There's rarely a question of the value of social media when it comes to company branding, but opinions are divided on its place in day-to-day operations for employees. According to a BlueGlass article from October, 54% of businesses block social media at the office. The reasons for doing so include increased vulnerability to viruses, loss of productivity and, more often than not, a lack of true understanding of the potential power of social media for businesses. Social media can definitely be a distraction to employees, but when used effectively it can be an invaluable tool for productivity. (For related reading, see 4 Companies Behind The Social Media Curtain.)

Employee Communication
Workers who communicate easily, accurately and quickly have the best chance at being productive and effective. As those who grew up using instant messaging and other online contact systems advance in the business world, why not take advantage of their fluency in these communication technologies? Consider implementing an instant messaging system like MSN messenger or Adium, systems that your workforce will be comfortable adapting to if they don't use it already. This strategy probably won't replace face-to-face meetings, but it can be helpful in reducing those one-line emails or quick phone question situations.

Keeping Informed
News no longer travels in quite the same way. In January 2011, the world was flooded with tweets, photos and video from the Egyptian riots over services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Traditional media sources fought to keep up with the raw information that was being transmitted live through the Internet. While your business may not be in the news sector, awareness of competitor activity and major events in your field can be invaluable to have, sooner rather than later. Encouraging your employees to follow the news trends that will be relevant to your business can be a big advantage. (For more information, check out 5 Emerging Social Media Companies You Need To Know.)

Workplace Morale
No one likes to feel like they aren't trusted, and your employees are no exception. At the end of the day, if five minutes is spent reading an answer to a question on Quora or a few pages on StumbleUpon make for a more relaxed and informed employee, then that may be worth it in and of itself. Of course, there will always be those who take advantage of such leniencies. According to a study by PaloAlto Networks, employees have increased their active social media time at work by 300% in the latter half of 2011.

Unchain Your Workers
Companies are starting to understand the brand value of social media, but aren't always sure how to go about implementing and maintaining that image. There are many highly qualified individuals who specialize in social media branding and who can be real assets to your company. If you can't dedicate that much of your resources to the process, consider approaching your media-savvy employees and shifting their roles to include the company profiles. Just remember, as with any profession, there is a difference between a casual user and one who is focused on brand management.

The Bottom Line
Most companies can benefit from social media use in the office – it's just about setting reasonable limits and making the technology work for you rather than against you. The first step to achieving that goal is to understand the services and how they work for companies. Loss of productivity and system vulnerability to viruses or spam are legitimate concerns and must be mitigated as risks. Loss of productivity will show up as a lack of results, and safety measures should be in place for data protection. Many companies monitor the online activity of their employees. However, allowing social media's positives to be used effectively could be the difference between keeping up and falling behind in your business. (To learn more about social media, read Top Social Media Entrepreneurs.)