The social web is forever changing the way people and companies use the Internet.

From staying constantly up-to-date on what your friends and the world are doing, to being able to reach out and correspond with anyone and everyone around the world, social media makes attention deficit disorder the new normal. While you can argue that these are all positives, there is a dark side to social media that small and medium sized businesses need to know about. Here are the six things to be aware of.

1. Productivity

Internet access, even to social media sites, has its purpose in the workplace. Having ready access to research the competition, check in with customers, and stay up to date on current events are all excellent reasons to ensure employees can access the Internet. However, social media sites can also be an enormous time sink, impacting productivity as employees inadvertently waste away time surfing the web.

In a U.S. survey by commissioned GFI, one in three employees surveyed acknowledged using social networks while working. Almost one in five admitted that it hurt their productivity. Ironically, 37% admitted to using Facebook, which goes to show that 4% of employees may not be able to recognise when things hurt their productivity! SMBs need a way to monitor and manage employees’ use of social media sites to ensure productivity doesn’t suffer.

2. Morale

Morale can be boosted by simple things like Internet access, however you need to be careful that it does not backfire. Some employees may resent their colleagues when they see people wasting time “checking in” while there’s work to be done.

Employees could also be affected by what they see on social media, turning their attention away from their job. There’s a time and a place for most things. An acceptable use policy goes a long way towards protecting employee morale and boosting it accordingly. Content filtering and time restrictions become a must.

3. Data leakage

You have a company announcement coming up, and one evening an over-enthusiastic employee tweets that he or she is working hard on a new mega deal. Bad idea, when the company has been staying under the radar purposely to avoid word getting out! While the employees may be proud of the news, and their part in it, companies need to manage their messaging and who can say what and when.

If the cat is let out of the bag, there’s a risk to the business. More and more leaks are starting to appear via social networking sites. It is impossible to prevent employees from using their personal social media accounts. The solution is to ensure employees are fully aware of the risks of mentioning confidential information on social media and the repercussions for the business and themselves.

4. Malware

Whether from infected downloads, compromised files shared between friends, or content that leads users to phishing sites, malware is a constant threat online, and social media sites are easy places to find the worst that the Internet has to offer. Web content filtering that can scan downloads as well as websites can help protect employees, and your data, from malware found on social media and other websites.

5. Copyright infringement

Sharing is a big part of social networking. Sharing news, viewpoints and opinions are all great and can have significant benefits to the business, but sharing copyrighted material can expose a business to fines and even lawsuits. User training and the Acceptable Use Policy are important.

6. PR Disasters

Twitter can be an incredibly effective tool for engaging with customers. It can also be an incredibly effective tool for shooting your company in its proverbial foot. If you don’t take care to ensure that all tweets are approved, and messaging is managed, then you might be on next year’s version of this list, which talks about 17 times Twitter became a problem for businesses, both small and large.

If you own or manage the IT for a small or medium sized business, you need to know how employees are using the Internet and what they are saying on the company’s social media sites. They can really help your brand but in equal measure kill it.

About the Author

David Kelleher is the Director of Public Relations at GFI Software