Like me, I’m sure you’re no stranger to headlines made by employees that have got into hot water for misguided, erroneous or just downright offensive social media posts.

Two stories from America at opposite ends of the seriousness scale caught my eye this week, starting with a Seattle police chief calling for a crackdown on social media use after an officer was suspended for a series of offensive posts. The report goes on to state that a social media policy has been in the works since August, with a draft currently under review.

On a lighter note, a new recruit at a Texas pizzeria managed to get herself fired before even starting her first day. Cella, or @Cellla_ on Twitter, posted an expletive-riddled 35-character tweet about her new job, which found its way to her new boss who, appropriately enough, took to Twitter to fire her.

What both stories reinforce, as if you didn’t already know, is how important it is to be aware of what you and your employees say on social media, and how being prepared for the worst is absolutely vital.

Having a robust social media policy in place not only details how you expect your staff to conduct themselves online, but also gives a degree of protection from the fallout in case of any inappropriate activity.

A common concern we hear of is wariness about dictating what employees can and can’t say online in their own spare time. In no ways is a social media policy an infringement on their freedom of speech: rather, it’s a way of outlining to employees what is and isn’t acceptable in their online discourse while they are a representative of your organisation.

Getting a rock-solid strategy in place is also a great way of encouraging best practice and content that is mutually beneficial. At its best, social media is an incredibly powerful way of boosting brand values and establishing the credentials and expertise of your employees and, by extension, your business.

You often see high-profile broadcasters with a flimsy sentence along the lines of “not the views of my employer” in their Twitter bio. But as pointed out in this superb piece from Forbes magazine, a one-line disclaimer of this kind won’t stop users linking an employee and an employer’s views together.

It’s also unbelievably easy to gather a wealth of information on pretty much anyone, with social media sites often the first port of call for anyone carrying out some web-based research. Even dormant pages from social media sites that are long extinct are still searchable. Football fans might be familiar with Andy, 16, from Gateshead, whose Bebo profile is regularly shared on some of the more light-hearted soccer blogs.

Sure – there’s no real harm in finding out that burly 6ft 4in England international Carrol has a fear of spiders and loves The Jungle Book. But think about what could be lurking on the inactive social media pages of your employees. A misguided joke here or reference to something inappropriate there is a PR disaster in waiting, irrespective of whether it happened an hour or five years ago.

It’s detail like this that must be considered when putting together a social media policy that offers the best possible support and protection for your business. The aim is to minimise potential threats with an agreed code of conduct from the outset and a thorough audit of your employees social media activities.