Australians are busy social networkers … at work

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

A recent survey has revealed that Australians are busy social networkers, with more than 70 per cent of Australian workers engaging in social media. We have the highest global average for time spent on social media each month.

The Newspoll survey, commissioned by Symantec, found that despite almost half of Australian workplaces prohibiting employees from looking at social networking sites during office hours, 24 per cent of Australian workers engage in social networking at work anyway. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have infiltrated Australian offices like nowhere else in the world.

Employer attempts to block social media sites are largely ineffectual, as anyone with a smartphone knows.

Social networking is well on its way to becoming the primary means of communication – by 2014 it will overtake email as people’s main method of contact. With 250 million people logging onto Facebook every day, it’s hardly realistic to expect people to turn off as soon as they walk into the office.

Social media use at work is an entrenched – and in some cases expected – part of business culture. Fewer employers are banning social media at work as it is seen by many to be a normal part of daily life and interaction. However, more and more organisations are implementing formal social media policies to contain its use within reasonable limits.

The risks of social media to business

The main concern with social media for employers is not only the potential for lost productivity, but the potential risks it introduces – to the company’s security, as well as the company’s reputation.

According to Aon’s Australasian Risk Management Benchmarking Survey, social media is a key potential risk to a business’s ‘brand and image’ – identified as the most important risk concern for Australian companies.

There have already been numerous examples of how damaging negative social media press can be to a company’s image – as well as its bottom line. Vodafone’s battering at the thumbs of Twitter have been widely reported, and Qantas’ share price plummeted following widespread but incorrect social media posts claiming that a Qantas plane had crashed.

With the power to share negative customer experiences through tweets, status updates and blogs in the blink of an eye, social media has businesses running scared. Companies can also suffer at the hands of their own employees when they post inappropriate material online or badmouth their employer – and so the risks multiply.

Social media security risks

To make matters worse, social media also opens the door to unintentional security breaches.

‘The pervasiveness of social networking means that it represents a growing threat to Internet users and businesses from opportunistic cybercriminals,’ says Steve Martin, Director, Small and Medium Business, Symantec, Pacific Region.

Security dangers are very real, with almost half of social networkers (41 per cent) experiencing cybercrime attempts on social networking sites. Almost a quarter of Australian workers have received a phishing scam through a social networking site, 31 per cent have received spam, 14 per cent have had inappropriate or offensive content posted on their social networking page or sent to their social networking account, and 13 per cent had received a virus through a social networking site. 

Even more alarmingly, seven per cent of Australian workers have had their identity stolen through a social networking site, perhaps as a direct result of risky online behaviour or poor identity protection.

Social networking sites make a person particularly vulnerable to Trojans, viruses and malware that can compromise web accounts or even take control of your computer. If done at work, hackers can gain access to internal data or access web application accounts.

Many employees engage in risky online behaviour, knowingly or unwittingly. Twenty per cent of those surveyed had posted confidential information on a social networking site and 25 per cent had accepted a friend or follower request from someone they didn’t know, giving total strangers access to private information.

Play safe

With the many security risks that social networking presents, individuals and businesses need to get security-savvy. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, businesses should enable staff to access social networking sites safely while at work.

‘Symantec encourages businesses to embrace social networking and work with employees to reduce the threats on social networking sites through a combination of staff education, strong usage policies and robust technology which blocks security threats coming into the business and prevents the flow of sensitive information onto social networking sites,’ says Martin.

‘Internet users can help ensure the attempts of cybercriminals are futile by following some simple steps, such as increasing privacy settings, restricting the amount of confidential information posted online, and using strong passwords and security software, to keep their information and identities secure,’ advises Martin.

With a little care, workers can play in the social networking playground safely. ‘With the necessary security precautions in place, staff can access social networking sites safely and businesses can confidently explore the productivity and business benefits of using social networking to keep in touch with customers, target new prospects, gain a competitive edge and grow their profit line,’ assures Martin.

When do you do your social networking? Let us know in the comments section below.

Josie Chun

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