I have a confession to make:  When people mention Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networking sites, my thoughts often turn to security and privacy.  I also have some concerns about social media in general, including blogs, whether for business or personal use.  And I just can’t avoid thinking about how many really ugly pages I’ve seen on MySpace.


But there’s another side to that coin.  I love using Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, and I use LinkedIn for business networking.  I’m also a huge fan of leveraging social media for business.

Earlier this year, Avanade, a global IT consultancy firm, commissioned a global survey on the business use of social media. Jeff Kempiners, Chief Technology Officer of Avanade Canada, explained that 76 per cent of respondents saw security as an obstacle to the adoption of social media. 57 per cent cited senior management apathy, and 58 per cent a fear of using unproven technologies.  Interestingly enough, implementation costs did not appear to be a significant concern.

According to Kempiners, companies that leverage internal social media experience improved morale and are better able to attract and recruit talent.  However, these gains are difficult to quantify.

When asked about external use, two-thirds of survey respondents reported improved customer satisfaction, 64 per cent reported improved reputation in the marketplace, and about 40 per cent indicated that they “can directly associate an increase in sales with the move to using new forms of media.”

The survey also found that, “more than 75 per cent of companies worldwide admit that social networking will come into the business by stealth if not proactively managed.”  My advice to the remaining 25 per cent is that they need to learn more about social media.

So in summary, despite the potential benefits, many companies appear to be avoiding social media due to fear, uncertainty and apathy. But from a security perspective, what they are doing may be much worse.

Social networking is here to stay and, as younger generations enter the workforce, it will continue to grow exponentially. I regularly hear about organizations that block Internet access to social networking sites.  People access social media from work, from home and from mobile phones. They use them to obtain information, keep in touch, and network with colleagues and customers inside and outside the company. And even users with moderate technical skills can easily bypass filters at work.  In other words, this so-called ‘security control’ has very little security value.  In fact, if one takes the impact on employee morale into account, it’s likely a net loss.

Organizations seeking to thrive in today’s economy must begin to leverage social media.  Security concerns do exist, but the path to effective risk management doesn’t include putting one’s head in the sand. Managing social media-related risk begins with the recognition that social media is here to stay, followed by a realistic assessment of the risks and the development of a plan to manage them.

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