The third element on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is love and belonging, right after safety and our physiological requirements for being alive.
What I'm seeing with the mass use of online social communication is the expression of the third element. It's a new way to connect with people; not unlike the telephone or email. The reason it's so popular is because it feeds a basic human need to connect and belong and this, in turn, brings us joy.
In my opinion, social connections are simply the next iteration of communication and whether we like it or not, it will seep into the business world as a tool to reach customers.
That's why I don't understand companies that shut down social sites. It's not a technology problem if too much frivolous time is being spent online, it's a management problem. My suggestion is to turn it around. Let staff use the sites, but ask them to submit 3 new ideas a week. Even without interacting on behalf of your organization they can find ways to connect with customers, uncover intelligence about a client from being connected to their Facebook Page, listen to what is being said about your organization, find leads from LinkedIn communities or come up with ideas to generate brand awareness.
Make no mistake, if you have clients that have a Facebook page and Twitter account and you're not following them, you're missing a huge opportunity to anticipate their needs and be the first to offer a solution.
The time has come for companies to update their confidentiality policies and codes of conduct to include social interaction. The resistance I hear is that management is afraid of what staff might say or do online; but yet, they trust their staff to be brand ambassadors on the phone, in person and through email communications.
Embracing, not restricting social interaction is more forward thinking. Not to mention, staff won't be denied a basic human need.