Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn to Find a Job

Searching for a job can suck if you constrain yourself to the typical tools such as online jobs boards, trade publications, CraigsList, and networking with only your close friends. In these kinds of times, you need to use all the weapons that you can, and one that many people don’t—or at least don’t use to the fullest extent, is Linkedin.
LinkedIn has over thirty-five million members in over 140 industries. Most of them are adults, employed, and not looking to post something on your Wall or date you. Executives from all the Fortune 500 companies are on LinkedIn. Most have disclosed what they do, where they work now, and where they’ve worked in the past. Talk about a target-rich environment, and the service is free.
Here are ten tips to help use LinkedIn to find a job. If you know someone who’s looking for a job, forward them these tips along with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Before trying these tips, make sure you’ve filled out your profile and added at least twenty connections
  1. Get the word out. Tell your network that you’re looking for a new position because a job search these days requires the “law of big numbers” There is no stigma that you’re looking right now, so the more people who know you’re looking, the more likely you’ll find a job. Recently, LinkedIn added “status updates” which you can use to let your network know about your newly emancipated status.
  2. Get LinkedIn recommendations from your colleagues. A strong recommendation from your manager highlights your strengths and shows that you were a valued employee. This is especially helpful if you were recently laid off, and there is no better time to ask for this than when your manager is feeling bad because she laid you off. If you were a manager yourself, recommendations from your employees can also highlight leadership qualities.
  3. Find out where people with your backgrounds are working. Find companies that employ people like you by doing an advanced search for people in your area who have your skills. For example, if you’re a web developer in Seattle, search profiles in your zip code using keywords with your skills (for example, JavaScript, XHTML, Ruby on Rails) to see which companies employ people like you.
  4. Find out where people at a company came from. LinkedIn “Company Profiles” show the career path of people before they began work there. This is very useful data to figure out what a company is looking for in new hires. For example, Microsoft employees worked at Hewlett-Packard and Oracle
  5. Find out where people from a company go next. LinkedIn’s “Company Profiles” also tell you where people go after leaving the company. You can use this to track where people go after leaving your company as well as employees of other companies in your sector. (You could make the case that this feature also enables to figure out which companies to avoid, but I digress.)
  6. Check if a company is still hiring. Company pages on LinkedIn include a section called “New Hires” that lists people who have recently joined the company. If you have real chutzpah, you can ask these new hires how they got their new job. At the very least you can examine their backgrounds to surmise what made them attractive to the new employer.
  7. Get to the hiring manager. LinkedIn’s job search engine allows you to search for any kind of job you want. However, when you view the results, pay close attention to the ones that you’re no more than two degrees away from. This means that you know someone who knows the person that posted the job—it can’t get much better than that. (Power tip: two degrees is about the limit for getting to hiring managers. I never help friends of friends of friends.) Another way to find companies that you have ties to is by looking at the “Companies in Your Network” section on LinkedIn’s Job Search page.
  8. Get to the right HR person. The best case is getting to the hiring manager via someone who knows him, but if that isn’t possible you can still use LinkedIn to find someone inside the company to walk your resume to the hiring manager or HR department. When someone receives a resume from a coworker even if she doesn’t know the coworker, she almost always pays attention to it.
  9. Find out the secret job requirements. Job listings rarely spell out entirely or exactly what a hiring manager is seeking. Find a connection at the company who can get the inside scoop on what really matters for the job. You can do this by searching for the company name; the results will show you who in your network connects you to the company. If you don’t have an inside connection, look at profiles of the people who work at the company to get an idea of their backgrounds and important skills.
  10. Find startups to join. Maybe this recession is God telling you it’s time to try a startup. But great startups are hard to find. Play around with LinkedIn’s advanced search engine using “startup” or “stealth” in the keyword or company field. You can also narrow by industry (for example, startups in the Web 2.0, wireless, or biotech sectors). If large companies can’t offer “job security,” open up your search to include startups.
  11. Build your network before you need it. As a last tip, no matter how the economy or your career is doing, having a strong network is a good form of job security. Don’t wait until times are tough to nurture your network. The key to networking (or “schmozing”), however, is filled with counter-intuitiveness. First, it’s not who you know—it’s who knows of you. Second, Great schmoozers are not thinking “What can this person do for me?” To the contrary, they are thinking, “What can I do for this person?”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Increase service agreement renewal rates with these tips

If a client seems unsure about whether to renew a service agreement with your IT consultancy, you should try these strategies for keeping your contract renewal rates high.

All IT consulting clients should be on a service plan. The main reason a client should sign a maintenance agreement is to ensure prompt service. Service agreements also help consultancies determine proper staffing levels, maximize IT investments, and reduce downtime.
Service agreements can be a tough sell, so once these plans are in place, IT consultancies should take the following steps to help ensure clients renew their agreements.
  • Remind clients about the costs associated with downtime. You should remind clients that businesses on service plans receive higher priority from your IT consultancy. Be sure customers understand that, if their agreement lapses, recovery and repair operations could stretch to a couple of days instead of just a couple of hours.
  • Offer lower renewal rates. Clients on service plans may already receive discounted rates (instead of charging $139 an hour, maybe your consultancy charges them $125 an hour), but if your office raised its rates since the last service agreement was signed, you might offer to renew the client’s agreement at the prior year’s lower rate. The goal should be to show clients you wish to form a long-term partnership, not nickel and dime them.
  • Provide regular checkups for free. Instead of charging for a couple of hours of service every quarter or a couple of times a year to review how well systems are working, what upgrades might be needed, etc., you can provide those checkup services free to contract clients.
  • Discount software and hardware sales. While noncontract clients might pay full retail for software applications and hardware, maybe your consultancy could extend discounts on those purchases to clients possessing current service agreements.
  • Schedule regular preventive maintenance tasks. Approximately 70% or 80% of business-disrupting failures likely occur because a neglected system finally broke. By scheduling regular on-site preventive maintenance trips for contract clients, you can help customers avoid disruptive outages.
  • Review service agreement and update for clients’ current needs. Clients’ needs often change over time. It’s possible a client used to have 30 employees and computers when the original service agreement was signed years ago but has downsized and now only maintains a staff of 10. In such cases, you should rewrite the service agreement to provide fewer monthly service hours at a lower cost.
  • Add services in place of time. Sometimes clients’ needs change in other ways. Clients may start a relationship requiring many service hours but gravitate more toward requiring software and annual license renewals once their systems and networks are stabilized. Where it makes sense, offer to leave the agreement’s pricing unchanged but reduce the number of hours provided in exchange for your including annual antivirus and QuickBooks (or similarly needed) license renewals each year. The goal should be to determine the client’s needs and cover them using a single contract whenever possible.
  • Offer customized reports and recommendations. Once a client has been a customer for a year or more, your organization will have developed a trouble ticket and invoicing history. You should review that history, and note trends and common failures and revise service agreements at renewal to include steps to address and eliminate common issues and failures. You should also present simple summary reports and charts, too, to demonstrate where the client’s investment is going (battling infections, troubleshooting recurring telecommunications failures, servicing old machines that should be replaced, etc.). The more you can do to help clients understand where you’re adding value and how you’re working to service their needs, the better.

What methods do you practice?

Does your IT consultancy use other methods to better service contract clients? Share your recommendations in the discussion.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Avoid These 10 Interview Bloopers

We’ve all heard stories of job candidates who looked great on paper but who were absolute disasters in person. With fewer and fewer interview opportunities available in this competitive market, it’s essential to make the best possible first impression. You can learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the top 10 worst interview blunders.
Poor handshake:
The three-second handshake that starts the interview is your first opportunity to create a great impression. But all too often an interview is handbiblown right from the start by an ineffective handshake. Once you’ve delivered a poor handshake, it’s nearly impossible to recover your efforts to build rapport. Here are some examples:
  • The Limp Hand (or “dead fish”): Gives the impression of disinterest or weakness
  • The Tips of the Fingers: Shows lack of ability to engage.
  • The Arm Pump: Sincerity is questionable, much like an overly aggressive salesman.
Even if you’re a seasoned professional, don’t assume you have avoided these pitfalls. Your handshake may be telling more about you than you know. Ask for honest critiques from several friends who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth.
Talking too much:
In my recruiting days, I abhorred over-talkative candidates. So did most of my client employers. Over-talking takes a couple of forms:
  • Taking too long to answer direct questions. The impression: This candidate just can’t get to the point.
  • Nervous talkers. The impression: This candidate is covering up something or is outright lying.
To avoid either of these forms of over-talking, practice answering questions in a direct manner. Avoid nervous talking by preparing for your interview with role-play
Talking negatively about current or past employer/manager:
The fastest way to talk yourself out of a new job is to say negative things. Even if your last boss was Attila the Hun, never, never state your ill feelings about him/her. No matter how reasonable your complaints, you will come out the loser if you show that you disrespect your boss because the interviewer will assume that you would similarly trash him or her. When faced with the challenge of talking about former employers, make sure you are prepared with a positive spin on your experiences.
Showing up late or too early: time
One of the first lessons in job-search etiquette is to show up on time for interviews. Many job-seekers don’t realize, however, that showing up too early often creates a poor first impression as well. Arriving more than 10 minutes early for an interview is a dead giveaway that the job seeker has too much time on his or her hands, much like the last one picked for the softball team. Don’t diminish your candidate desirability by appearing desperate. Act as if your time were as valuable as the interviewer’s. Always arrive on time, but never more than 10 minutes early.
Treating the receptionist rudely:
Since the first person you meet on an interview is usually a receptionist, this encounter represents the first impression you’ll make. Don’t mistake low rank for low input. Often that receptionist’s job is to usher you into your interview. The receptionist has the power to pave your way positively or negatively before you even set eyes on the interviewer. The interviewer may also solicit the receptionist’s opinion of you after you leave.
Asking about benefits, vacation time or salary:
What if a car salesman asked to see your credit report before allowing you to test drive the cars? That would be ridiculous, and you’d walk away in disgust. The effect is about the same when a job-seeker asks about benefits or other employee perks during the first interview. Wait until you’ve won the employer over before beginning that discussion.
Not preparing for the interview:
Nothing communicates disinterest like a candidate who hasn’t bothered to do pre-interview research. On the flip side, the quickest way to a good impression is to demonstrate your interest with a few well thought out questions that reflect your knowledge of their organization.
Verbal ticks:
An ill-at-ease candidate seldom makes a good impression. The first signs of nervousness are verbal ticks. We all have them from time to time — “umm,” “like,” “you know.” Ignore the butterflies in your stomach and put up a front of calm confidence by avoiding verbal ticks. You can also sometimes avoid verbal ticks by pausing for a few seconds to gather your thoughts before each response.Job Interview
One of the best ways to reduce or eliminate them is through role-play. Practice sharing your best success stories ahead of time, and you’ll feel more relaxed during the real interview.
Not enough/too much eye contact:
Either situation can create a negative effect. Avoid eye contact and you’ll seem shifty, untruthful, or disnterested; offer too much eye contact, and you’ll wear the interviewer out. If you sometimes have trouble with eye-contact balance, work this issue out ahead of time in an interview practice session with a friend.
Failure to match communication styles:
It’s almost impossible to make a good first impression if you can’t communicate effectively with an interviewer. But you can easily change that situation by mirroring the way the interviewer treats you. For instance:
  • If the interviewer seems all business, don’t attempt to loosen him/her up with a joke or story. Be succinct and businesslike
  • If the interviewer is personable, try discussing his/her interests. Often the items on display in the office can offer a clue.
  • If asked a direct question, answer directly. Then follow up by asking if more information is needed.
Allowing the interviewer to set the tone of conversation can vastly improve your chances of making a favorable impression. You can put the interviewer at ease — and make yourself seem more like him or her — by mirroring his or her communication style.
Final Thoughts
Just as a strong resume wins you an opportunity to interview, strong interview skills will win you consideration for the job. You already know that you won’t earn an interview unless your resume sets you apart as a candidate of choice. Similarly, you should know that polishing your interview skills can mean the difference between getting the job offer — and being a runner-up.
Start your job search with a resume that creates a stellar first impression, then back those facts up with your extraordinary interview skills. You will have made yourself a better candidate by avoiding these ten interview pitfalls. And no one will have to talk about you as the candidate who “almost” got the job.

The five most overhyped tech products of 2010

The pace of innovation in the technology industry quickened again in 2010, after stumbling momentarily in 2009 because of the global recession. The most potent sign of the rebound was the steady stream of new products, new technologies, and new ideas that pushed the previous boundaries and rethought the status quo.
Of course, innovation means taking risks and some of them — including some the most widely publicized — turn out to duds. And, even some of the most successful new products get overhyped and oversold.
That’s the subject of this week’s Monday morning editorial: the most overhyped products of 2010. Here’s my list.

5. Apple iPad

This is the pick that I’m going to take the most flak over, but it deserves to be on the list and I’ll explain why. There’s no denying that the iPad has been a mega-hit. Over 7 million of them were sold in its first six months on the market and it is changing the computing industry more than any single product has in the past decade. As I said in my article The truth about iPad: It’s only good for two things, it is a very good effort for a 1.0 product.
But, the iPad has been hyped into the stratosphere to the point that too many people are thinking of it as full laptop replacement. It is not. It is a PC companion. While the iPad has cannibalized the low-end of the laptop market, especially netbooks, you have to keep in mind that most of those buyers are looking for a second, more portable machine. In business, the iPad is a great fit for executives who spend all day in meetings and for consultants and field workers who aren’t at a desk but are out interacting with customers. However, it’s still not a great fit for people who need to sit down and efficiently plow through a lot of work. That’s a lot of people.

4. Microsoft Kinect

Bill Gates has been talking about this product for years, long before it ever had a product name. I remember when the Nintendo Wii came out, Gates said the real innovation would be when you could play a tennis video game with your own racket in your hand instead of a game controller. To Microsoft’s credit, the company has almost entirely brought that vision to life with the Microsoft Kinect, a new add-on for Xbox 360 that is flying off the shelves this holiday season.
When it works, the Kinect is a pretty cool experience that allows you to jump into a video game to run obstacle courses and kick soccer balls right in the middle of your own living room, without breaking anything. It’s great exercise and it’s amazingly accurate at times. However, it doesn’t work very well in rooms with direct sunlight (is it only meant for basements and mancaves?), the facial recognition feature is laughably awful, and navigating menus with the gesture interface is frustratingly slow.
The Kinect is a very creative innovation, but it’s also gimmicky and raw, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as the commercials make it appear.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab

The most innovative thing about the Galaxy Tab is that Samsung was the first vendor to finally bring an Android tablet to the mass market. We’ve been hearing all year that an army of Android tablets would be invading in waves. It never happened, mainly because Google never released a tablet version of Android and threw cold water on the early vendors that attempted to do their own Android tablet adaptations.
Samsung took its successful Galaxy S line of Android smartphones and kicked it up a notch into a 7-inch Android tablet, and voilà, out popped the Galaxy Tab. While Samsung did an excellent job with the hardware , the software leaves a lot to be desired and the product is badly overpriced. The Galaxy Tab has been portrayed as the iPad’s first real competitor, but I’d recommend waiting until the price drops, Google releases the official tablet version of Android, and the other big vendors release their Android tablets in the first half of 2011.

2. Google TV

The most disappointing technology of 2010 of Google TV. If Google would have focused on bringing Android apps to the flatscreen instead of trying to webify the television experience, this product could have been a huge success. Back in the spring I wrote that apps in Google TV could transform entertainment by essentially lowering the bar on creating a TV “channel,” and not just an old school cable channel but a fully multimedia-enabled interactive channel.
That’s still possible, but it would require a strategy change from Google. What the company has attempted to do with Google TV is marry Web video with traditional cable/satellite all controlled by one box that you can use to search for the content you want. Unfortunately, the user experience is confusing and cumbersome. If you really want Web pages and Web video clips on your TV, just hook up a PC or a Mac. If you want on-demand content from the Internet (podcasts, Netflix streaming, Hulu Plus, etc.) delivered in a TV-like experience then get a Roku box for a third of the price of Google TV.

1. 3DTV

It started at CES 2010 in January and carried all the way through to this holiday season. The TV vendors have bombarded the world with the message that the next big step in television is 3DTV and that you can have it today by buying their new premium TVs and polarized glasses. The problem is that neither the tech press nor the public is buying it.
In January, it was obvious that TV vendors saw 3DTV as “the next big thing” to keep people buying new TVs and to get early adopters to replace their newly-purchased flat panels with 3D models. The tech press sniffed this out right away at CES 2010 and panned the idea, knowing that buyers don’t want to replace the new TVs they’ve just purchased in recent years and even fewer will want to wear 3D glasses in their own living rooms. But, vendors are still trying to ram 3DTVs down consumers’ throats with big displays at Best Buy, Costco, and other retailers this holiday season. This is an even bigger gimmick than Microsoft Kinect and I don’t see many technology buyers falling for it.

Ten free security monitoring tools

Freebie apps can save you money, but deployment may not be so free ........

1. Zenoss
Zenoss is an enterprise-class open source server and network monitoring solution that distinguishes itself through its virtualization and cloud monitoring capabilities, which are frequently difficult to find in older free monitoring tools.

2. OSSIM Full-fledged SIEM functionality doesn't have to blow the budget. OSSIM, or Open Source Security Information Management, serves up a package of open-source detection tools paired up with a correlation engine meant to minimize your heavy lifting in the analysis department.

3. Spiceworks Spiceworks is a solid general IT network and systems management engine with a load of security monitoring capabilities, and gives small organizations the ability to monitor applications and systems and provide alerting to head off extended issues.

4. Splunk Splunk is a log collection and analysis tool that gives administrators the power to condense their monitoring data for applications, network devices, servers and more in order to crunch it and put out actionable reports. The free version, however, is limited to 500 MB per day of data.

5. Zabbix You can track network devices and services, servers, and applications for traditional security logging and analysis, plus performance management and capacity planning using the open source package Zabbix.

6. FireGen Analyze firewall logs for major vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, SonicWall, Fortigate, and Symantec using FireGen, which provides the ability to identify and explain events recorded in order to more easily act on the data's meaning.

7. LANSweeper You can't monitor assets you don't know about. Gain better visibility into what hardware and software assets sit on your network using LANSweeper, an open source and agentless scanner that can help you lay the groundwork for better monitoring practices.

8. Nmap An oldie but a goodie, Nmap presents administrators in charge of heterogeneous networks the capabilities to track network inventory, manage service upgrade schedules and monitor host or service uptime.

9. Nagios Another fully featured open source network management and monitoring tool, Nagios will keep tabs on network services, host resources, network probes. The tool can monitor via remotely run scripts and supports encrypted tunnels for remote monitoring.

10. OSSEC HIDS Compatible with the full range of operating systems, this open source OSSEC HIDS host-based intrusion detection system will do log analysis, integrity checking, Windows registry monitoring, and rootkit detection. It's equipped with time-based alerting and active response to offer maximum proactive action. 

Stop providing free IT consulting work

People don’t call electricians and expect free step-by-step instruction regarding how to repair a failed ground or intermittent circuit. So why do they call IT consultants expecting such assistance? I wish I knew the answer to that question, because I can feel my blood pressure rising just recalling some of the requests clients, customers, and other callers have made.
Clients have asked my office to provide free telephone support for a wide variety of topics, which include:
  • Can’t you just walk me through this 17-step, 45-minute installation for free over the phone?
  • Just tell me the exact steps I need to follow to remove this Trojan infection.
  • Provide me with the 23 steps I need to follow to complete a complex, complicated task that requires expertise, experience, and proven knowledge to properly complete, but don’t bill me for it.
  • What do I need to click on or select when I get to that 14th screen, again?
  • I’m going to migrate all my old data myself, but what’s a .PST file, where do I find it, how do I reload it, and will it work with my new PC that doesn’t have office productivity installed?
These common calls increase stress and anxiety, but this madness doesn’t need to continue. While all IT consultancies should strive to assist clients, you must guard against providing service without compensation. If employees in my office lose just 15 minutes per day providing free support to callers, my office loses 625 hours (10 engineers times 15 minutes a day times 250 annual workdays) a year that would have otherwise been invested performing constructive tasks and assisting paying clients. That’s unacceptable and a disservice to those clients who do pay for the consultancy’ services.
I encourage your consultancy to incorporate these tips to reduce free consulting:
  • Bill for short phone calls. Most accountants, attorneys, and other professional services firms generate invoices for telephone calls lasting 15 minutes or longer. Incorporate that practice in your office. If clients complain, explain that your office fields dozens of 15 or 20 minute telephone calls each day in which you provide expertise, answers, and other information for which the office must charge.
  • Charge for telephone support. Set expectations up front with clients. Regardless of whether a client is on retainer, if customers call with problems and the consultancy provides solutions, ensure the client understands that’s a service for which the consultancy is reimbursed. After all, those are sessions in which your engineers are providing expertise and are subsequently unable to assist other clients.
  • Encourage on-site service. Clients frequently call requesting quick assistance with what they believe is a simple or easy task. There’s no easy way for your office to know, however, whether the client’s inability to run a program, for example, is due to a failed update, application incompatibility, virus infection, or other issue. Encourage clients to let you schedule an on-site visit (for which most customers have little trouble justifying service fees) to diagnose and troubleshoot the problem.
  • Charge for remote assistance. Just because you’re not rolling a truck to provide assistance and correct an issue doesn’t mean you didn’t provide value. If engineers remotely connect to a client machine to diagnose, troubleshoot, or repair an issue, that’s time for which the office should be compensated. Bill it, even if it’s only 15 minutes.
  • Smoothly transition from free to paid. Volunteer to try and provide quick, say five or 10 minutes, of assistance via telephone to a client. But if after five or 10 minutes your office realizes the solution is going to take more time, inform the client you’re crossing over from a goodwill gesture to a paid service and let the caller know you’re going on the clock.
  • Say no. Occasionally callers will request free assistance for a project, or service for which they don’t wish to be billed. If the answer requires just a minute or two, that’s fine; but if the process or project requires more expertise or time to complete, simply tell the client no and explain that your office is unable to provide services for free.

Other methods

How does your consultancy manage customers who seek free consulting? Post your tips in the discussion.

Strategic Business Approach to Social Networking

Is an outright ban on workplace social networking a good idea? Or should companies be more calculated in their points of view and look at how the negative effects social networking has on a company's bottom line can actually turn positive if management adopts a more strategic policy than has been common in the past. There are certainly good reasons to suppose that unfettered employee access to social network sites can cost company dearly. But there are also good reasons for thinking that certain types of social networking can benefit many companies a great deal.

Case for and against Social Networking 

The Risks of Social Networking in the Workplace
Why in the world would social networking cost an economy so much? Here are some of the most plausible and accepted explanations:

Lost productivity —The specter of lost productivity is the most common reason employers cite for blocking access to social networks.Some companies have now banned staff access to Facebook, Twitter, Bebo and the like after discovering that employees were spending nearly 400 hours a month on Facebook.

Malware, identity theft and data leakage —Social networking sites can be the delivery vehicle for malware and spyware that cybercriminals covertly embed onto innocent users’ pages. These malicious programs can spread throughout an entire internal corporate network and wreak havoc on the company’s bottom line. By destroying or disabling systems and data that employees need to do their jobs, malware can have a tremendous impact on productivity which is quite independent of merely “wasting time”. Malware and spyware can also bombard internal networks with spam, target users with phishing attacks, and steal user names and passwords. Criminals can use the latter information to appropriate identities and construct fake Facebook profiles that facilitate access to valuable company secrets. Some “ethical hacking” firms will demonstrate, if you pay their fees, how easily and quickly they can obtain almost any company data by using employee names and gaining access through social networking sites.  Moreover, the time it takes for IT departments to defend against ongoing malware and spyware attacks can be extremely expensive
Compromised confidentiality —Cybercriminals often don’t need sophisticated spyware to obtain secret company information. For whatever reason, naïve social networkers are often more open with personal or confidential information on social networking sites than they are elsewhere in life. Although Facebook users can restrict their pages to a select number of “friends,” many social networkers set profiles as public and befriend strangers or imposters who take on the identity of co-workers within their companies, including unknown “colleagues” who claim to be part of the same organization (this is a special vulnerability of large companies, where no one can possibly know everyone else). Collegial discussions can easily lead to the unintended disclosure of private company information. Moreover, social networkers can inadvertently violate government confidentiality regulations. In the aforementioned study, Nucleus Research cites an example of hospital nurses sharing patient information via Facebook with nurses on other shifts. If any of these nurses’ other Facebook friends were not hospital employees, the hospital could have easily found itself in violation of HIPAA regulations. Similar vulnerabilities exist for lawyers who can violate client confidentiality in much the same way. Beyond that, if attorneys give innocent advice to Facebook friends, they can unintentionally establish binding attorney/client relations. Nucleus also noted a growing trend among social networkers to use Facebook as an alternative email platform. Although many organizations monitor ordinary email accounts, if they can’t or don’t monitor Facebook, users can circumvent corporate email controls and unintentionally or deliberately violate corporate communication policies. 

Bandwidth consumption —Videos, other streaming media and other downloads from social media sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Flicker can consume an enormous amount of bandwidth. When employees are busy downloading videos for example, business-critical applications may run very slowly. If organizations do not restrict access to these sites, they will either have to accept a reduction in productivity or make expensive investments in more bandwidth.
Given these concerns, you might wonder why any executive in his or her right mind would ever permit employees to access social network sites at work. Why not use readily available Web filtering technology to completely block the sites? Yet, executives ought to think twice regarding an absolute ban on social networking. Some moderate and managed uses of social networks can genuinely benefit a company, and discriminating Web filtering tools can help organizations take advantage of these benefits while significantly reducing the risks.

The Argument for Workplace Social Networking
It is safe to say that most of the top management of today’s businesses are not members of the “Y Generation” who are rapidly entering the workplace, and they are obviously not “Millennials,” who will follow the Y Generation in short order. Yet this generation is the first to have grown up totally immersed in not only the Internet, but in interactive, often completely mobile technologies such as texting, instant messaging, blogging, media sharing and the now ubiquitous social networking
While many senior executives are gradually mastering the new forms of communication, the impulse may not come naturally and so they may not fully appreciate how deeply engrained these habits are in the younger workforce. Yet as the younger generation grows older, they will take over global business, become both corporate executives themselves and customers, and they will bring their habits with them.
So a draconian ban on Web 2.0 technology may cut off a primary means of communication that is deeply entrenched in the younger lifestyle. A ban will likely cause frustration and resentment among younger employees, and it might also deprive them of the venues where they can most comfortably and skillfully deal with important business contacts and customers, develop prospects, market their company’s products, etc.—in other words, successfully do their jobs. Talented job candidates are beginning to consider such restrictions when deciding on their employment options.
Some research suggests that a moderate use of social networking sites actually increases productivity. Dynamic Markets conducted a European-wide survey of 2,000 people, and 65 percent claimed that workplace social networking had made them more productive, and 45 percent said it had sparked creativeness.ix An oft-cited reason for this is that discussions on social networks enable workers to brainstorm with both company colleagues and interested friends, and this process prompts innovative approaches to seemingly intractable problems. Social networking allows employees to leverage the collective knowledge of contacts with expertise and similar interests.
Moreover, social networking helps employees stay connected with college and university friends who now have careers in a variety of industries and may turn into valuable partners or customers. These sites also provide access to otherwise inaccessible people and opportunities. Connections count in business, and given there are over 300 million active users on Facebook alone and growing numbers of members of business-oriented sites such as LinkedIn, social networks provide unprecedented opportunity to make and sustain worthwhile connections. Indeed, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found the workers with the largest networks were 7 percent more productive than colleagues with fewer Facebook or Twitter friends. Social networks can be a tremendous resource for critical information about customers, employees, job candidates, competitors, the current state of your industry and what others are saying about your organization.
Companies are also discovering that corporate social network accounts, blogs, etc. can be valuable marketing tools, providing more exposure and even increasing Google rankings. Corporate social network sites enable sales and marketing professionals to engage in more intimate and interactive dialog with potential customers, two-way communication that is not possible when companies rely exclusively on ordinary Websites and advertisements. An Australian study indicates that even non-business-related social networking can increase productivity because small breaks allow employees to “reset” their concentration.x If a company can successfully manage the other issues associated with social networks—data leakage, confidentiality, malware, bandwidth—why not allow employees to take the breaks they most enjoy, which often includes Facebook, MySpace, etc? Morale matters in an organization. Beyond that, people who waste time on such sites are likely to find other ways to waste time if the sites are banned. Time wasting in the workplace did not begin with Facebook. Regardless, even if workers do waste time, what does it matter if they are meeting or exceeding their numbers or otherwise performing their jobs well? Performance is ultimately what counts and has the largest affect on a company’s revenues. 

A Management Strategy
An effective corporate policy toward corporate networking will include at least three key components: comprehensive employee education, well-designed Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs), and deploying discriminating Web filtering technology.
Education —Every employee who sends email, texts, instant messages or accesses any Internet site—not just social networking sites—should be well versed on the dangers of malware, viruses, identity theft, data leakage and compromised corporate confidentiality. A course on these issues should be a required part of new-hire orientation and should also be taken by existing employees. Since social networking is so popular and second nature to many workers, special attention should be paid to corporate vulnerabilities exposed on these sites. When relevant, the instruction should include counseling on confidentiality and data protection laws such as HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, UK Data Protection Act or other relevant local legislation. 

Acceptable Use Policies —Organizations should articulate unambiguous AUPs that state clearly what kind of corporate information can be shared on social networking sites, what is confidential, what can be said about the company, which of these sites workers can visit, and when they can visit (e.g. during lunch or other official break periods). The policies can be designed to make exceptions for certain personnel, such as marketing staff, who may have valid business reasons to access social networking sites more frequently, but this exceptional use should always be justified by businesses purposes. Restricting social networking to specific times and groups automatically addresses the bandwidth issue by reducing the time spent on and number of people accessing the sites. What is just as important as the policies themselves, however, is management’s commitment to enforce them. In extreme cases, this can sometimes mean termination of employment, especially if workers have been previously warned, have broken the law on the Internet, or have used devious means to evade AUPs, say through anonymous proxies. If employees are not disciplined for violating AUPs, the employee population will not treat the policies seriously. 

Web filtering  —Finally, organizations should invest in advanced Web filtering systems that will help to implement the rules as effectively as possible, as well as protect internal corporate networks from malware. Bloxx’s Web filtering solution is excellent for these purposes. The system can block any existing site either completely or during particular times, and it can make exceptions for specific employee groups or even individuals. Bloxx’s Web content filtering solution is powered by its patented Tru-View Technology, an intelligent real-time contextual analysis engine that rapidly categorizes requested Web pages in real-time. Tru-View Technology can go beyond blocking sites already listed in the URL database to identify and block previously unlisted sites. This is important because new social network sites appear quite frequently. Tru-View Technology also has the capacity to detect completely new and unknown anonymous proxy sites and block those in real-time as well. The solution will identify malware or spyware embedded in the pages of Facebook and other sites and minimize the risk of malware entering the internal corporate network. In addition, a company can enforce rules for email and instant messaging by blocking use of those clients using the Bloxx Web filtering appliance. 

In summary
By combining education, AUPs and Web filtering into an enlightened management strategy, an organization can reap the benefits of social networking while protecting itself against lost productivity, malware, identity theft, data leakage and compromised confidentiality. Employees will be happier, more productive and effective, and talented young people more willing to join the organization. It’s a win-win for employers and employees alike.