By Matt Wilson | Posted: April 6, 2012
About half of U.S. employers block their employees from using social media sites, despite numerous reasonswhy they shouldn’t.
Procter & Gamble isn’t one of those companies, but this week, the household goods giant barred its 129,000 or so employees from accessing video-streaming site Netflix and music site Pandora.
Why? Employees were watching so many movies and listening to so many songs that it was “hobbling the company’s digital backbone” to the point of slowing down Internet service,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The newspaper reports more than 50,000 YouTube videos were downloaded daily and employees listened to 4,000 hours of music a day on Pandora.
Paul Fox, director of corporate communications for the company, told Ragan.com, “We want to be the most digitally enabled business in the world, we want to be always ‘on’ and we need to ensure our network resources and capacity stay ahead of our business demand.”
Fox says P&G is more lenient than other employers, in that it doesn’t block Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Netflix and Pandora aren’t strictly social websites, though they do have some social features such as ratings and profiles. But one has to ask, is this a first step toward banning other sites?
Many internal communications experts say P&G was well within its rights to block the sites, though they note that the news raises a few other issues.
P&G could not be reached for comment.
A practical response
Toby Ward, president and CEO of Prescient Digital Media, says the move was “a fair and reasonable response.”
“Casual entertainment that negatively impacts the productivity of a company must be prevented,” he says. “Of course, it’s at the discretion of any company to limit or encourage the use of online multimedia entertainment, and some, particularly in the entertainment industry, might prefer to encourage such use.”
Ward says it’s fine for employees to listen to music or read the news, but he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which watching movies at work would be acceptable anywhere unless it was part of a particular job.
Robert Holland, an employee communications manager with a Fortune 500 company, says he doesn’t see the hand of Big Brother in the announcement.
“Companies, I believe, have every right to do what’s necessary to protect their assets and control costs,” he says, agreeing that watching movies doesn’t really have a place in an office environment.
Employees have other options for streaming music or video, says Sean Williams of CommunicationAMMO. “Employees have lots of freedom—they can have personal smartphones, iPods, iPads, all kinds of things to play with at work that can deliver audio and video.”
Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology says the move was fine, as long as P&G clearly communicated that the change was coming, rather than just pulling the plug. He said he does wonder whether the company is also blocking Spotify, another music-streaming service, which is much more social than Pandora.
Fox says Proctor & Gamble’s employees “embraced the decision.”
“Employees understood that downloading movies or music was best done on their own time not on the company’s,” he says.
The bandwidth question
Williams says he knows of a company whose network slows to a crawl during big sporting events—the World Cup and the NCAA tournament, for instance. Sure, the company may need to update its system, but employees should pitch in to help, too.
“Bandwidth is needed for critical business operations, and it’s not just external [website] being affected when people stream,” he says.
However, Holtz says a company as big as Procter & Gamble shouldn’t fret over bandwidth.
“Thirty years ago, you never would have heard a company tell employees, ‘We would have loved to send out an employee newsletter, but we don’t have enough paper,'” he points out. “Bandwidth is the paper of the digital era, and if the company doesn’t have enough to support employee use, they should buy more.”
Some employees will feel less satisfied and be less engaged if their employers block anything beyond pornographic or malicious sites, Holtz says.
“Research shows that it’s a determinant factor among millennials when it comes to accepting job offers.”
With the option of streaming music or video over a smartphone, blocking Netflix and Pandora may not be a huge issue—he says P&G employees probably won’t have big problems circumventing such obstacles to entertainment—but what about other sites?
Holland draws the line at Facebook, Twitter, and other social hubs.
“In today’s world, where the business and social lines are increasingly blurred, and information and knowledge flow from many sources, it’s naïve to think social media sites have absolutely no business value,” he says.