How To Create A Successful Social Business

Are you a social business? By this, I mean are you aligning your social strategy to business goals? In a new Altimeter Group Report, “The Evolution of Social Business“, my co-author Brian Solis and I found that this was not the case. Only 34% of businesses we surveyed felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes. Brian goes into detail about our findings in this post.

Our research found that organizations typically go through six stages of social business evolution. But this doesn’t mean that you have to wait until Stage 6 to realize business impact. Rather, it’s not only possible but crucial to focus on achieving business results right from the very beginning. The six stages are as follows (for a deeper dive into each, please download the report):


A great example of this from the report comes from Shell. They launched the Shell Facebook presence only in January 2012 and they mostly post content on the page and moderate comments. But they see tremendous benefit from this activity because their business goal is to understand and improve their reputation with customers and partners. They ask the question, “To what extent is Shell meeting customers’ energy needs in socially and environmentally responsible ways?” The key here is that this is not an effort isolated to Facebook — they measure reputation across ALL media channels so that they can see their activities impact reputation differently. Moreover, they measure this DAILY. Shell may be early in their social business journey, but they make sure that they see business impact from their efforts.

Creating Your Social Business Strategy

The focus on business goals is the key to having a coherent social business strategy, which we define as “the set of visions, goals, plans, and resources that align social media initiatives with business objectives”. That alignment and focus on business objectives forms the foundation for the strategy, no matter where the organization is on their evolution. Just 28% of respondents in our survey felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12% were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year. And, perhaps most astonishing, only half of all companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

But there is hope. we found a set of best practices common across all development stages. We call these the Success Factors of a Social Business: 

  1. Define the overall business goal and align social media strategies against it.
  2. Establish the long-term vision for becoming a social business.
  3. Seek and earn key executive support and sponsorship based on the business case, not the trend.
  4. Beyond marketing and service campaigns, develop a list of prioritized initiatives that will demonstrate business value at the enterprise-level and in key functions/lines of business and plot them on a two-to-three year roadmap.
  5. Train and educate executives and employees not just how to use social media, but also how social media can impact business objectives and how to develop and run programs that do so continually.
  6. Get the right people involved at the right levels. An effective social business strategy takes a unified approach with cross-functional support. It’s a combination of social media savvy and business acumen.
  7. Invest in technology only after your vision and strategy are set. Technology and social media in general are only enablers to the overall mission and purpose you set forth.

Applying The Social Business Success Factors

From the research and from our work with clients, we have found that these success factors become especially important when the organization moves from one stage to the next. Some of the most common issues we’ve seen organizations face include:

  • Getting executives to buy into the social strategy — and fund it. Factors #1 and #2 which use business goals and a common vision to align the organization, become crucial. Sometimes this can be accomplished with a short education session, but more often, it requires that social strategy be built into the very fabric of the executive’s work and priorities. This is done only by strongly linking social activities to the 3-5 strategic goals that executives care about. If social doesn’t help the executive accomplish their mission critical goals, then it won’t ever make it on to their radar.
  • Creating a coherent strategy for social business. As crazy as it may sound, we’ve been working with clients to create three year roadmaps for their social business strategy. That’s not a typo, although it may seem impossible to do this in a fast-changing technology landscape. The key is to focus on the long-term strategic business goals of the organization and to make technology decisions ONLY after the vision and strategy are set.
  • Establishing governance. This is the perennial question, “Who owns social media?” This isn’t a simple issue determined by company size, maturity, or industry. It’s base much more on how the organization sees social playing a role in the company in the future, and creating a roadmap to bridge the reality of today to the future. One organization we worked with envisioned a multiple hub-and-spoke model with product and country teams. But to get there, they realized they needed to be temporarily centralized first, move into a basic hub-and-spoke with defined responsibilities, and a migration path for governance to pass into the spokes in a few years after training ensures that the skills and capabilities are in place.
  • Engaging and transforming the organization. This is perhaps the most challenging problem facing senior executives — they see the need to redesign and retool the organization for greater flexibility, adaptation to a changing landscape, and resilience in the face of increased competition. CEOs see social technologies as a way to harness and bring together employees, customers, and partners, but don’t have a roadmap to be able to do this.

By keeping in mind where you are in your social business evolution AND using the success factors, you’ll be able to start tackling some of these tricky issues. We’ve seen firsthand that this is not an easy journey, but it is one that you can successfully navigate. I’d love to hear how your journey is going — what stages are you in and have you encountered similar challenges? If so, how has our organization managed to move forward? Add your comments below or send me an email with details — we’re always looking for more case studies!

If you’d like to learn more about how Altimeter can help your organization move quickly and efficiently through the social business journey, please get in touch with us at sales@altimetergroup.com.

  • http://twitter.com/CatieRagusa Catie Ragusa

    Hey Charlene, great post! Out of the six stages of social business evolution, would you say that any one stage is more important than another? If so, why? Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/charleneli Charlene Li

      I don’t think one stage is more important — but I think the one where most people stumble is at the transition from Engagement to Formalized. Up to that point, you can kinda get away with not having a real strategy.

  • http://becomemade.net/ DavidCrowell

    Do you have any rules for sharing this post?

  • Pingback: Redes sociales y TIC para emprendedores | Lifelong learning

  • Latosha Mills

    To create the social business we known about the technology ,byusing technology we can published the business role.http://www.getcliqup.com

  • Pingback: How To Create A Successful Social Business | Executive Training Dubai