A new worldwide risk management survey by Deloitte and Forbes Insights finds that 27% of Middle East businesses executives deem social media as a heightening risk and a growing concern, as so-called 'new media' adoption rates soar.
Figures from the Arab Social Media Report show 86% of active web users in the Middle East regularly access social media as a source of news, interesting information and for peer-to-peer communication, with 70% opting to use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their own opinions.
However, the study also shows that social media has quickly joined the ranks of other, more traditional, risks for organisations and polled as the fourth greatest concern in the study. This is partly because it has the capacity to accelerate other risks, labelled the 'wildfire' effect – a huge challenge to enterprises lacking continuous risk monitoring capabilities.
Piero Poli, General Manager of Havas Digital Middle East speaks with AMEinfo about the challenge of treading the fine line between pragmatic policies and unreasonable restraint.
"There seems to be a higher level of workplace restriction for access and use of social media in the Middle East, when compared to my experiences in Australia, the UK and the rest of Europe," says Poli. "The reality is, through smart devices, employees are always connected to social platforms, whether their organisations technically block or enable access."
While less tech-savvy employees may be comfortable with restricted social media access at work, the more digitally-minded, whom employers may wish to attract and keep, may be demotivated by increased rules and restrictions, explains Poli.
Social media channels have, since the Arab Spring, become commonplace in daily life with 5.7 million tweets generated each day and Arabic now being the fastest growing language on Twitter. Time spent on social media platforms is increasingly blurring the line between work and private life.
Social media workplace policies require mutual trust
As both a digital strategist and senior manager, Poli calls for employees need to respect the right to access social channels in the workplace, but not abuse that privilege.
"With increased social connectivity and its relevance in our day-to-day lives, the only forward thinking and relevant work/social policy would be one of proper-use," he says.
"To ensure proper-use, the best approach from organisations and employees would be one of mutual respect, trust and understanding of the responsibility when using social media in the workplace. Organisations should respect the fact their employees are connected and will connect to their families, friends and social circles during the day via online. Enabling this human need to socially connect online creates a workplace in-tune with the realities of the society it exists in."
"In line with respect is trust," he says. "Employers need to trust their employees will do the right thing at work and fulfil their responsibilities, without falling into the trap of time-wasting. Employees need to ensure they do not destroy that trust, nor take advantage of it."
Many employers are clearly gaining from allowing staff to freely access Twitter and Facebook. IBM now has thousands of sanctioned social media communicators across the globe, who beyond their daily roles also connect with, talk to, tweet and share business news and updates.
Fellow tech giant Dell is also famed for embracing social media internally and, according to Poli, no start-up would dare not have several, or all, of its employees serve as social contributors to help develop both business and brand.
"Mitigation of risk is the responsibility of the company to instigate, monitor and address – and every employee's responsibility to align with. If done in a 'human' way the benefits of social media use and engagement in the workplace can far outweigh any risks," he concludes.