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What to Do Before Your Employees' Gossip Goes Viral

So exactly what should my electronic communication policy look like?

"We have to understand that social media is evolving and with that, employees will use it no matter what you say," Bruce Clarke, president and chief executive of CAI, a human resource management firm in Raleigh, N.C.

Overall, social media policies should avoid too much micro-management and pre-approval, Clarke says. Employees should be reminded upfront that what they post on social media will last forever, and they need to know that "I didn't think anyone would see it," is not an excuse.

"Make sure they understand both the 'always dos' and 'never dos' of social media," he says. "At the same time, you cannot define the middle gray ground that is always shifting."

What employers can do is say something like, "Unless social media is your job at this company, never use your job title or otherwise imply you are speaking on behalf of our corporation." You can also remind employees to assume that their Facebook friends can figure out where they work even if their place of employment isn't listed in their profile, Clarke adds.

"Remind them to always assume that readers can connect them to the company, and that they need to write and behave in a manner consistent with their role," Clarke says.

When I'm laying out my communications policy, what are the dangers of being too permissive or too restrictive?

For starters, policies should state that email, voice mail messages and computer files are the property of the company, says Andrew Moskowitz, employment law partner at Pashman Stein in Hackensack, NJ.

The policy should state that employees may use email and the company's computer for business purposes only, he says. The company should also reserve the right to review all communications on its media systems.

"I would not recommend that a company otherwise restrict employees' use of Facebook by, for example, stating that co-workers cannot be 'friends' with each other. However, where employees are engaged in a personal dispute on Facebook that disrupts the office, a company is permitted to take action," Moskowitz says.

As for companies that might consider banning social media altogether, it's not a realistic policy for today's environment, says Vicky Oliver, workplace expert and author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions .

"Social media is here to stay. Banning it from a workplace is like trying to ban someone from using the telephone to make a personal call," she says. "I know many companies ban Facebook, but I don't feel they would if they could hear what their employees say about working there!"

Limits on social media say the company doesn't trust its own workers to work hard, Oliver says.