09/30/2010 08:47 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How do you give your employees a voice in social media?

Your employees are already participating in social media in their personal lives, and a good number of them have the desire and ability to listen and engage on behalf of the company. But the possible consequences of engagement gone awry are so concerning to some companies that they keep their employees on the sidelines, preventing the organization's social media efforts from reaching the next level. Rather than hesitate, why not train?

Employees in any business need constant learning to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Social media is no different. At Dell we send interested employees back to school: Social Media and Communities University. After they are given an overview of our principles and policies, employees decide which tools will enable them to have better connections and conversations with our customers. Then off they go to get certified and have their approaches approved by our social media leadership teams in our various business groups. We have several designations of social media participants, all of which would work well for any company in any industry.

Personal is for employees who limit themselves to using sites like Facebook or Flickr; they are reminded of Dell's Code of Conduct and other legal and professional considerations and how these can impact what they do in social media. Enthusiast denotes people who occasionally support Dell initiatives on their personal pages; they are instructed in our principles about protecting customer information and following disclosure laws, as well as our our transparency rules, among others. The next level is Professional, for those who start conversations with the public or who work almost excluvislely on a specific social media group on Dell's behalf. Finally, Spokesperson is for those with the highest levels of expertise; they are not only active in social media but often speak to the media.

Putting these systems in place does far more than put executives' minds at ease; it gives employees the social media infrastructure they need to feel secure in their online communications with customers and the public. And not only do they know how to conduct themselves, they are taught how to circulate the feedback they receive through the company so that it can actually change the business.

This is when social media reaches its fullest potential and answers our most pressing questions about scaling and ROI: when employees are empowered to take their ears and voices into the digisphere and bring back answers about how to better serve customers. And all because of an approach that's decidedly old-school: training.