“To tweet or not to tweet?” – This is the question. Is it better to tweet and risk inadvertently undermining your companies potential and prospects or better not to tweet and lose an easy opportunity to build up social relationships with an ever expanding network of friends, clients and potential opportunities? This dilemma, especially in the workplace, is exercising the minds of many executives.

“Tweeting” is the faster example of Internet social networks but other favourites from amongst many; include “Face book”, “MySpace”, “BlogSpot” “LinkedIn” and “YouTube”. Their growth has developed so quickly that it has taken many businesses by surprise. The “X” generation (born between 1960 – 1980) are statistically not as Internet active as the “Y” generation (born between 1980 – 2000) but both are somewhat put into the social networking shade by the “ADD” generation (born since 2000). In this younger group “ADD” is used to associate them, rather unkindly, with “attention deficit disorder”. However this comparison highlights a view that they are use to instant updates, responses and interaction. It also means that if stuck for information they readily use the Internet as a workplace tool to find resources for information.

A progressive company therefore needs to assess the potential risks and advantages of social networking because it is with us now and growing exponentially. On the downside, there is a real risk that access to the web might enable malware, spyware and other virus style programmes to enter a company’s network as well as postings inadvertently disclosing information of value to competitors. These threats cannot be ignored. Another downside, if you add up the potential hours an employee might spend checking their “facebook”, “myspace” or “LinkedIn” postings and profiles etc., is the time spent on such activities rather than actually working.

Equally though the upside is that workplace social networking, when used responsibly, provides an inexpensive way of keeping in touch and developing business relationships and spotting new opportunities. However many choose to be members of social networks by choosing a name which expresses their personalities. Whilst “Crazy Jane” and “Raving Robbo” might be good for normal “twitter” chat it will not be appropriate to use it within the workplace as it may well detract from the required corporate image. “Crazy Jane” and “Raving Robbo” must be careful not to forget that their bosses may also be reading their postings!

Whilst my personal view is that workplace social networking provides a challenging opportunity, it is fairly easy to find experts queuing up to disagree.  More recent research is beginning to support the view that employees who are allowed to use the Internet, to contact family and friends especially during breaks, usually return to their workspaces more refreshed. Furthermore current information indicates that companies who deploy the best and most effective means of communication succeed better. Indeed there are now numerous Human Resources departments who use social networking to keep employees up to date. Information, contact, meetings and other activities within a company are communicated through social networking. Companies may effectively save on training by utilising the fact that so many “X”, “Y” and “ADD” generation employees know how to use social networking.

However an acceptance of such an approach means that there has to be clear policies as to how workplace social networking may or may not be used. Naturally there have been problems, as with any new technology, but there is no question in my mind that where companies have embraced the newest Internet opportunities they have benefited over those who have not. The challenge for a company is to find a way to defend against adverse intrusions whilst at the same time fostering employee responsibility and productivity. So whilst “Crazy Jane” and “Raving Robbo” should not be used, given appropriate names and a responsible approach then you may reach the same conclusion as I do and “tweet”. Ultimately, success in this challenge rests with YOU.