The power of social media lies in finding and building connections between like-minded people. Conceptually, this aligns with how companies think about it for business purposes, and they continue to throw more money into the practice.

Investments in building “communities” on major social networks continue to escalate this year. Budgets assigned to social analytics to identify and engage “influencers” are gaining bigger slices of the IT pie. The science (and deal-making) behind finding and engaging people of influence continues to grow and become more sophisticated.

It’s safe to say discovering, building, and nurturing living, breathing networks is now a fundamental business practice.

Ironically, these networking efforts often bypass the most like-minded influencers a company has: its employees. A company shouldn’t simply use internal social networks to talk to and connect employees, but to also actively engage them to advocate — and, at times, defend — the organizations they work for.

To be fair, declaring open season with employees can end badly. Somewhat early in corporate adoption of social media, our team was brought in to help one of the world’s largest IT organizations that had ventured into the social space without a clearly defined strategy. This company had a vast, open blog network, where employees could publish perspectives on company contributions and convey views on where the technology agenda was headed.

Consequently, many of these employees did so without proper guidance, training, or governance. Employees shared proprietary company information, vented about workplace issues, and shared contradictory viewpoints. The business and reputation risk was astounding. We helped address the gap, one faced regularly by companies with a vast number of social media properties to manage.

Today, most companies have social media guidelines in place to avoid risk, along with a governance structure to manage communications across social platforms under management.

Often, these efforts discourage or confuse employees who want to talk about the organizations they work for. And they’re clearly not confined to their company’s social media properties, like the blog network example referenced. Employees are constantly connecting and talking about their companies through their personal accounts on their own time.