Employers Catch Up With the Rest of Us on Loving Social Media

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If your employees are more likely to take a Facebook ( FB) break than a smoke break during the work day, you're not alone. Although the regulation of Internet usage at the office has never been a clear-cut issue, today most companies allow at least some access to social media, personal emails and other nonwork-related sites.

Many small businesses view social media as a necessity more than a distraction -- in 2009, just 14% of companies maintained a brand presence on Facebook, but today, 61% of companies have a professional Facebook page where they interact with customers, relay news or announce deals and discounts, according to a study conducted by staffing firm Spherion.

"It wasn't too many years ago we didn't allow people access to Facebook, and now most companies have someone assigned to bolster their presence on Facebook. Employees are often encouraged to go on frequently, engaging with customers and participating in the conversation of the day," says Sandy Mazur, division president for Spherion.

Small businesses understand that they have to be visible, Mazur says, but what they struggle with still is how to make social media accessible to a wider employee base. According to the Spherion study, 45% of employers believe access to social media allows their workers to be more productive, and 41% of employers use social media outlets to foster a team environment.

"Social media is here to stay, and employers are realizing that access to that information and data helps people to feel more connected in their personal lives, which increases that work/life balance that's so critical," Mazur says. "But right now companies are embracing it more externally than they are internally -- they know they need to have the visibility for their company, but they may not allow employees to have ready access to it during the work day."

At IT company Cisco ( CSCO), employees are given freedom to access personal social media accounts, which are sometimes used for work purposes, says Brett Belding, senior manager of IT mobility services.

"We encourage the use of both internal and external social media by all our employees. We have developed practical guidelines on how to use corporate and personal accounts," Belding says. "There are some employees, like me, who use the same account for both personal and work-related communication. I think this actually humanizes the company and showcases personality. We think it's important to be able to blend the two."

Increasingly, companies are seeing that the restriction of Internet access hurts workplace morale, says John Martin, partner at the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.

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