The use of social media has increased significantly over the past few years with the proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter. The rise of the tweeting generation and longer working hours has blurred the distinction between employees' work and personal lives and this presents both threats and opportunities for businesses.

Social media potentially brings many advantages for businesses in terms of networking, presenting a positive image of the business in the public domain and creating cohesion between groups of employees. Creative use of social media may also be looked on favourably by potential recruits in showing the business to be modern and dynamic.

Threats include the possibility of employees using social media sites as tools for the harassment of fellow staff (for which the employer is potentially liable), the risk of employees posting intellectual property or other confidential or sensitive information online, loss of reputation and loss of productivity amongst the workforce.

Businesses increasingly need to consider what their attitude will be to social media and ensure that appropriate rules are in place to reflect this. This will include having a Social Media Policy setting out clear parameters and expectations for the use of social media at work (this may include an outright ban, or allow the use of social media in certain circumstances, or at certain times) and training employees about the possible consequences of misuse of social media. Any rules should be realistic and implemented in a consistent manner.

Disproportionate or unrealistic restrictions can undermine employee morale and lead to non-compliance, without real benefit to the business in terms of protecting its employees, reputation or property.