Too many executives think only of “social media” when it comes to social, says Nilofer Merchant, a writer on strategy and management who has served as a CEO of Rubicon Consulting, as a corporate executive at Autodesk and as an entrepreneur. In her books, articles and speeches, she explains how collaboration in the workplace can fundamentally change the enterprise’s relationships with both its customers and its employees.

Nilofer Merchant, author of 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

Most people think social media when they hear about “social” as a new communication technology, says author and business executive Nilofer Merchant. However, in order to fully understand social’s potential in the enterprise, companies need to think of the concept well beyond its common “media” association, she says.

Merchant is both a past entrepreneur — she started her own strategy firm to help various high-technology companies like Logitech, HP, Yahoo and others develop new products and business strategies and enter new markets — as well as an executive and board member for both public and private companies. She is also a speaker on innovation, board governance and marketing at Stanford University.

She has authored two books on collaboration in the enterprise, The New How (O'Reilly, 2010), as well as her latest work, an ebook titled 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era (Harvard Business Press, 2012), on how companies can leverage social to reinvent themselves. By doing so, Merchant says they can obtain both direct benefits from collaboration as well as more indirect benefits in areas ranging from human resources to the value chain.

In a conversation with Robert Berkman, contributing editor of Innovation Hubs at MIT Sloan Management Review, Merchant talked about findings from her work and books and expanded some of her views on the advantages that occur to businesses that embrace the social era.

Your book discusses how companies need to think about the value of social well beyond what is implied by the common “social media” term. If a company has been convinced by your argument and wants to get started, is there one best place or strategy to begin with?

The place to start is to let go. While management often pays lip service to the notion that good ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere, in practice almost every organization says there are a few who decide and the rest are execution arms. This constraint not only limits the potential for anyone to contribute value, it creates bottlenecks in how fast one can innovate. This elitist belief creates an