By Marcus Leach

According to research published by Clearswift there has, in 2011, been a shift in attitudes towards social media and personal technology in the workplace.

The research has highlighted a new phase in the social media journey as businesses across the globe clamp down following recent high profile data breaches: 68% of companies now monitor employee internet activity and 56% block access to some sites.

An overwhelming sense of caution is emanating from businesses when it comes to social media. In Clearswift’s 2010 study just 9% of companies globally engaged in blocking employee access to social media sites, yet in the latest research this figure has risen to 19%.

Blocking is most evident in Germany (23%) and Australia (21%). The only exception is the United States, with 30% of companies actively encouraging their employees to use social media tools.

In addition, 87% of companies in the survey are so concerned about security and data loss that it’s preventing technology adoption; this fear is most evident in Japan (92%).

However, managers still see social media as being critical to future success, particularly in relation to communication, with 54% citing web collaboration as a pivotal tool, and one in four companies planning to invest more in social media this year than last. The push for investment is strongest in the United States, where 44% expect to invest, and the UK, where 31% expect to do so. It is weakest in Germany (18%) and Japan (13%).

A ‘socianomic paradox’ has emerged; on the one hand 80% of managers acknowledge the business benefits that social media tools generate, yet a paralysis has set in due to security fears, resulting in a new dilemma for many regional boardrooms.

In fact, 48% of managers have proactively identified social media usage as an issue of concern. In the United States and Australia, managerial concern is as high as 66% and 54% respectively. Due to a lower level of usage, Japan’s level of concern is 34%. This concern is undoubtedly leading to a less proactive approach to social media and collaboration, with control and compliance (58%) driving the security stance of the majority of companies.

Paradoxically, 41% of companies globally agree that the benefits of social media outweigh the drawbacks. This rises to 48% in the UK and 58% in the United States. Even in Japan, where attitudes towards social media are more sceptical, 28% agree. However, only one in seven companies globally are using it as a tool for growth.

“It’s clear that we have seen some significant changes in attitude to social media in the last twelve months," Andrew Wyatt, Chief Operating Officer, Clearswift, said.

"Businesses have reacted to the series of high profile data leaks and have become increasingly nervous about its usage in the workplace. Rather than embracing new channels of communication, companies have clamped down and become overtly defensive which is consequently stifling potential avenues of growth.

"However, the research also provides evidence that businesses do recognise the importance of new technologies which leads me to believe that this is a knee jerk reaction rather than a long term trend.”

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