Last night, I had the privilege of speaking to a graduate-level class at the University of Hartford. (My thanks to Professor Olga Clark for the invitation).

The topic of the discussion overall was the interaction of social media and employment law.  It’s a talk that I’ve given before, but the class had some unique questions and insights on the subject.   

While the class was composed of people from various backgrounds, many emphasized the same thing: Social media can be a great thing…if you use your common sense.

Overall, I agree with that concept. 

But here’s the problem: One person’s "common sense" is another person’s stupid decision.  Even within the class, the students use social media in very different ways. One person has nearly 1700 "friends" on Facebook, while several others aren’t on that site at all.  

Who has better "common sense"? It obviously depends on your perspective.

Apply this concept to companies and you can easily see the trouble that arises.  If a company does not have social media guidelines for its employees, it leads to each employee coming up with their own set of guidelines.     And using their "common sense".

So what to do? Well, there doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Each employer may have a different level of use and need for social media.   But employers at this stage need to do more than merely relying on employees to use their  "common sense". 

I’ve heard from a few lawyers who push back at that concept saying that its overly dramatic to advise companies to have social media use and guidelines and that I’m making this a bigger issue than it needs to be. 

I disagree.  Even with firewalls at work, there are vast numbers of employees who are using social networking or media sites, many times at work, on iPhones, Blackberrys and Android smart phones.  (The story of the Israeli soldier posting about an upcoming raid on Facebook this week is yet another example.) 

There is no putting the genie back in the bottle on this one.   Over 400 million people are on Facebook.  And they’re not just talking about what they had for breakfast anymore.

Not telling your employees about the parameters on how to use social media would be like not telling your employees 10 years ago about how they should and should not use the computer system.  Companies concluded that they needed a policy because employees’ "common sense" led some of them to pass around dirty jokes or inappropriate pictures.  .

I firmly believe we’ve reached that same tipping point on social media now

But if you’re still not convinced, ask yourself this  — do you simply want to rely on your employees’ "common sense"? If you have any hesitation, the time for social media guidelines is now.