With more than half of American adults participating in online networking, according to Forrester Research, it's time for companies to acknowledge that activity and implement a protective framework that will assist them in mitigating the risks related to employee productivity, confidentiality, brand representation, and company reputation.

For many, it's difficult to know where to begin, considering the unique nuances and still-evolving nature of the medium. Accordingly, we developed the following guide, which draws best-practices from trailblazers in this space—including Intel, IBM, Dell, and Best Buy—and highlights the key concerns that every company should address.

Step 1: Make Your Introductions

Start with the takeaway (i.e., what readers stand to learn from the policy) and then touch on what you intend to achieve through its implementation and clarify all the who's, what's, and why's.

The company philosophy. Help employees and others understand the company's attitude and approach to social media. For example, IBM's policy indicates that its interest lies in learning from the open exchange of information and in contributing to the future of business and technology, as well as to public dialogue on societal issues.

Best Buy's Connected site, on the other hand, explains to its Twelpforce (employees who tweet: derived from "Twitter help force") that the connection is intended to empower customers to ask questions and quickly gather feedback on purchase considerations, product use, and customer support.

Definition of social media. Don't assume that everyone's interpretation of social media is the same. Although some users may recognize YouTube as a social network, others may view it as a video library. It's important, therefore, to specify the types of networks your policy embraces and whether those include wikis, branded community sites, Flickr, Digg, and Second Life, for example, in addition to blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace.

Scope of coverage. Clarify who is allowed to participate, whether the policy applies to every person employed by the company (recommended) or a unique subset, and to what extent the policy pertains to personal blogging.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.