Company leaders afraid of losing control by using enterprise social networks should know their company needs to communicate with networks as much as individuals using personal social media.
On a flying visit to Microsoft's TechEd conference yesterday, co-founder of business social networking programme Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) Adam Pisoni, said companies were being outpaced by individuals who'd figured out how to communicate effectively with others, while companies still had rigid hierarchies and systems.
But enterprise social networks could pave the way for more effective customer relations, new sales models and deeper employee engagement, Pisoni says.
"All companies will communicate as a network in future. Some will resist and won't make it. Some will figure it out and they'll be the ones that succeed.
"The wisest decisions come from those closest to the problem. If you believe the higher up the chart you are, the more you now, you're wrong."
Company leaders are commonly reluctant to make the leap to interacting with staff and customers on business social channels, but Pisoni's advice is to start small. That might be praising a team or staff member, or giving some tips about how to succeed in the company.
"If you're an employee and the CEO messages you, that's a big deal. "A lot of companies tell us they're worried about employee engagement - we hear the stat that 70 percent of employees are disengaged at work. We think that's because employees are put in a position of getting information from customers they can't respond to, or can't do what customers want. When we look at engagement problems, we think, give employees a voice and make them part of the process."
One CIO using Yammer follows a particular team in the company each month to get more insight into how that part of the company works. Companies are also looking at how enterprise social networks can get employee feedback alongside staff surveys.
Yammer's model is to make lots of incremental changes to its software, in stark contrast to the way enterprise systems have traditionally developed, he says.
"Most enterprise software is built on a model that's pretty broken, based on the idea that you could predict your needs for the next three years. Change is the new context and we have to constantly adapt. We hear about the four megatrends: social, mobile, cloud and big data. These aren't problems, they're trying to solve problems."
The enterprise social network was also changing sales models because of shifts in the knowledge base, Pisoni said. "The job of sales existed because the company knew more than the buyer. The buyer knows as much or more as the seller now and the role now is to connect to help each other bridge that gap."
Yammer also wants to develop its offering to make it easier for companies to communicate with groups outside their business. "It's not about being more efficient or more controlled in your messaging, or what you're trying to deliver. It's about how quickly can we learn?"