Many companies are unsure about how to use social media in the workplace except for carefully controlled marketing and communications campaigns.

A recent study says that 43% of companies surveyed had reported employee “abuse” of social media, 27% block employee use altogether and 29% monitor what employees say on social media.

EMC is an interesting company that has decided to bite the bullet. It has built a social media culture for the business from the inside out, first getting employees to communicate with each other on social media, then extending this to customers and other stakeholder.

Personally, I’m a great believer in this inside out campaign, and for my money – and actually, for free too – I think the best platform for making this happen is Yammer. You can set this up so that only people with the same e-mail URL can access the feed, otherwise it works just like any other social media platform.

I’ve just started using it to link a number of consultancies working with the same client across Europe. We share interesting research and data on the client’s industry, competitor stories, as well as new insight on the media and communications. There’s even a little bit of banter emerging!

My advice to any company wanting to experiment with social media as an internal communications platform is to start small – with one team or small department. Maybe even the HR team. Start to share information on what you’re working on, to ask questions that other people may have answers to, to brainstorm ideas and to source points of view. Use it to tell people where you are and who you’re seeing – if you’re at another site, you may be able to help one of your colleagues speak to someone or get some information.

Use it to tell people that two of you are heading off to the pub, and if anyone else wants to join you…

See how it goes, then plan how you expand it.

I’ve come across an interesting and unusual application for social media in employee communications at Computershare.

This is a financial services company that works in the securities industry – and in particular, for listed companies and their shareholders. It’s a good example of the fact that social media “engagement” can be about practical matters as well as being “social” and friendly.

Lucy Newcombe, Computershare’s corporate communications director, explained how the company has used social media to help their customers communicate important information about employee share schemes – how they work, how to enrol, deadlines for certain documents and applications.

Whilst many employees don’t have access to a work e-mail – for example, those working on the shop floor in retail and manufacturing industries – social media can be used to back up hard copy documentation, which Lucy admits is often easy to ignore.

Whilst many companies restrict the use of social media at the desk, increasingly, many organisations allow access via standalone computers in a rest room or a staff canteen. Businesses also appreciate that many employees will have access to a computer at home or via a smart phone.

Lucy talked about a major global supermarket chain with 165,000 employees of which only a limited amount have e-mail. Facebook and Twitter were used as an outlet for information on the employee share plan, backing up posted information. This provided links to Q&As, video footage talking through how the scheme works and the opportunity to post comments and ask questions.

Social media was also used to reinforce timelines. Everyone who became a “friend” to the information page on Facebook would receive e-mails when a deadline was looming – “Be sure to get this document in the post tomorrow to meet the deadline!” for example.

Companies are right to feel uneasy about the spread of social media in the workplace. Let’s not pretend that there aren’t risks – because there are.

Equally, let’s not pretend that you can avoid it, because you can’t. Even if you don’t allow access to social media at the desktop, personal mobile devices mean employees can be on Facebook and Twitter anytime, anywhere.

And if they are there, businesses need to find a way to be there too.