Why blocking social media is a risky business

More than half of companies block social media sites at work - but are they actually opening the door to trouble?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 15 Jul 2011
Applying a blanket ban on social networking sites may seem an easy fix for risk-averse businesses. These days it’s utterly natural to fret over employees disclosing sensitive information with an ill-considered tweet or loose-fingered chat – or simply frittering away too much time cooing over baby photos on Facebook. No surprise, then, that more than half of companies are implementing exactly this kind of ban, according to new research by Towers Watson.

But the risk consultant reckons that, given the amount of overlap these days between online and offline work, such an approach just doesn’t cut it. ‘Blocking access to social sites may have reduced risk in the past, but in future is likely to increase it while also limiting the benefits active social media engagement can produce,’ said Tim Jaggs, senior consultant at Towers Watson. The idea of increasing your risk by banning social media activity might seem a bit counter-intuitive. But the benefits of responsible use of social media are clear: it’s all about making connections, after all.

So what to do? Towers Watson reckons that, rather than trying to avoid the issue, it’s better for companies to actively engage in social media and to monitor employees’ activity against a formal policy. Not only that, but businesses should consider doing something they probably haven’t done yet: taking out social media insurance in case things do go wrong.

Towers Watson’s research found that a hefty 73% of companies haven’t bought insurance against any form of cyber risk, including social media liability. Of the 27% that have, 61% bought limits of £6m to £30m. Which, according to the company, might be underestimating the potential dangers.

There is, of course, a strong temptation just to ignore the technical world and hope it all goes away. But as the current drama at the IMF shows, these days technology and its associated risks are changing as fast as the tides. If you bury your head in the sand, you may simply increase the risk of drowning…

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