Business use of Twitter, Facebook exploding

Study warns that companies should watch out for related security and productivity issues

The use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to promote businesses has exploded over the past six months, according to the results of a study that were released today.

People using Twitter to get the word out about their company, sales and promotions jumped more than 250 per cent from this past spring, according to a study done by Palo Alto Networks , a maker of firewall technology. The number of companies using facebook for such tasks grew by 192 per cent, the sudy found. The report said that workers are using social networks as promotional vehicles both with and without management knowledge.

The company said the report summarizes traffic assessments in more than 200 financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, government, retail, and education organizations worldwide that were performed between March and September 2009

Palo Alto Networks said it is using the results to warn businesses that the increased use of social networking sites and Web-based applications may leave them open to security problems.

"We know that workers are using these applications to help them get their jobs done, with or without approval from their IT departments. And now we know this is happening much faster than anticipated," said Rene Bonvanie, Palo Alto Networks vice president of worldwide marketing, in a statement. "It's naive to think that old-school security practices can handle this deluge. Organizations must realize that banning or allowing specific applications in a black-and-white fashion is bad for business. They need a new approach that allows for shades of gray by enforcing appropriate application usage policies tailored for their workforce."

Use of Twitter and Facebook both for business and personal use has definitely have been on a significant upswing over the past year-plus.

Just last month, Experian Hitwise, an Internet monitoring firm, reported that visits to Twitter , the fourth most popular social networking site, increased by 1170 per cent in September compared to the year-earlier period.

In the same time frame, market leader Facebook saw its already impressive market share increase by 194 per cent, letting it easily maintain its recently attained place atop the U.S. social networking market . Facebook, which grabbed its 300 millionth user in September, captured 58.59 per cent of all U.S. social network visits last month, compared to 19.94 per cent the year before.

But while the two social networking sites have been dramatic upswings in usage, companies have been moving to cut off access to them in the workplace.

Early in October, a study commissioned by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, 54 per cent of U.S. companies say that they have banned workers from using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace while on the job. The study also found that 19 per cent of companies allow social networking use only for business purposes, while 16 per cent allow limited personal use.

And executives may have good reason to ban employees from using the social networking sites during business hours.

This summer, Nucleus Research, an IT research company, reported that companies that allow users to access Facebook in the workplace lose an average of 1.5 per cent in total employee productivity.

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