role of the employee type and use logic and reasoning to determine what kind of access is appropriate. I don’t want my bank or airline or ecommerce customer service staff chatting with friends on Facebook when they should be taking calls, fixing problems and/or selling stuff. It becomes a numbers game. In order to keep prices and service levels at a consistently excellent level, staff needs to maintain high calls/hour metrics. This is already difficult to do, but if you add in the ability to play Farmville and chat with friends, it becomes a barrier to profitability.

  20. adamkmiec says:

    @arikhanson at some point organizations questioned the need for everyone to have a phone, then a computer, then an email address. evolution.

  21. hollygomadly says:

    @arikhanson lol – right ! one should name them comapanies bc of deep sleep 🙂

  22. @nathaneide well then if it is a numbers game if you allowed the right employees into those channels couldn’t you decrease the number of calls coming in if you service the folks using this channel, then people on the phones can focus on servicing the phone calls. Have you or @kmskala ever worked in a call center? You sure don’t get these employees an ounce of credit of how to service people and not play farmville. You two are sounding a little title elitist….

    If you go back to @kmskala original statement he delegated social to PR, Comm or Marketing. This would turn it off in the Call Centers limiting the solutions you can provide your customers. Trust me call center reps know how to help your customers better than your Marketing department, period!

  23. nathaneide says:

    @keithprivette I know of people in product, marketing, strategic communications, etc. who have been reprimanded for playing Farmville and wasting time on YT or Facebook, it has nothing to do with title. What it has to do with are the shear numbers. There are more call center employees than folks in marketing, pr, communications, product, it, etc.. Call center and customer service folks are measured differently than the other business segments, and as such, any potential time sucks would have a larger impact on the bottom line of the employee, department and business.

    For example, if a call center goes from 1000 calls per hour to 990 calls per hour and each call has an average value of $100, you’re talking about $1000 lost per hour, $10000 lost per day, $50k per week, $2.6M per year in lost revenue. That has a big impact on the bottom line.

    It’s a numbers game. The numbers don’t make it worth the risk.

  24. nathaneide says:

    @keithprivette We are utilizing social channels for support and service, and the volume doesn’t even come close to what we handle over the phone, which makes it difficult to create the business case for putting even 1 FTE on social support, let alone opening it up for all support employees. Once the numbers increase, we start rolling out to the support escalation group to integrate as part of their overall communication platform, but even then, it’s a small percentage of the workforce and will likely be handled by Radian6’s engagement console (with workflow for approval) rather than directly within the social channel itself.

  25. @nathaneide WOW you have some expensive phone calls! I have never seen a $100 figure on them unless you are cross selling. Well if you look at your equation the other way what happens if you take those 10 calls thru another channel (and this may not pertain to deluxe) you could be saving $2.6 million in cost savings, then you should be able to take 1,010 calls and increase $1000 per hour for a nice $2.6 million in revenue.

    It goes back to original point I was making when you take a SHUT it DOWN or Us vs Them on who can handle it, you wind up with a divided employee groups and divided company. Seek more integrated solutions with the ecosystem of your company top to bottom finding the sweet spot. I dont see much of this taking place anywhere.

  26. Comm_Creative says:

    @stevegravity Thanks for the RT! ^YN

  27. Comm_Creative says:

    @dimasdewa Thanks for the RT! ^YN

  28. jmp603 says:

    I’m completely in favor of companies lightening up bans. The more something is taboo, the more appealing it is. Not to mention that we’re missing out on an army of brand ambassadors by restricting their access to company social media outlets. I recently blogged about this very topic!


  29. Dsimon706 says:

    @kristirholmes Great article.

  30. rachaelseda says:

    I completely agree. If there worried about employees spending too much time on these sites well guess what, there’s always something else they can find to distract themselves from doing work if they are just the unproductive type. We’re all adults and we can choose to be responsible or not online and at work. I think banning social media sites from work is silly.

  31. SocialNicole says:

    @JeffSchultzEsq thanks for sharing this!!!!

  32. strangis says:

    @SocialNicole @arikhanson Love that my employer @Edina_Realty, encourages the use of social media! No blocking us! Yeah! #ertweets

  33. KT_Little says:

    @strangis sweet! hi how’s the day going?

  34. strangis says:

    @KT_Little boring. Garage sale. Keep me entertained please! 🙂

  35. strangis says:

    @KT_Little boring. Garage sale. Keep me entertained please! 🙂

  36. JeffSchultzEsq says:

    @SocialNicole My pleasure! Thank you for tweeting it.

  37. JeffSchultzEsq says:

    @SocialNicole My pleasure! Thank you for tweeting it.

  38. KT_Little says:

    @strangis fair enough – my last time I worked a sale was late last year – estate sale – my grandma house is for sale – Edina realtor

  39. JeffSchultzEsq says:

    @mglauber @CraigGMoore Thx for the RT!

  40. strangis says:

    @KT_Little cool! It’s rather boring today! At least it’s no raining!

  41. KT_Little says:

    @strangis looks sunny outside

  42. cubesocial says:

    @intchallenge Interesting. Did you see @markbower’s blog? Four Reasons Your Company Doesn’t Need a #SocialMedia Policy: http://bit.ly/oLwCyr

  43. intchallenge says:

    @cubesocial Thanks – will check that out. SM doesn’t fit with easily with the classic approach to content/use control

  44. cubesocial says:

    @intchallenge True, one of the reasons we wanted #cubebi to let users see (& control) convos across teams. Have you had a chance to play?

  45. cubesocial says:

    @intchallenge … love to hear what you think. Takes seconds to create an a/c, authorise Twitter, sit back & enjoy! http://cubesocial.com