Should Companies Restrict Employees Use of Facebook, Twitter?

    May 10, 2009
    Chris Crum

Update: The original title of this article was "USA Today Publisher Restricting Employees from Using Social Networks?" USA Today called WebProNews requesting a change because it made it look like USA Today itself was discouraging social media use, which is apparently not the case.

"I can’t speak for the posting on Gannett Blog, but I can say that we at USA TODAY have been working extensively on our social networking efforts," says USA Today Communications Manager Alexandra Nicholson. "USA TODAY was the first national newspaper to offer reader comments, and we continue to expand our community tools by allowing readers to communicate with each other directly, add ‘friends’ through and through social networking tools like Facebook Connect. Additionally USA TODAY has recently launched a series of moderated communities targeted specifically to our readers, this includes a recent MMA community launch.

Alexandra says that USA Today sees social networking as "a growing effort" on their part and one that they’re "taking on enthusiastically."

Incidentally, Alexandra found our article while doing routine "Twitter surveillance."

Original Article: The controversy never ends when it comes to newspapers and online news. It’s amazing how many debates there really are within this industry.

You’ve got the bloggers vs journalists debate, the fair use debate, and the should social media be used as a source debate to name a few. That last one is apparently even an internal debate within some news organizations.

Valleywag is pointing to a post from a blog (unofficial) about Gannett, publisher of USA Today. The post shares a memo from an editor with the company that is restricting access by employees to social networks. This example is not really about the legitimacy of social networks as credible sources. It’s more about social media in the workplace. The memo says:

It has come to my attention that some staff members are spending a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites during work hours. Also, some staff members apparently are spending work time on Fantasy baseball research and other personal recreation activities.

This is not appropriate. It is not part of the job. Occasionally it will be necessary for staff members to visit these sites for work purposes, but please reserve social networking and recreational pursuits for your private time.

Is the editor wrong? Probably not entirely. Unless employees are using fantasy baseball research for actual stories, there is probably some misuse going on. But is restricting access to social networks the way to go?

News breaks on Twitter all the time. How would a writer get to it without spending some time on Twitter (or using some kind of Twitter app)? Then there is the fact that social networks are a way to contact potential leads and sources. They’re often easier to get through to people than by phone or email.

"As one reporter put it, ‘Facebook is a modern day Rolodex,’" says VW’s Ryan Tate. "Exactly, and if those infernal tele-phones had never been given out like candy to individual reporters, maybe newspapers would be in better shape today!"

USA Today does have a Twitter account, but seems to be primarily following other USAToday/Gannett accounts. on the other hand has not been updated once, but is being held on to by some guy named Mike Pratt who loves the outdoors:

Gannet Account on Twitter

So where do you stand on this debate? Do social networks have a place in the newsroom, or do the negatives outweigh the positives? How about in other workplace environments? Tell us what you think.