Instead of trying to crack down on workers' use of new social media and Web 2.0 technology, employers should be embracing it as a way of creating better workplace communities, engagement and communication.
Research by consultancy Watson Wyatt has argued employers are missing a trick when it comes to using social media technology and, used effectively, it has the potential to be a key tool in promoting employee engagement.
At the moment many companies are only focused on the risks of social media, it argued, with managers worried about giving employees the freedom or ability to create content.
Many IT departments even block employees from accessing the most popular external social media tools.
"When properly rolled out, social media and Enterprise 2.0 tools can help companies meet their No. 1 internal communication goal – engaging employees," said Michael Rudnick, global intranet and portal leader at Watson Wyatt.
"Instead of simply mass e-mailing information or posting to an intranet in hopes employees will see it, social media tools help employees actively participate in creating and sharing information. This shift to employee-generated content has resulted in employees' becoming more engaged online," he added.
Just as employers drew up policies on internet use back in the mid-1990s they now needed to sit down and look at exactly how they could make the best use of this new technology, he argued.
This needed to include setting clear guidelines for acceptable use while, at the same time, adopting social media for a productive, internal purpose.
"Companies need a plan to introduce these new technologies into the workforce. Simply deploying the technology is not enough – and can even be counterproductive," Rudnick said.
"However, employers that avoid social media altogether are missing an important opportunity and running the risk of alienating Generation X-ers and Millennials. Embracing the technology with proper planning, guidelines and change management for its use are effective approaches to ensuring success," he added.
A good example of how employers could adopt social media internally was to enhance their static intranet with more dynamic Web 2.0 technology, he pointed out.
On most intranets, news was still posted primarily by a limited number of communicators. A social media-driven intranet, by comparison, allowed most, if not all, employees to create information and participate in a company-wide dialogue.
Content could be contributed in a variety of ways, including through blogs, blog feedback, wikis, vlogs, podcasts and other Web 2.0 tools.
Such a more collaborative approach led to much more relevant and up-to-date content on intranets, without dramatically increasing the burden on a company's communications function, Rudnick argued.
However, guidelines, training and change management about appropriate use, along with strong firewalls (to keep prying eyes out), were also needed to ensure social media was used productively and that sensitive information was not inappropriately or inadvertently disseminated, he stressed.