"I guess the simplest definition of culture is what happens when the manager leaves the room."

That's Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), chief marketing officer of Enterasys Networks, a provider of network infrastructure in Andover, Mass., talking to MIT Sloan Management Review.

It's easy to belittle social-network activity. "What do I care what so-and-so ate for breakfast?" "Why would I tell the world exactly what I'm doing at every moment of the day?"

But personal updates are the lifeblood of every network, whether it's a public one like Twitter or Facebook or a private one like Salesforce.com's Chatter (which Entrasys Networks uses).

If your employees fear that their communiqués will be dismissed as trivial by bosses with bigger fish to fry, then people will never post anything authentic. They'll only post what they think the C-suite wants to hear--and once that happens, your internal social network is no better than the hierarchy it's supposed to be flattening.

This brings us back to Afshar's quote. How do you know your company's culture is benefiting from Chatter? You know it when your employees post the same things they'd post on Twitter or Facebook. That includes criticizing an executive decision, bemoaning an empty vending machine, or sharing what they ate for breakfast.

One way to create a culture of sharing, Afshar notes, is to make sure company executives are unabashed about disclosing their daily exploits--especially during business hours. "We started chatting sales wins and we started chatting meetings with customers and partners," he explains. "When I hang up on this call, I'm going to chat to a thousand employees, 'I just had a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review about business and social transformation.' Everyone's going to know about it, and I'll start to see likes and comments."

The idea, of course, is that a social network permits instant companywide messaging in a way that's much more feedback friendly than an all-company e-mail. Employees of all levels get to share opinions in a forum that anyone in the organization may access. In an organization like Entrasys, with 1,000 employees, that's significant. On paper, there are various structural levels between the rank-and-file and the C-suite.

"Because we have social technologies--and all of our employees have access to them and all of them feel like it's a safe environment [in which] to ask questions and share opinions--ideas can reach from an intern to the CEO unfiltered," Afshar says. "And that gives the perception that structurally we're flat. That's when the best ideas win, not the best titles."