Should an Accounting Firm Allow its Staff to Access Social Networks on Company Time?

Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that at last count there were 9.3 million Facebook uses and 1.2 million twitter users in Australia. Many of these users are accessing social networking sites on company time and research from Mashable, (a leading social media e-sine), indicates that Facebook is the site most commonly visited by employees as opposed to Google.

Should an Accounting Firm Allow its Staff to Access Social Networks on Company Time?

With social networking usage being so prevalent across the workplace, Australian organisations are now entering an age where they must develop a policy on social networking usage within their business – they can no longer afford to leave the issues to manage itself. We are seeing the fallout of mismanaged social media processes in the workplaces; this being the increasing amounts of employees being dismissed or even sued for transgressions on social media platforms.

In light of all this, how exactly are employers responding to the arrival and pressures of social media? Well, a study by Clearswift showed that in 2011 9% of employers were blocking staff access to social network sites. In 2011, this number of employer’s blocking staff access to social media is 19%. The top two countries for blocking employee access were Germany (23%), and, (yes, you got it), Australia at 21%.

So, where does an Australian accounting firm fit into this landscape? Should you be blocking employee access to social networking sites or not? This is a complicated question which does require a formulated response, which I have provided below.
Before deciding whether or not to block social networking access in their workplace, an accounting firm, like any other business should consider where any competitive advantage can be gained from using social networking.

Consider a recent article in the Financial Director (UK) which showed that 17% of Finance Directors surveyed indicated that they were using social networks to conduct competitor research on their rival’s products and services, while another 20.4% indicated that they were using social media to look into the background, profile and connections of senior finance employees.

This suggests that social media sites can be of immense value to accounting firms. Using social media tools such as Linked-in and business forums can be a great way for accounting firms to engage in discussions with small businesses – this will enable principals from accounting firms to network with potential new clients and ultimately generate new business as a result. You can also use it to monitor trends within the sector and to hire new team members.

Another great way to use social media is to blog – this means writing timely and topical thought leadership or practical advice articles. These articles can be submitted to sites like Linked-in and Digg and posted on your own website. This will attract readers who are interested in accounting services and will therefore act as a marketing platform for your business.

In conclusion, it seems that there are many benefits to be gained from allowing employees access to social media within an accounting business, so it does not seem prudent to block social media access.

However, there are pitfalls with allowing employees access to social networking, e.g. it could make them less productive and they could defame your business. Therefore, if you do allow employees access to social networks, it is important that you adopt a Social Networking Policy within your business and ensure it is read and signed by all employees. This should tell employees how and when they may use social networking.