In just the last few years, social media has fundamentally affected the way many of us communicate.  And statistics aren’t needed to prove it.  If you’re under 40, chances are good that you have a Facebook, Twitter, and/or Linkedin account.  If you’re 40 or older, you might have one of these – but it’s an almost certainty that your kids do!

Businesses big and small are seeing the value in social networking, and are trying to tap into the potential profits that digital interaction with customers can bring.  But many are stumbling in their efforts to implement workplace policies for employees’ access to these sites.  That’s because bosses have a legitimate fear that social media can open the door to cyber crimes.

According to Bloomberg, a worldwide study conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that over 50% of the organizations surveyed indicated cyber attacks increased due to workers’ use of social media sites.  No doubt, such sites can be hideouts for cyber criminals.  However, they may not be as dangerous as it appears.

If businesses take reasonable precautions against digital threats across the board, banning access to social networking probably makes about as much sense as banning email.  In fact, according to Cisco’s 2011 Annual Security Report, email continues to be the main way that malware infects computer systems.

And allowing employees access to social media far outweighs the risks.  For example, the Cisco Report explains that college students are so intertwined with social networking that 56% said they would either refuse to work for a company that banned social networking access, or else take the job and then subvert company rules to access the sites.  Thus, companies with an outright ban put themselves at a competitive disadvantage for talent.

Furthermore, productivity can actually increase with social media use.  “The truth is that employees can do more work, and do so better and faster, when they use tools that let them rapidly collaborate on projects and talk to customers,” explains Jeff Shipley, manager of Cisco Security Research and Operations.

So while the possibility of employees unwittingly introducing cyber threats to the company network are real, it still is probably not a good reason to impose an outright ban on social networking.  Instead, businesses should put in place reasonable safeguards against all types of cyber attacks, and then encourage employees to use social media to increase the company’s bottom line.