Companies flip-flop on social media

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, makes an opening speech of the media event, "behind the Scenes" to show the latest technology powering Facebook at their headquarters in Palo Alto on April 7, 2011 in California. AFP Photo Kimihiro Hoshino (Photo credit should read KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images)
KIMIHIRO HOSHINO

It's no surprise that big employers' responses to, and uses of, social media have been uneven. Now research from the Society of Human Resources Management shows them to be downright schizophrenic.

The SHRM surveyed 532 human resources professionals about the use of social media in their workplaces. It found that even as companies are trying to use social media to try to broaden their reach to people outside their organizations, they're simultaneously being quite aggressive in blocking their own employees' use of social media sites.

Specifically, the survey found that 68% of organizations say that yes, they use social media to try to reach "external audiences," which could include clients, vendors, customers or potential job candidates. But 43% of the companies that responded say they block access to social media on company-owned computers and handheld devices. Some 31% of companies track employee use of social media on company-owned devices.

Embracing...

Among social media, companies say they're using the following for outreach:

1) Facebook. Some 45% of enterprises are trying to reach out on Facebook

2) LinkedIn. Thirty-four percent of respondents said their company is active on LinkedIn

3) Twitter came in third, with 28%.

4) YouTube got 18%.

5) Company blogs were used by 17% of companies.

6) Webinars/webcasts were used by 16%.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) say their organization doesn't provide any training for those who use social media on behalf of the company.

CEOs are also using social media, although not at particularly high rates. Some 20% say they're active on LinkedIn (again, on behalf of their company, not for their own careers) and 17% say they use Facebook.

And banning...

The sites most likely to be blocked to employee use were:

1) Facebook (39%)

2) Myspace (38%)

3) Twitter (33%)

4) YouTube (32%)

5) iTunes (26%)

Only 16% of companies said they blocked LinkedIn.

Should companies block social media sites on work-owned computers? Or should they be encouraging their employees to use social media to advocate for their companies?

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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.