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Social Media Beyond the Firewall2010.09.01

    An essential quality of the Internet is hyper-connectivity. The Internet itself emerged from Cold War related military research in 1962 by the RAND Corporation, which proposed that distributed communications should replace centralized communications so that the command and control network could survive nuclear strikes. The result was ARPANET, which evolved into what we know as the Internet, considered to be one of the most significant inventions of all time. For its social impact, it is on a par with the printing press, navigational technology, the assembly line, and the automobile.


    But the Internet proved to be so porous, that it eventually spawned the need for data protection, encryption, compliance, and corporate firewalls. Along comes social media, the rapidly evolving set of tools that allow for mass micro-sharing of information in almost any media imaginable. For companies, the benefits in communication and collaboration are counterbalanced by real and imagined fears of what could happen if they lose control of central communications.


    Technology is constantly shifting the paradigm in favor of the possible. This has led to some intriguing developments which suggest that the solution for social media may be both/and rather than either/or. In other words, it may be technically possible to have both security and open communications, communication with accountability. A blog by Shel Holtz provides resources for people who want to resist irrational blocking employees from online content at


    Despite and perhaps because of the popularity of social media and user-generated content, many companies today block their employees from accessing social media sites through the company firewall. Yet employees now easily leap over this wall to access the sites of their choice through their smart phones, in a game of technological cat and mouse.


    According to one study, 54% of U.S. companies block employee access to social networking sites. Ironically, 94% of companies are investing in online communities and social media. Nearly everyone is looking for the happy medium. There are compelling reasons why companies should not block social media in the workplace.


    Companies presumably block employee access to Twitter and Facebook in a move to prevent time wasting at work, and to control what gets said about the company. But in so doing companies may be missing out on major opportunities for communication and collaboration. Why not let people on the playground, but make the rules clear? Why not educate employees on how to use social media for the benefit of both the employee and the company?


    Opportunities abound in learning, communication, and collaboration through social media. Companies which get this are encouraging and educating employees to use social media to enhance customer engagement, recruitment, and brand building. Success stories are creating models for other companies to follow.


    Barry Judge, the CMO for electronics retailer Best Buy has been extremely proactive in the use of social media, actively encouraging employees to use Twitter and communicate with customers about the company.


    Networking giant Cisco did a landmark launch of a new router product entirely online through social media, using video conferencing, mobile devices, Facebook, social media widgets, blogs, and online forums. This approach saved the company an estimated $100,000 in costs that otherwise would have been consumed in advertising, travel, and traditional media.


    Even the super security conscious U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has discovered the benefits of Social Media. The DoD’s Social Media Hub site at is used to provide learning and resources, distribute policies and procedures, and encourage collaboration with teams and experts. If they can do it, what is holding back corporations, who have an even stronger need to communicate with the outside world?


    Of course there are issues in the implementation. The inertia of resistance to change inevitably spawns objections to anything that challenges the status quo. The NEW Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, is a groundbreaking new book that raises and addresses the major issues, and provides a blueprint with case studies showing how companies can successfully engage in social media.


    Corporate concerns over the time trap of nerdy net surfing and mindless messaging may be misplaced in comparison to the benefits of brain-sharing. The companies that build a castle firewall and surround themselves with a digital moat are likely to end up securely in charge of a very small territory.


    As Chris Brogan, celebrated blogger and author of Trust Agents says, “Focus on connecting with the people, and the tools will all make sense.”


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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