To Block or Not to Block the Social Web at Work.

Does blocking access to social networking sites at the office really work? Are social networking sites the only places of risk for companies and law firms on the new social Web?  Mountain block profile

  • If your firm blocks Facebook and not LinkedIn;  why one and not the other? Business vs. personal? Bandwidth demands? Liabilities? Don’t know, just seems right?

Do you know that if your partners and employees can access blogs and other sites that allow commenting,  reviewing, or streaming content (e.g. news videos or podcasts), via the firm Internet connection, you are, by default, giving them permission to participate in the social web.

We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.  Our use of the Web in a social manner to communicate is only going to grow, and will eventually replace the old model of a destination based, transactional Web – including the way we search and use email.

Law firms need viable responses to the new way in which people are using the web. Shutting off access to social networking sites isn’t the last decision you’ll make.

People will find ways around being blocked off from social sites – one example comes to mind. All smart phones now have social networking applications. Whether a firm owned device or a personal device, employees can and will likely participate in online social networks while at the office from their mobile devices.

If you are just now starting to look into what the social web means to your firm, it’s business practices, and employees’ access to social sites, here a few things to consider.

  1. The whole Internet is becoming social; even traditional media sites like the local paper and the Wall Street Journal.
  2. Almost every shopping site has reviewing features. Product reviews on Amazon are the first place many people go when making a purchase.
  3. University alumni Web sites are getting into the social networking craze.
  4. The President of the United States indirectly endorsed the social Web as a political communications tool when he ran his campaign on blogs and Twitter.
  5. Can you police every site?
  6. Can you shut the whole Internet-at-the-office thing down?

Who knew the Internet would become what it is today when firms started opening access to the Internet on every desktop? It’s too late to take Internet access away from employees. There are many critical business and legal processes using the Internet today, so you can forget that option.  Who knows where the social Web is headed?  It’s not too early to start taking a proactive approach, with a permission based policy.

So what should law firm leaders do? Here are a few suggestions that I recommend.

1. Get your arms around the social web both philosophically and behaviorally. It’s not about technology, it’s about the new way in which we are using the web that’s important here. Find outside help if you don’t have someone in-house that can get you up to speed quickly.

2. Don’t resist. Be smart. Be proactive. Be educated. Stay informed. When law firm leaders show employees that they are paying attention, there are fewer problems.

3. How well do you trust your employees and partners to deploy good judgment in all speaking and writing activity whether online or offline? A lot, not much? Although your firm culture may be trust-based,  you still want to be sure you’re all on the same page, so clearly communicate, via education and policy, what’s expected.

Remember: participation on the social Web is a personal activity. And that requires personal responsibility.

4. If the law firm does its job educating employees and partners on appropriate and ethical use of social web activity now, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

5. Be a good role model.

In the late 90’s, there were still firm leaders in corner offices who didn’t have computers on their desk. They dictated emails for their secretaries to send.  It took only a few years for email to become standard operating procedure.  And, those beige boxes appeared more frequently in the corner office. So, it goes for the social Web. It will evolve, and will eventually be so tightly integrated in business processes that you won’t know what the Web was like without it.

Yes, social networking can be a real time waster and a major distraction. I don’t want my assistant playing around on Facebook while there’s work to be done and you don’t either. But, the web is evolving and we’re not sure where it’s going yet. We can be sure it isn’t going away.

So, everyone in your organization should know what the firm expects of them. Everyone should treat their time on social media sites, during business hours, just like personal emails and personal phone calls –except for emergencies, social networking is best left for lunch hours or break time. That’s an easy requirement. Who ever heard of a social networking emergency!

UPDATE:  Steve Matthew’s blog  Law Firm Web Strategy, has a good post about Face-blocking that I neglected to mention in this post originally. Steve’s post has a link to the LegalWeb 2.0 Column on the ABA’s LegallyMinded that summarizes findings from an informal survey produced by Doug Corneilius. In addition to the results (copied below) Doug gives a good breakdown of why blocking isn’t a good strategy. Definately good reading for anyone responsible for social media in the law firm.



Size of respondent’s firm
10 lawyers or less 9%
10-50 lawyers 13%
50-200 lawyers 19%
200-500 lawyers 19%
500 or more lawyers 41%

Does your firm block access to social networking sites?
Yes, our firm blocks access to some social networking sites 45%
No, we have unfiltered access to the Internet 55%

Does your firm block access to any of these sites?
Facebook 85%
MySpace 77%
Twitter 26%
LinkedIn 14%
YouTube 55%
Blogs 22%

Methodology. This survey was conducted in January 2009 on A total of 231 individuals responded.


  1. Amit Desai
    August 4, 2009

    Nice article and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I firmly believe that every organization big or small should have a social media policy. Recently I completed an analysis on usage of social media and its impact on productivity and have published my findings here

    Hope you guys find it useful and also do let me know your views on the same

    • virtualmarketingofficer
      August 17, 2009

      Thanks for your thoughts on impact of productivity, Amit.

      If someone uses Web networking in their business development mix, then what’s the difference between spending an hour working your online networks or spending 2 hours out of the office attending a luncheon or other networking function? The difference is 1 hour in the plus column for the person who efficiently used online networking.

      Of course one could argue that posting photos of your vacation or playing around with facebook apps isn’t exactly networking, I would respectfully disagree. It can be the catalyst for a developing relationship based on shared interests. Of course it needs to progress off line, but also, I ask, what’s the difference between chit chat over cocktails or a half day away from the office for a golf outing and 30 minutes posting the top 50 rock concerts you’ve seen in response to a facebook conversation. It’s all perspective.

      Bottom line, in my opinion, is that organizations need to place some trust in their employees —after the policies are in place and leaders clearly communicate what is expected.

  2. Amit Desai
    August 18, 2009

    Your analysis is bang on. i would really appreciate if you can share your comments on my blog : so that my readers can benefit from your analysis.

    Looking forward to your readership on my blog.


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