Too many organisations do not have comprehensive compliance policies in place for its use, according to Gartner.
By the end of 2013, said the analyst, half of all companies will have been asked to produce material from social media websites for e-discovery needs, so enterprises need an overall governance strategy for all applications and information used on social media platforms.
"Social media content is like all other content that is created by companies and individuals and is subject to the same rules, laws and customs," said Gartner analyst Debra Logan.
"Policymakers need to keep policies simple when it comes to what should and should not be done online. A good rule of thumb is that whatever the company code of conduct is for in-person encounters, and whatever the rules are for general good behaviour and common sense, those rules should apply in the online world as well," Logan said.
Logan said the legal landscape around social media "remains a patchwork", due to overlapping, conflicting and contradictory laws and regulations, and procedural rules propagated by national and international legislative and regulatory bodies. "Since there is no guarantee of absolute safety, the safest option is to have a consistent policy and apply it consistently," said Logan.
Gartner does not expect there to be any clear guidance from courts or regulators in the near future on social media compliance rules.
In e-discovery, said Gartner, there is no difference between social media and electronic or even paper artefacts. Logan said, "The phrase to remember is 'If it exists, it is discoverable'."
Gartner said internally managed collaboration and social media content is coming up frequently in e-discovery requests. The more integrated the system, for example unified communications platforms, the more likely one form of content is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Because there is legal uncertainty about social media in e-discovery, managing it is challenging, said the analyst, and claiming that personal social media content is private is no shield for the individual.
In some cases it may be appropriate to ban access to social media in the workplace. Gartner estimates that by the end of 2012, 50 percent of companies will attempt to block access to some or all social networking sites.
Hearsay, a startup founded in 2009, recently launched a cloud-hosted social media management application, tailored specifically for companies that have a national brand as well as a broad base of local affiliates. The platform allows both companies and staff to make sure their social media content stays within compliance guidelines.