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Considering the Risks and Rewards of Social Media

October 29, 2009 - 1 Comment

Social media continues to pervade cultures around the globe, and the usefulness and popularity of social media sites and services has been demonstrated in some impressive ways. The power and reach of social media outlets has empowered individuals to make their voice heard around the world in an instant, most often unfiltered and unrestrained. The extent of social media’s influence on individuals’ lives has pulled it into organizations, many of which have embraced these new technologies and sought to leverage them for profit.

Still, the application of blogs, videos, real-time status updates, and online collaboration are cause for concern, in no small part because of the concentration of power in the hands of the individual employing them. Organizations continue to struggle with whether to allow employees to participate in these networks, how to enforce policies, and how to adjust to all that the networks have to offer — even for industries that are built in large part around individual identities, like the entertainment studios discussed in this week’s Cyber Risk Report.

A Range of Organizational Approaches

An organization can choose to opt in or out of social networking by employees on an official basis for a variety of reasons, including their willingness to empower individuals to represent the brand. At one end of the range, where the employee is the brand, are organizations of famous individuals, industry experts, and strong personalities. At the opposite end of this spectrum would be certain government or military organizations, for example, which must have an official message and policy that is not represented by the individuals participating in enacting their charter. In these organizations, the output from employees is collectively attributed to the organization, and for a variety of reasons employees should not stand out from their peers and co-workers.

Most organizations, however, will fall somewhere between these extremes. Organizations open to social network participation will be much more interested in regulating the use and setting acceptability guidelines, as entertainment studios are doing. Organizations closed to social media will be more inclined to deny access to their employees, and may give guidance suggesting their appropriate use even when employees are not on the job. These organizations, such as the US Army, struggle not only with employee conduct, but also the security risks of sites that are prone to socially engineered exploits and malware.

For Ashton Kutcher, the first person to eclipse one million followers on Twitter, fame is certainly a great reward for his achievement — but as another famous Twitterer, Guy Kawasaki found, a large following can quickly become a liability when your account is hijacked to spread malware.

Assessing Risks and Rewards

Organizations must assess their own risks and rewards expected from social media adoption, and more importantly they must monitor and evaluate those expectations after they set their course and start using or blocking such sites. Tools are emerging to make leveraging the information stored in our social networks beneficial to those participating in them.

Most of all, social networking is a trend that enables individuals and empowers them to stretch, collaborate, and participate in ways that traditional organizational structures have not allowed. From this expanded freedom, companies may find great new ideas, routes to market, ad hoc groups formed to address some issue, new ways to engage customers or the public to participate more closely in the organization’s mission, or simply a boost in morale and participation.

Yet when left unchecked, these social groups could expose sensitive company information, overstep acceptable behavior guidelines, or fall victim to malware. Looking for examples like the ones cited here can help companies to keep their eye on what peers are doing. Evaluating their own risk tolerance and comparing their plans to the public policies and actions of their peers can be one effective step in remaining competitively engaged with social networks, while not overly exposing themselves to undue risk.

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  1. Truthfully this is already an issue and it will get much worse. Already you can go and find out too much from everyone on facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc. Once Google gets their social media indexing up to their search standards it will be more revealing because they will be able to combine the different results and present it together. Wait and see this will need to be part of signing on at a company for employment as you say- I call it a Social Media Responsibility"" clause. I am ""Coining"" the phrase here and now.Network Support"