WOOF! Newsletter

July 28, 2014

3 Reasons to Limit Social Media Use in the Office

Facebook and other social media networks drain away employees' time through addictive means. And malware is flooding in. What can we do to curb social media use in the office?

Social media is becoming a workplace norm for many employees.  But that doesn’t mean that the norm is the right thing to do.  Alongside lost productivity, social media use at work can make your business slow to a crawl, or even suffer a malware attack! 

To avoid this, we recommend all businesses take steps to limit employees’ social media use during work hours.  Today’s WOOF will tell you 3 reasons for limiting social media use (because it goes well beyond a minor distraction).  Also, you’ll find several methods of enforcing such limitations without hurting workflow.

Reason #1: Social Media Is Designed To Keep a User Glued To Their Device

Checking Facebook Likes, following comment threads on Twitter, watching YouTube…our brains become addicted over time.  A former Google employee, Tristan Harris, called the practice of tech companies using scientific techniques that foster compulsivity “brain hacking.”

The longer a user stays engaged, the more dopamine their brain releases, creating a correlation between social media and feeling happy.

As augmented reality and even artificial reality make their way into our culture, maintaining our attention in the real world will get more difficult.

If employees find their online lives more valuable than the real world, their employer is likely paying a full-time salary to someone with a part-time focus.  

Reason #2: Wasted Time/Productivity Loss – Tweeting Away the Workday

According to the PEW Research Center, a 2016 survey concluded the number one reason (34% of 2000+ respondents) for using social media at work was to take a mental break & disconnect from work. Now, it’s just 10 minutes, right? Then again, what about when you disconnect 3, 4, 5 times per day?

One single employee can lose hours of productivity easily. What if your business has 100 employees? 500?

If you put a dollar amount on wasted time due to social media…well, it’s ugly. A 2012 study estimated that social media use costs the U.S. economy $560 billion a year!

Believe it or not, it gets worse. Social media drains away more than $500 billion a year in productivity—and it's also an open channel for malware to sneak into your network.

Reason #3: Stop Malware Before it Sneaks In

Cybercriminals use social media to find and target users for exploiting (even unknowingly).  Forcepoint, an IT security product manufacturer, documents one targeting process in its infographic, "The 7 Stages of Advanced Threats: Understanding the Cyber Attack Kill Chain (PDF)".

In this process, cybercriminals locate a target on social media & send them a message with a phony link. The link downloads an exploit onto that user's computer, which the cybercriminal uses to infect their computer and steal data. If the user is at work, the data being stolen is YOUR business data.

A powerful example of the software used in data theft is called Zeus. Zeus sends out copies of itself via email (email addresses are often found via social media), and tries to steal data from every computer it can. Zeus even evolves in response to software blocks!

Another social media exploitation is Facebook scams. A few months ago the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappearance was used as a lure for online advertising: Malaysia Airlines MH370 Used as a Lure in Facebook-Themed Scams

Mobile devices aren't safe either. Kaspersky Labs detected 104,427 new & modified malware programs targeting mobile devices in 2013.

What You Can Do to Limit Social Media Use in the Office

This isn’t meant to scare you. It's meant to educate – social media, like most communications technologies, presents both a benefit and a risk.

To minimize that risk in your business, you can take any of the actions we’ve listed below. These actions will help you limit social media use, protect against malware infestations and keep people on track.
  1. Make sure your Employee Handbook includes an up-to-date Acceptable Use Policy that provides recourse in the event that employees:
    • Share corporate information via social media without appropriate permission;
    • Download software which introduces malware or phishing attacks into the network;
    • Use social media when their job does not require it;
    • Waste too much time on social media during the workday.
  2. Employ a web content filter at the server level. For example, this Forcepoint gateway selectively blocks social media access, except for those who need it to perform their job (e.g. MarComm): Forcepoint Security Gateway Product Chart
    Gateways also reduce the amount of viruses & malware trying to break into your network. Small and mid-market businesses can look to Symantec and Barracuda for solutions, along with a host of others.

    (Warning: This solution can lead to employee backlash, but should be used in circumstances where cybersecurity is paramount, or your employees are not sophisticated users and you fear they will unknowingly compromise your network without such measures.)

  3. Institute policies & safeguards on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). See our previous WOOF article for help: 10 Ways BYOD Threatens Network Security AND Your Private Data

  4. Hire people who understand the privacy risks of social media, and are professional enough to act accordingly!

Unsure of what to do about social media? PlanetMagpie is happy to advise you. We use LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter for communicating with our customers, but we don't use Facebook. By now, I'm sure you can see why!


UPDATE: Social media use by employees is just one part of what we now call Shadow IT. Shadow IT involves risky IT behavior by employees—unsanctioned employee bandwidth use, BYOD, and use of unsanctioned apps.  In addition to lost productivity and exposing vulnerabilities to cyberattacks, Shadow IT can literally cost you. . . in one case, $27K in overage charges in just two months!