Social Middleware to Block Social Networking On-the-job!

Enterprise sites allow companies to establish micro social networks within their firms where employees can communicate with their peers, partners, clients and others selected. But what about access to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook in the workplace?

As we move into 2010, social media forecasters believe corporate guidelines and controls regarding social networking is going to move into high gear. One company called Socialware is introducing social middleware for enterprise sites to control on-the-job social networking in accordance with corporate policy and industry regulations.

Is Big Brother going to assert itself once again next year? Do we really need gatekeepers on the job? Alex Williams at ReadWriteWeb sees it as "companies setting up their own iron curtains to keep social interaction to a minimum."

As social as social networking is, many companies feel that if employees are left to their own wiles, they could represent the firm in a negative light. Many examples of this behavior surfaced last year that I documented in "Top Ten Branded Social Media Nightmares."

When the stylish furniture maker Habitat jumped on the Twitter bandwagon in a big way, it turned off a lot of prospective customers when one of its over exuberant employees was caught spamming. His self-promoting tweets included popular trending topics in the body of  the tweet to attract attention. And as if hashtags# for a popular HBO drama like "True Blood" wasn't enough, the employee actually took advantage of the misfortunes of others by including "Mousavi" and the "Iran Election" in tweet updates during the June protests in Tehran.

So with the goal of managing risk, Socialware believes the missing component for enterprise sites is bridging the gap between enterprise systems and the social web, where IT managers will be able to block access to different features on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Socialware feels that they are the necessary glue that will connect the social world with the enterprise network.

This works as such. Users may be able to access LinkedIn but there may now be features that the employee is not permitted to utilize. Messages like the one below will make it very clear what features users will not have permission to use on the job.

As many of us know, LinkedIn is a business social network that many companies view as an employment opportunity resource. Building one's network on LinkedIn not only allows executives of various firms to communicate with clients and partners, it is also often a door-opener for those seeking new employment. Consequently companies cognizant of this take the position if an employee is going to seek alternate employment, this should not be done "on their clock."

A while back, I posted a tongue-and-cheek blog titled, "Social Media Nazi Says 'No Twitter For You.'" Anyone that remembers the classic Seinfeld episode, "Soup Nazi" will be able to relate to how companies are taking on that role in the corporate soup kitchens around the world!

It's a fine line for both corporations and their employees to tread, but one that many will see played out with much more enforcement in 2010. Just when we thought we could set up more direct lines of communications with our followers and friends online, now we will have to deal with Social Media middlemen. It seems to me, the "glue" that Socialware talks about connecting the social and enterprise worlds is going to get mighty sticky as more companies adapt to these types of processes.

Dec 10, 2009
by Anonymous

Social Middleware to Block?

Companies can do all they want to try to control "socializing" while at work but, I'm sure most employees have cell phones with these applications on them.

Dec 10, 2009
by Anonymous

Limiting Social Network Access At Work (including LinkedIn)

I believe that it is probably the only true way that companies are going to be ok with social networking within the work place. They will need a way to control what is being viewed and to make sure that employees will not be able to access social networking sites enough to hinder the work performance. It’s a very thin line but also one that will have to be dealt with as we only grow more advanced with technology and communication.

Thanks for the chance to weigh in!

Andrew McCauley
Human Resources
Comcast Spotlight

Dec 10, 2009
by Anonymous

Limiting social media is a mistake

No surprise an application has been made to block social media tools, but I completely disagree with using it. Employees can be your best ambassadors if coached properly. Limiting access is a knee-jerk, fear-based reaction, in my opinion.

Dec 10, 2009
by Anonymous

Evolution of Business

There will always be gatekeepers and there will always be those trying to circumvent what they feel are "restrictive policies." It's a natural evolution of business - as more functions within the organization adopt a "social" way of performing work or interacting with the customers, the less restrictive policies will become.

This isn't to say you shouldn't have a policy in place. Policies are foundations for governance and as such have their place.

Dec 11, 2009
by Anonymous

I agree with Danny and

I agree with Danny and Gisela. If you have a good culture at work your employees can be your best advocates. If they're not - then Danny's "bigger problem" is likely to ferment into negative blog postings, tweets and facebook comments after work or at lunch. Bottom line for me: good team work, good management and good culture beats "coaching" any day - the negative comes when one or all of those aren't there. Then the "bigger problem" needs to be addressed.

Dec 11, 2009
by Anonymous

Sorry, but I'll be looking

Sorry, but I'll be looking at Socialware very carefully so I can help organizations adopt it if it can deliver strong networking. I found it very hard to maintain a professional posture on Facebook and Twitter as an employee, too. I wanted to be responsible and show my organization in the best light, but the informality of "ungated" social networks can be a challenge.

If this application can plug into an organization's membership database and weave together professional interests among the members, it's a no-brainer. People can work and play outside the box, and be ambassadors knowing that the restrictions don't apply on their own time. When the workstation belongs to the organization, so does the attention of each staff member to the people who pay (their dues).

Let's not even get started on the productivity issue of people who go astray following links branching off something like Facebook or Twitter. Yes, they are honing good skills that will serve the organization, but I've experienced how the time can pass by and suddenly the day's To Do list is added to tomorrow's.

Do we lose the Wisdom of the Crowd by excluding the masses? Well, I've never been a big fan of that process anyway. (Tell me again how we all got stuck with Windows?)

Dec 11, 2009
by Anonymous

Cell Phone Access?

Someone mentioned how to deal with this in regards to cell phone access, That kind of access would either have to be blocked at the network level with a jamming device (so the phones would not get the Internet at all) or it would have to be dealt with as policy. A real test would be if a company blocked access and an employee sued the company on something like First Amendment grounds.

Dec 11, 2009
by Anonymous

A waste of money.....

Hi Ron

Interesting article - not only is it very mis-guided (aka encouraged and guided use of social technologies can actually increase employee productivity and reduce costs) but what a complete waste of time and money investing in such software controls as anybody who makes use of these technologies will just use their cell phone instead!! So are they going to ban people from bringing cell phones into the office?

What companies need is advice from people about how to exploit these new communication and collaboration trends for business advantage, not more cost and complexity added into their infrastructure which will not address the perceived issues.



Dec 13, 2009
by Anonymous

How about trust

As an employer you have to trust your employees, then they will trust you too. I'm always busy with my work, always looking for business opportunities, knowledge etc. Even outside working hours. But if you give me strict rules like these I will consider that. Be careful not to unmotivate your employees with rules like this.



Dec 14, 2009
by Anonymous

A Sticky issue!

This is a very sticky issue and one that hits home for me too. I love social media, especially Twitter, and I firmly believe that social media has an increasingly important place in business communications.

I understand the potential problems that social media can create. But totally blocking social media sites doesn't seem to be the answer either. I'm old enought to remember when internet access was limited to a select few in the bank where I work. Imagine if we tried to limit internet access now!

In the banking idustry we spend lots of time and money developing systems & practices to protect customer information. It used to be easy - just lock the file cabinets at the end of the day and put the really sensitive stuff in the vault. Now that same information can be transmitted electronically in the blink of an eye. As a result we now have policies and firewalls and software and blocking devices and encryption and more policies.

Most companies are dealing with social media by doing exactly what my bank once did with access to the internet. The sites are blocked for all or access is allowed selectively. But that won't work for long. I have customers who contact me on Twitter and on Facebook too. Companies will have to allow access to soical media sites if they want to communicate with their customers and vendors. The Socialware software is a logical next step in the evolution.

Rebecca Caplice

Dec 14, 2009
by Anonymous

Great for some

Especially great for those companies that have zero trust in employees - usually as the employees hate the employer - as they are treated so bad. How are they going to block all the mobile devices?

I understand where the creators are coming from in the sense that some companies need to open the taps a little before letting the tide of social media into and out of the business, but it doesn't change the fact that blocking the communication tool of our age is a big mistake. However, some companies will always be in a position where they cannot trust employees or have the managerial skills to see what opportunity is sitting right in front of them.

Dec 16, 2009
by Anonymous

Don't handcuff social networking -- lessons from the past

Interesting and lively topic, for sure.

I have no quarrel with companies like Socialware who are innovating solutions to meet the evolving demands of the corporate workplace. I do, however, question the motives, forethought and methods of many companies who are setting out to clamp down on the evils of social media.

The debate about regulating social media in the workplace reminds me of a similar fable from almost two decades ago. I remember when I first started using email in the workplace back in the early 1990s. I was working for a large corporation that embraced advanced technology as a way to improve efficiency and competitiveness. With the advent of email, employees were able to easily communicate electronically and share documents with colleagues across multiple office locations.

But -- get this -- email communication was confined to within the enterprise only. It was not possible to send an email to anyone outside of the company, or receive one from someone outside of the company for that matter. This was not a technical limitation, mind you. It was a company-imposed restriction intended to protect against leaks of confidential information, brand damage and time wasting. After all, why would any employee legitimately need to email anyone outside of the company?

This type of iron curtain sounds preposterous now, but it wasn't then. It was only a couple months before the powers in charge realized the restrictions did more harm than good and they opened up email to the outside world. Still, it makes me wonder if similar restrictions were put in place when the telephone first gained prominence in the workplace. Perhaps it too was thought to be a dangerous hole in the corporate armor, a potentially huge time sink, one that should be plugged by restricting its use to within the company only. After all, why would any employee legitimately need to call anyone outside of the company?

This brings me back to today's social media debate. Isn't it risky and frivolous for employees to play with social media on the job, when they are supposed to be WORKING? After all, why would any employee legitimately need to Tweet, friend or join the network of anyone outside of the company?

Why? I'll tell you why. Because the world today, and business in particular, is a connected world. Customers, partners, potential employees, former colleagues, friends and even perfect strangers are part of the social fabric that exchanges information effortlessly, instantly and constantly around the globe. No business, big or small, can survive as an island unto itself. Successful companies and successful employees find ways to communicate with, learn from and contribute to that social fabric. That is ESPECIALLY true for companies that want to embrace open innovation. And today, applications like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the tools of choice for many.

But, you ask, isn't it possible that some disgruntled employee will waste company time, damage brand equity or expose my firm to lawsuits? Well, yes, it is possible. Just as it has always been possible. But instead of throwing resources at devising and implementing ever more convoluted and restrictive handcuffs to stifle communication, wouldn't it be nice if companies instead decided to promote some basic best practices for such communications and hire, train and retain upstanding adult employees who want to do the right things?

That's the kind of company I'd like to keep.

- Larry Robiner

Dec 17, 2009
by Anonymous

Blocking social communication at work

I think a key point to make here is that people are doing it anyway. With smart phones massively on the increase, people can update anytime, anywhere. I think companies need to stop focusing on the risks and start thinking about reality and the benefits social communication brings. Open communication is the way forward and the next generation of workers will expect this. Abi Signorelli (@abisignorelli on twitter)

Dec 25, 2009
by Anonymous

When you focus on the risks...

What do you get when you focus on something? Look at their products and they talk about protection and securing. Those terms aren't social. The best way companies can do is to trust their employees and focus on new chances and changes. It’s like Darwin said; It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
Social Media helps you to stay on top and to adapt your mission 24/7