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'Did You Hear What the Boss Just Did?'

American employers have long been nervous about the mix of work and play on the Internet. Not only could the many distractions available online waste employee time for which the company is paying, but the Net is also the gateway to pornography, racially abhorrent content and worse.

And now the boss has something else to deal with online. So-called social networking sites are all the rage. They hook you up, to use one popular term, with friends, old school mates and complete strangers for little chats and bursts of updates about nearly every part of people's lives.

Most of these exchanges are harmless and even fun. But it's one thing to tell all about one's family, personal preferences and leisure-time activities. It's quite another to open the workplace to the world.

"If I can put up pictures of the kids," the president of a consulting firm told the Chicago Tribune, "You can put up pictures from a meeting."

Or talk about colleagues, complain about conditions, speak ill of the boss or the company, even disclose trade secrets. Companies that spend millions of dollars crafting a message and an image don't want a thousand employees interpreting that message and image a thousand different ways.

So most corporations have scrambled to set up guidelines. Some prohibit any social texting on the job. Others allow it but warn employees of its dangers and of the consequences of improper online behavior.

But other companies say they trust the good judgment of their employees. They've even encouraged those who text and tweet to plug the company's products and steer online friends and followers to official company sites. For these companies, online social media are not a threat, but a new marketing tool.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.