Social media is a double-edged sword: While it is an excellent tool to create consumer excitement and brand awareness, one wrong message or unbridled employee usage can cause business-damaging problems. How do you thread the needle?

The first step is to develop a comprehensive and effective social media policy for your company handbook. Experts suggest you eye one of two versions: One for companies that want employees to discuss their brand (think restaurant, bar, retail store) while the other is for a business that wants to curtail social media use for all employees except those in its marketing department.

Guidelines, training, best practices

Once you’ve decided what kind of social media policy you want, then you need to examine how strict you want that policy to be. Guidelines, training and best practices are crucial.

Make sure your employees know not to blur the lines between personal social media use and professional social media use. Some employees, especially those new to the world of business, need to be told that photos of illicit drug use do not create a positive business image.

Remind employees that they are ambassadors for your organization and that they should conduct themselves in a thoughtful, professional manner across all social media.

No complaints, no cyberbullying

Complaints or concerns about the company need to be dealt with inside the company and not on social media. Taken one step further, cyberbullying – either by an employee or management – should never be tolerated.

If an employee wants to continue to express opinions online that are not necessarily harmful to the employer, starting or ending each post with a phrase such as “the opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of my employer” would help with clarification.

Businesses should make it crystal clear that employees should not share any confidential or proprietary information, and that doing so could result in discipline or termination.

Finally, since the ultimate goal of a social media policy is to keep you in business and out of the courtroom, it is a good idea to have your attorney read through your new policy.