In a recent post, noted communication blogger Shel Holtz highlights the findings of a recent survey of U.S.-based CIOs that found 54% of companies do not allow their employees any access to external social networks, and 19% do so only for limited “business purposes”. Check out a summary of the original research by Robert Half here.

Holtz argues this stance is fueled more by irrational fear than logic, and furthermore that it undercuts the external social media strategy – since in many cases employees are the best ambassadors or advocates for an organization. One of Holtz’s key points is “the presumption of most companies blocking access is that employees are being unproductive, wasting time. In fact, the lines have blurred so much that even an employee spending a few minutes online to take a break from work could wind up having an interaction that benefits the company“.

I would add that a fundamental flaw in the logic of these restrictions is that they focus on the channel, rather than the underlying rules on communications and disclosure – which should theoretically apply to any communication platform. The issue is not Facebook or Twitter – though the immediacy and reach of those platforms is certainly relevant – but rather ensuring employees understand what they can/can’t communicate externally and the policies on online conduct – whether as employees or outside of work.

Add this survey to the pile of empirical data suggesting organizations have decidedly mixed feelings about social media. In this case, the dichotomy is that while more companies are increasingly keen to engage in dialog with external audiences (notably customers) they are still reluctant to allow their own employees to participate in these same conversations. And based on my experience many companies are even hesitant to allow networking and conversation within their organizations. Many employees probably see this as lack of confidence in their ability to do the right (and smart) thing, and a not-so-subtle message from management that they can’t be trusted. Not exactly the message you want to send while simultaneously asking for more productivity and loyalty.