Small businesses crack down on use of social networking sites

Monday, 01 June, 2009

Australian businesses are cracking down on their employees accessing social networking sites in the midst of a tightening economy as managements aggressively seek productivity gains.

New figures released by Telstra Business and managed internet security specialists MessageLabs, now part of Symanetc, show a four-fold spike in the number of times employers have blocked worker access to social networking sites between June 2008 and April 2009.

Telstra Business has now released a range of security tools to allow employers to block or restrict the use of social networking sites during office hours, provided through MessageLabs services.

According to a review of web-usage trends of Australian small and medium enterprises:

• 6000 attempts to access social networking sites are blocked each day, compared with 2000 a day 10 months ago;
• the total number of URLs 'blocked' by organisations has jumped by 193% since January, the majority of which are social networking sites;
• the total number of URLs or website addresses 'allowed' has been slashed by 58% since January.

“Tweeting, friending or poking your way through the working day may not be the best way to improve the productivity of those many small businesses which are battling to find a way through the challenging economy,” Telstra Business Executive Director Brian Harcourt said.

“If an employee spends as much as an hour a day on Facebook, it can end up costing a business thousands of dollars in lost time over the course of a year,” Harcourt said.

Despite the productivity risks, social networking has exploded in recent years in the workplace. Nielsen Online’s latest research shows it’s more popular than email, and small business owners and managers are now responding with blanket bans. Bigger companies, including Telstra, have introduced social media policies providing guidelines to staff on acceptable usage.

“There is a clear need for formal policies on the use of social networking sites in the workplace and the appropriate and effective software tools that support those policies,”  Harcourt said.

Kerrie-Anne Turner, the Senior Director for the SaaS Group, Symantec, said that on top of distracting workers from doing their jobs, excessive online social networking in a smaller office can also drain crucial and expensive bandwidth and cut into IT costs.

“Individual employers have different views on social networking but the overwhelming trend seems to favour blocking access to these sites, particularly in light of the economic environment,” Turner said.

“The MessageLabs tools we have made available on Telstra’s T-Suite service can not only block web use based on alert terms, specific sites and applications, but also include an unmonitored, personal-time feature for lunchtime and other approved breaks during the day.”

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