Social media has revolutionized both our personal and business lives over the past five years.  We can Tweet crime to our local police station. We can connect with companies on Facebook.  We can conduct extensive research on almost anybody and any company by conducting a Google search and reviewing social media profiles.  We can even arrange flash mobs and a single Tweet written in a few seconds can be read by tens of thousands of people within minutes.

From the beginnings of the humble email address as a unique online identifier, any one of us now have several online identities, complete with photos, employment history and even what we had for breakfast.  These identities persist.  We forget about old ones and set up new ones, whilst at all times this information is in the public domain for seven billion people in the world to hear. Without a doubt, by using social media, you will get heard.

Businesses have struggled to grasp social media and whether it construes a benefit or risk to the bottom line.  Most early non-adopters of social media simply enforced outright bans, as just saw social media as employees wasting time during working hours.  The employees simply waited until they got home, non-the-wiser that what they Tweeted could still bring their employer to its knees.  On another hand, some businesses that have opened up social media for their employees have ended up in court as they have failed to control what was being said and were held severally liable in libel cases.  Staff have had to be laid off, solicitors involved and public relations restored – no easy or cheap feat.

Either permitting or denying social media to employees in the workplace clearly presents a risk and that’s why all businesses, big and small, need to take action. There are no silver bullets or technological solutions that can stop your employees using social media and disclosing information. The problem can only be solved with a holistic people and process-based approach.

I would recommend at minimum a Social Media Policy and Security Awareness Programme to help tackle these issues.  Ensure employment contracts are correctly drafted.  Ensure your insurance covers the event of information disclosure and can assist with legal costs in the event of libel or confidentiality breach cases.  If your company does endorse social media, then setup your own Twitter and Facebook accounts so you can interface with employees and present consistent messaging to the outside world via your PR department, and via no other means.  It’s not a tough nut to crack, but you have to raise the security bar of everyone in your organisation to make your Social Media Strategy a success.

The worst you can do is do nothing.  Ride the social media wave and do not fall beneath it.