Following new research from the Institute for Employment Studies, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has released guidelines for employers on how to approach the expanding use of social networking in the workplace.

As the use of social media continues to grow, it is becoming ever-more important for employers to appreciate and understand the impact on business of our increasing infatuation with social networking. Statistics have shown that misuse of social networking tools is costing the UK economy approximately £14 billion annually in "lost time". To counter this, ACAS advocates the implementation of appropriate policies which it argues should not only help to curtail many of the business risks associated with social media use, but could also open doors to new and untapped marketing opportunities that would otherwise remain unexploited.

Accordingly, ACAS has published a set of guidelines offering practical tips for employers on how to manage the impact of social networking on issues such as recruitment, managing employee performance, discipline and grievances, bullying, defamation, data protection and privacy.

At the centre of these guidelines, ACAS advises employers to draw up a clear policy covering internet and social networking activity both inside and outside of the workplace. This policy should set out explicitly the organisation's expectations of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, as well as the consequences of violation. Crucially, ACAS is of the view that employers should adopt the same approach to electronic behaviour as they do towards non-electronic behaviour. They should react reasonably to issues by asking "what is the likely impact on the organisation?"

Employers are encouraged to draw up their policy in consultation with their staff to help to achieve fairness as well as future compliance. ACAS also emphasises the importance of employers taking steps to communicate their policy to employees, and ensuring that access is readily available. Further, employers are urged to keep abreast of developments in employment law since many of the principles concerning social media and comparisons between real and virtual communications are currently untested.

A copy of the ACAS guidelines is available here.