Staff who use social networking sites during work hours should not be dismissed as time-wasters, according to think-tank Demos.
According to the think-tank's Network Citizens study, such sites provide useful platforms for discussion and collaboration. Limiting their use could have a negative impact on the way employees communicate with each other and customers, it said.
The study's author, Peter Bradwell, said that online social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace could help with productivity, innovation and democratic working. However, he said there should be practical guidelines to limit non-work usage.
"Bans on Facebook or YouTube are, in any case, almost impossible to enforce firms may as well try to put a time limit on the number of minutes allowed each day for gossiping," he wrote.
"The answer is not to close down staff access to social networking platforms, nor is it to invest blindly in collaborative platforms.
"Rather, we argue that we need to understand how, once we accept the implications of social networks, we can manage the new challenges and trade-offs."
"Smart" businesses recognise that social networking cannot easily be separated from "professional" networking, he argued.
"In today's difficult business environment, the instinctive reaction can be to batten down the hatches and return to the traditional 'command and control' techniques that enable managers to closely monitor and measure productivity," he said.
"Allowing workers to have more freedom and flexibility might seem counter-intuitive, but it appears to create businesses more capable of maintaining stability."
Orange took part in the study. Robert Ainger, corporate director of Orange Business, said, "The report points out that the value of networking within an economic downturn is perhaps more important than ever, and I believe it could mean the difference between a business collapsing or capitalising on the tricky conditions."
Meanwhile, a survey from FaceTime Communications describes the apparent risks from the increasing use of social networking sites from within the corporate network.