Social Business: Taking First Steps
Updated: Aug 7
Executives can follow an incremental path as they develop new ‘social’ habits that leverage the power of connections to create business value.
Business leaders are fundamentally changing the ways their companies operate by looking at core processes and capabilities through the lens of social business. The social business model leverages the power of connections—among workers, customers, and business
partners—to create more value, faster. As they adopt social business models, enterprises are applying technologies for collaboration, communication, and content management to social networks, and extending their influence through social media, such as blogs, social networking sites, and content communities.
Some executives still dismiss the potential of social business, either relegating it to the realm of Internet marketing or ignoring it as a passing fad. They would be wise to give it a second look. As baby boomers evolve into digital natives, millennials permeate the workforce, and social media becomes a part of daily life for an ever-growing percentage of the market, distinctions between traditional and social business are blurring. Social business is quickly becoming standard practice in many sectors.
From Listening to Engaging
Forays into social business typically start with a company’s external-facing concerns. Public relations, sales and marketing teams, looking to understand customer sentiment and product positioning, listen carefully to opinions expressed in the social sphere. Similarly, companies introduce internal micro-blogs that allow employees to broadcast and push interests, ideas, and expertise across the enterprise. These types of efforts are excellent entry points, but companies should work to place “social” alongside almost all business functions up and down the value chain—think social customer relationship management (CRM), social product lifecycle management (PLM), or social supply chains.
Social business done right has the power to shift an organization’s dynamic from one of listening to engaging. But simply providing vehicles for discovering, growing, and propagating ideas and expertise isn’t enough. This shift requires organizations to take an active approach to social based on an informed, well-considered engagement strategy. For example, beyond social media monitoring and listening posts, leading organizations are establishing command centers to filter through the noise to identify and route social signals to appropriate employees for action and insight. More advanced organizations are correlating these signals with other business performance metrics to better improve the organization's predictive capabilities.
Behind these efforts lies a simple truth: The balance of power has shifted from the corporation to the individual. Technology has made it easier to discover and participate in social networks, but it has not changed their currency: content, authenticity, integrity, reputation, commitment and follow-through. Social business allows organizations that share these values to fundamentally reshape how their companies run and serve their markets. A flattened world—allowing direct engagement among customers and product developers, divisional VPs and front-line workers, salespeople and suppliers—could be inherently more effective and efficient.
Where Do You Start?
Institutional biases can prevent social business from taking hold, but there are some simple ways to help break through dated perceptions and cultural inertia and start the social journey.
Start at the beginning. Establish a reasonable scope in early efforts. Understand what behaviors you are trying to affect with specific targeted groups and individuals, and determine how you might meaningfully and consistently engage them in online communities. Use this strategic approach to guide the development of tools, road maps, and rollout plans—not the other way around. Focus on results that can be measurable and attributable.
Deploy the basics. Certain components of social business—social monitoring, listening posts, corporate expertise directories, enterprise social networks, wikis and similar tools—are almost universally relevant. And they can provide an excellent entrée to social business in R&D, PLM, HR, IT and even finance.
Move from sensing to actuating. With basic monitoring tools in place, social business can move from passive to active. Instead of just listening, establish a command center for, say, social CRM, support and social sales to engage with customers in the market. Internally, move from experience finding to insight management by using micro-blogging and content management tools to promote sharing and re-use of knowledge and assets.
Break boundaries. The chief marketing officer, chief talent officer, and head of sales are typically early adopters of social business. But what about having a social CFO? How could reporting, classification, and audit be transformed by linking finance to knowledge streams and trails of how, where, and even why work got done? How would a social plant manager run a shop floor differently? With social business, each individual once again matters in performance improvement across the enterprise.
Authenticity matters. Social business caters to the individual. Creating an anonymous corporate presence using social channels as a broadcast channel is unlikely to win hearts and minds. Instead, that presence should be a welcoming one that thrives on the human voice and genuine interaction. Achieving this will not be easy; building true relationships based on authentic connections requires time and investment.
The Bottom Line
Social business is a method for unlocking insights based on people’s behaviors and relationships. It can deliver value in companies that use it to create new, more efficient ways of working, and customized messaging, promotions, and even products that meet the expressed desires of individuals and communities. Social awareness, practiced throughout the enterprise, can give way to social empowerment— once again placing people at the heart of business.