We’ve all noticed it: the line between our personal and professional lives isn’t as clear as it used to be.

Just a few years ago, ‘work’ was restricted to the workplace, during working hours. As it should be, you might say. But with the rise of social media, customers expect a personal yet professional relationship with companies 24/7.

More and more employees are also accessing their email on the go, at all times, from their own mobile phones, while personal tablets are increasingly used to take notes during meetings or access business data.

In such contexts, businesses need to have a framework in place enabling them to make the most of recent digital trends and platforms while protecting the security and integrity of their company. Here are five questions you should ask yourself.

1. What are your objectives?

You’ve just come out of an inspirational social media workshop, set up Twitter, Facebook and Google + accounts, posted a few updates over a couple of weeks, and then started to drift. Before jumping on the bandwagon, take a step back and ask yourself what you want to achieve. Be as specific as you can, decide which are your primary and secondary objectives, and see how they fit with your business goals.

2. Do you have a plan?

Start with 3-, 6- and 12-month plans, and benchmark your objectives against targets. You don’t need to aim for hard sales, but knowing what is being (and should be) achieved will keep you focused. This will also help you assess how much resource you can dedicate to your activities. Define your messaging and online persona, and identify the most relevant social media channels for you. Niche sites or new players might be more useful for you than mainstream ones. If you are in the creative industry for instance, Dribbble will give you a place to showcase your work.

3. Who do you trust?

Community management is often entrusted to interns, on the premise that because they’re young, they must know what this is about. That’s fine, but make sure that your brand and business objectives are well understood too.

Clearly identify the tools your staff can use to manage and monitor their activities. You need to be confident any third-party apps used won’t compromise privacy and data held by your business, and that administrative privileges are in safe hands, should accesses need to be revoked. Don’t forget to look into devices, too. Will your staff be entitled to using their personal mobile phones to post updates or take pictures?

This raises the broader question of access to business-critical data from personal devices. You should consider what type of data can be accessed from or downloaded to personal devices, and educate your staff on best practices to follow when accessing data over public networks.

4. What are the boundaries?

There can sometimes be a fine line between having a strong online persona and becoming inappropriate, which depends vastly on the kind of business you are. When defining your tone of voice, clearly state the boundaries employees have to obey when communicating on behalf of the company, but also about your company.

The remit of community management needs to be made clear, too. Is there a point where online conversations need to be taken off-line? Should certain responsibilities be delegated to other departments or to more senior members of staff?

5. How do you deal with threats?

Even if strong guidelines are in place, your business needs to be ready to respond to potential threats. Have procedures in place, covering false or negative statements from competitors or employees, to loss of devices leading to data leaks or compromised social media accounts.

It is wise to include device encryption, password protection and remote wipe as part of your digital framework.

Giving consideration to these five areas will help you create a strong digital policy for your small business so your company can flourish online whilst avoiding the pitfalls many businesses fall into.

And when your framework is in place, remember to:

  • Have a plan – and communicate it.
  • Train your staff – the lack of staff education is often the weakest link when the online security or integrity of a business is compromised.
  • Provide them with the right tools – including software for the security of their personal devices.
  • Monitor your systems – regular audits of your infrastructure, devices and apps used will help identify weaknesses and ensure you’re on top of the game.
  • Consider insuring your business against cyber security threats – protecting your customers’ data and IP is crucial for your business, and it might be an avenue worth investigating.