The majority of UK employees have not been provided with clear guidance on using social media sites, according to a new study from Protiviti Inc., a business consulting and internal audit firm.

Of those with access in the workplace, almost 39% indicated that there is no policy in place regarding social media use and a further 24% are unaware of any such policies.

Protiviti has warned that companies without adequate social media policies are placing themselves at risk of security breaches and reputational damage, among other issues,

Social media usage in the workplace has grown enormously in recent years with more than half (51%) of workers surveyed now claiming to engage with a social networking site whilst at work. Almost a third (30%) of workers use sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn on a daily basis, while more than 5% do so several times an hour.

Jonathan Wyatt, Managing Director at Protiviti UK, said: “The global social media landscape has changed so dramatically and so quickly that many companies are struggling to keep up.

“We’re seeing a growing number of cases where firms have vague or out-of-date social media policies that are unenforceable if inappropriate activity takes place. It’s extremely worrying that only a quarter of workers have been provided with any real guidance regarding the use of social media sites.”

Unsurprisingly, those workers aged 18-24 years are the most regular users of social networking sites, with one in five (21%) claiming to engage with them several times an hour.

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Wyatt added: “Many senior managers assume that their less experienced colleagues would not post inappropriate comments online and that they would think about the risks involved, but time and time again they are proven wrong.”

He said: “We recommend that companies have very clear policies targeted at issues specific to social networking. For instance, they should consider providing guidelines regarding the sharing on Facebook of photographs from corporate events and measures to mitigate potential accusations of favouritism resulting from a senior manager ‘linking’ to one employee but not to another.

“Although companies are already tightening up their social media policies, employees also need to take greater responsibility for their own actions when it comes to using these networks. Our research reveals that 14% of workers know of somebody who has been disciplined for inappropriate social media activity. We expect this number to grow dramatically as companies tighten their policies.”