Last week, the Pentagon announced that it would be reviewing the use of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, amid concerns about security.
Although an official said there would be no outright ban, one branch, the US Marine Corps, did just that at the beginning of August.
Your team may not be tasked with defending the country or securing state secrets but many organisations in both the public and private sectors are struggling to come to terms with the use of social media in business.
Indeed the pros and cons being weighed up by the US military are the very same issues that businesses contend with — albeit brought into sharper focus by the nature of the job.
The arguments against social media in the workplace are well established. Social media sites by their nature can be time consuming and distracting, leading to less productive employees.
The public and permanent, nature of online communications mean that staff may unwittingly damage their employer's reputation or give away private information. Some businesses even fear potential prosecution for libel or defamation, or deliberate misuse by disgruntled employees.
In short, businesses are scared by the lack of control.
Banning social media sites from the workplace would seem to make perfect sense.
Except that the potential positives may well outweigh the perceived risks.
In his memo announcing the Pentagon review, William Lynn, the deputy defence secretary said of social media: “These tools are proving valuable in areas such as recruitment, public affairs, and quality of life for our military personnel, as well as sharing information with allies, coalition partners and military families.”
For businesses, the benefits are not only marketing related, but also include areas such as customer service, networking, internal communications, business intelligence, recruitment and PR.
Of course, it may all be somewhat of a moot point anyway. Social media has become very much a mainstream activity; a communications tool in the same vein as the telephone, text messaging and email. Where employers may be able to limit access to these tools from 9-5, there is nothing to prevent employees from making use of them in their private lives. Indeed, many of the next generation of employees have ‘grown up digital’, never having known a world without email and Facebook profiles.
The problem therefore, is less about the technology itself than how staff make use of it. Instead of attempting to ban their use, the best course of action would seem to be effective policy, clear guidelines and training — not just in the use of social media but rather workplace communications and practice in general.
Changes in technology inevitably lead to changes in how we do business. Growing a business, in any industry, will increasingly require businesses to engage online and make use of the tools that are available to them — and this requires staff who are equally engaged and skilled at using the tools at their disposal.
Banning social media sites may seem like a logical solution, but it's a short term answer to a long term sea change.