Like a lot of companies, at PDMS we want to encourage our staff to take part in online conversations about things that matter to us in our world of work, such as what our company is up to and current developments in the technology industry.

This means engaging on a corporate level with a wide range of social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and new communication tools such as blogs, podcasts, videos and wikis. Embracing social media can be quite a cultural shift for some organisations, especially the traditionalists in some marketing departments who find the loss of control over corporate communications unnerving. They don't want their employees to engage in uncontrolled conversations with customers, prospects and the wider world. Of course, employees have been talking about their companies in uncontrolled conversations for years, the only difference is that now the potential audience is millions and it's recorded for prosperity, rather than a fleeting comment to a couple of people in a pub.

Some organisations also believe that by openly embracing social media they are somehow giving their employees permission to spend all day on Facebook and productivity and profits will suffer as a result. However, this simply isn't true; if people are determined to waste time in work they will do it with or without social media. Most people have access to e-mail at work for years, but they predominately use it for work purposes as opposed to e-mailing friends and family all day. Unproductive employees are a management issue, not a reason for trying to prevent engagement with, or even blocking access to social media channels.

One of the first issues we had to address was drafting a social media policy, and this was not as easy as I originally anticipated. The main reason being that there are so many grey areas when it comes to social media; social media is a personality powered platform and you can't easily separate out corporate from personal communication. However, we recognised that it was important to have a policy, (not to create rules, this approach simply won't work in the social media sphere), but to provide guidance. Its purpose is twofold: a roadmap for encouraging staff to talk about our company and their work but also a safeguard to help protect our company's brand and reputation.

We discovered that it's really important to get input from all areas of the business when drafting the social media policy so that you can discuss, debate to overcome concerns and come to a consensus. This won't always be easy as different functions will undoubtedly have different takes on social media' from the Marketing Department who'll want anyone to say anything, anywhere as long as it's positive to the Legal Department who won't want you to say anything to anyone, anywhere and the HR Department who'll want you do exactly what they say!

There are loads of tips, hints and great examples of best practice on the web to help you write your social media policy. Here are my 5 top tips for anybody about to embark on putting together a social media policy for their organisation:

  • Review policies from a range of companies to get different perspectives, especially those policies which have been recognised for best practice e.g. Dell and BBC.
  • As part of your policy document, explain what social media is and why your company wants to embrace it.
  • Focus on the dos rather than the don'ts - remember that you are supposed to be empowering people to participate and not discouraging them.
  • Don't put too much emphasis on how to behave on specific social media platforms e.g. Twitter, as these will change quite frequently, it's best to focus on general online behaviour.
  • Highlight the importance of reflecting on what people are posting, for example would they be happy for it to be published under their name in the local paper?