A Trend Micro study has found that almost a quarter of employees surveyed now visit social networking sites while on the corporate network. I personally think that the stat is higher. It shouldn’t come as a shock to any HR practitioner that social networking is rampant in the workplace; some HR and Operations departments have even embraced it and have implemented internal social networking systems. I think the shock lies in the lack of best practices for properly handling the relatively recent phenomenon that is Social Media (SM) in the workplace.

Because of its timeliness, two-way flow of communication and broad reach, social media has already become a necessary part of many company marketing, P.R. and sales strategies; however the possibilities have yet to be tapped and social media is bound to creep up in every organizational department – and for good reason. Social networking gives employees the freedom to stay up-to-date on their professional interests and to be recognized for their knowledge and opinions. Ideally, employees would only leverage social media tools at work to enhance the organization; however, the reality is that they are SOCIAL tools and people are going to make personal use of them.

After reading countless online blogs, articles, and discussions related to effectively managing SM in the workplace, it became apparent that business leaders are mainly concerned with two issues related to usage: security (whether it be network security, confidentiality, or employees posting sensitive material related to the company) and productivity. The good news is that this isn’t the first time that communication technology has struck fear into organizations. When email first came out the same concerns were raised and look how great things turned out with that.

Here are 3 simple steps to managing social media and ensuring that it doesn’t interfere with your organization’s security or productivity:

1. Prepare: Draft a company-wide social media policy that is relevant, cohesive, and reasonable. Because social networking is a relatively new phenomenon, an extensive list of policy success stories has yet to be properly tested and/or documented and thus you will have to consult with every department to fully understand the areas that need to be safeguarded and the subsequent policies that have to be implemented. Be sure to address usage of social media on the company network and on company time. I would suggest treating personal usage (on personal devices) as you would personal phone calls – only to be done infrequently and when necessary. Because SM itself is rapidly evolving, your policy will have to be monitored as modifications might be needed to conserve its relevancy. Examples some social media policies can be found on sites such as this one: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php, but every organization’s policy will have to be tailored in order to be effective.

2. Inform & Enforce:  A policy is no good unless employees are aware of it and know they are expected to adhere. Conduct training sessions and ensure the new policy is written into the company’s employee conduct policy and made available to everyone. If employees are given concrete reasons as to why SM is being regulated, they might be less likely to get offended and feel deflated by the regulations.  If security is a major issue facing your particular organization, you can modify existing confidentiality clauses to include SM references.

3. Set Goals: This step can completely eliminate the fear of losing productivity to SM usage. If well thought out and reasonable employee goals are set in advance and progress is tracked, any lack of productivity can be picked up and investigated. If the manager is certain that social networking is the productivity thief, then the issue can be addressed with that particular employee. Automated talent management systems that go beyond the once-a-year goal setting and progress updates can track and report on the real-time status of employee goals and development activities.

Social Media is only going to become more pervasive in our personal and professional lives. Instead of fighting it, spend your time implementing solid policies and automated talent management processes that focus on the bottom line – performance. Strong performance management processes will ensure that your workforce will stay on track no matter what new potential distraction is on the horizon. Social Media can bring more good than evil. After all – without it, you wouldn’t be reading this.