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.

Why Most Social Strategies Fail

When I ask people what their social business strategy looks like, I usually get the following response, ”Oh yeah, we’re on Facebook.” The conversation continues apace:

- Twitter account…check.
- YouTube videos….yup.
- People who seem to know what they doing with those accounts…kinda.
- Metrics….Likes.

But that isn’t a strategy – it’s a series of tactics. Having a Facebook page is like having a telephone — it’s a tool that needs a purpose. What you DO with Facebook to meet customer expectations and attain business goals lies at the center of a coherent social business strategy.

My colleague Brian Solis and I are in the midst of conducting research on what makes a good social business strategy and a key finding is that as companies evolve their social initiatives, the efforts get disconnected from business goals. So while the company grows in its social media efforts, strategic focus, with a clear goal in mind, falls to the wayside.

This isn’t about waiting until companies have reached a stage of “maturity” before they are deemed to be successful. Rather, we found companies thriving at every stage of social strategy evolution. The key is coherence, where the business goals, executive support, social business capabilities, and the value created by both internal and external social initiatives all work together in harmony.

Here’s an example: one company we spoke with focuses most of their social efforts on developing their Facebook presence. The company rarely replies or engages with people who post on their page. On the surface, you might dismiss this company as not “getting” social media because they don’t actively engage in a two-way dialog.

But in so many ways, their strategy is far more coherent than companies that blindly engage for the sake of engagement. That’s because they are very clear about the purpose of their Facebook presence, which is to showcase the personality of the company. While they enjoy having millions of fans, the key business metric they track is reputation, which is used across all aspects of the business. On a daily basis, they ask their Facebook fans, as well as people in other channels, how they are doing on delivering their products, and if they are doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. They can then compare which channels are effective at driving their goal of improving reputation.

So how can you tell if your social business strategy is successful or failing? One way is to look across the elements of your social strategy and see if they align with each other in such a way that supports clear business goals. Are your capabilities in line with what you are trying to achieve, or have you bitten off too much and are not realizing the full potential of your efforts? Do you have the organizational governance in place to allow disparate business units to align their social efforts against a common enterprise goals, or is each line of business pulling in separate directions?

Another way to gauge where you are with your social business strategy is to take Altimeter’s Social Business Strategy Survey at http://svy.mk/QkcYRH. The aggregated results will appear in an upcoming report, and as a thank you for sharing, you’ll receive a data cut that you can use to benchmark your company against other organizations of the same size. You will receive this benchmark data after the research report is published.

The survey looks at the following topics:

  • Strategy: What are common goals and objectives? How do you measure the value of your social business efforts?
  • Organization: How are your social business efforts organized? How many people are dedicated to social business?
  • Budget: How much are you spending on external and internal social business efforts? What are you planning to spend on technologies and services in 2013?
  • Social Media Policies: What policies do you have in place? How well do employees understand those policies?

Please note that we plan to end the survey in the next week or so, so please take it as soon as possible! Also, please forward to others who may be interested or share with your social networks. Link: svy.mk/QkcYRH.

Lastly, please share why you think your social business strategy is successful — or on the flip side, what is dysfunctional about it. We’d all love to learn from your experiences!

Report: Making The Business Case For Enterprise Social Networks

In 2011, the US hit a milestone — more than half of all adults visit social networking sites at least once a month. But when it comes to using social-networking technologies inside organizations, many business leaders are at a loss to understand what value can be created from Facebook-like status updates within the enterprise. Some organizations have deployed social-networking features with an initial enthusiastic reception, only to see these early efforts wither to just a few stalwart participants. The problem: Most companies approach enterprise social networks as a technology deployment and fail to understand that the new relationshipscreated by enterprise social networks are the source for value creation. Yesteryear, internal technology departments could force software on business units, but in today’s consumerized world, business units can adopt enterprise software, often without IT ever knowing. As a result, a new approach is required that focuses on four key ways that relationships create value through enterprise social networks:

  1. Encourage sharing.
  2. Capture knowledge.
  3. Enable action.
  4. Empower employees.

This is the first of two reports on enterprise social networks, with this one focused on how it creates value for organizations. The next report will focus on maturity models and the future of enterprise social networks.

Data HighlightsThe report also includes input from 13 technology providers, 185 end users, and surveyed 81 ESN decision makers from companies with over 250 employees (see below in Related Resources for links to the data). A few of the findings and graphics from the report are included below. There was only moderate impact on business goals. On a scale of 1 to 4, the highest impact seen – improving collaboration between departments/teams — scored only a 2.91 (see Figure 5 below).

Enterprise Social Networks Have Only Moderate Impact On Business Goals

A key reason for this is that there were few metrics used to gauge effectiveness. Most metrics were engagement-oriented in nature and not necessarily tied to business impact. For example, the top three metrics used were 1) More/faster collaboration across the company; 2) Frequency of use; and 3) Engagement across the company (% of employees using it) (see Figure 6-1 below).

Top Metrics Measure Engagement, Not Progress Against Business Goals

In fact, no organization surveyed believed they measure ESNs very well, and only 31% felt they measured ESN impact somewhat well. A quarter admitted that they didn’t measure at all! (see Figure 6-2 below).

Most Organizations Admit They Measure ESNs Poorly

Four Ways Enterprise Social Networks Drive Value
Despite the promise and potential for ESNs, they have only received moderate traction. The problem is that most ESN deployments to date have been treated as technology deployments with a focus on adoption and usage. A different way to think about this is that ESNs represent a new way to communicate and form relationships — and because of that, can bridge gaps that exist in terms of information sharing and decision-making processes. To better understand these use cases, we found that they boil down to four different types of gaps in the organization — tough problems that can’t be addressed by the current technology, process, or culture.
  1. Encourage sharing.  Remember how revolutionary email was? It fundamentally changed the way we communicated by reducing the cost/effort and collapsing the time frame and scaling it to include multiple recipients. Social represents a fundamental change, simply because, at its essence, it encourages sharing. The simple presence of a status update box on a page encourages people to share their thoughts, activities, and expertise.
  2. Capture knowledge.  Capturing the collective knowledge of an organization is a daunting task because it includes a wide range of facts, information, and skills gained through experience. Yet few people proactively sit down each day to document and capture their knowledge. ESNs provide an opportunity to do just that, by capturing glimpses of knowledge through profiles, activity streams, and interactions.
  3. Enable action.  Having an ESN in place means that operations and processes can begin to change as well. This happens when the day-to-day process changes because the ESN enables new relationships and behaviors that address a gap that prevented actions from being taken.
  4. Empower employees.  The last way ESNs drive value is that they empower and embolden people to speak up and join together, as well as gives them opportunities to contribute their skills and ideas.
Enterprise Social Network Action Plan
To be successful with your ESN, you need thus to focus on how relationships can close the gaps of information flows and decision making in your organization. To do this, you should take four steps, with your technology selection coming last, not first.

Figure 10 Enterprise Social Networking Action Plan

Related resources. In the spirit of Open Research — and to spur further discussion on the topic of enterprise social networks, we are also making available a PDF summary of all questions asked in the survey, a PowerPoint of the graphics, and the full data set. If you discover additional insights, we ask that you share back your findings with the community.

Webinar. I’ll be doing a Webinar on Thursday, February 22nd, 2012 at 10am PST on the report with Socialcast’s CEO Tim Young. More information and registration is available at http://t.co/1XI8nMkp. It will also be recorded and available for playback on Socialcast’s site.

Related blog posts:

Stay in touch. Would you like to be notified about upcoming reports or even participate in our research via surveys or interviews? Please let us know by filling out this form.

Open Research This independent research report was 100% funded by Altimeter Group. This report is published under the principle of Open Research and is intended to advance the industry at no cost. This report is intended for you to read, utilize, and share with others; if you do so, please provide attribution to Altimeter Group.

Predictions for Social Business in 2012, Part II: Knowing Your Customer

Rather than simply make prognostications, I wanted to give actionable advice based on these trends. This is the second of my three predictions and priorities for Social Business in 2012 (read the first prediction).

Prediction #2: Your customers want to be known. Your customers don’t merely want you to understand their needs or pain points. They want you to know them as individuals anywhere and anytime they engage with you.

Companies sure know a lot about us, without knowing much. For example, I’m classified for marketing purposes as a Gen X, 35-45 years old, graduate degree holding, Real Simple and Wired magazine reading, working mom. I frequently “like”, “follow”, and engage with companies on sites like Facebook and Twitter. And yet when I walk into a store or visit the site to which I am loyal I get…the same 15% off, free shipping offer, and experience that everyone else gets. To most companies, I’m a faceless member of a target market.

What I want instead is a relationship with companies that feels more like the ones I have with small business owners in my community. It goes beyond simply recognizing or understanding me. They KNOW me. They’ve taken the time to see me as a person and I have come to know them as well.

The problem is that this is hard to scale on two levels. First, there is a huge fire hose of rich social and mobile context that is not put to use because of the difficulty of connecting unstructured data to transaction data. Second, it’s hard to tailor it for a single individual at scale.

For example, I can check-in on Facebook or FourSquare when I enter my local grocery store, but the store won’t know it’s me until I punch in my loyalty code in the checkout lane. At that point, it’s too late — I’ve already made my purchase decisions and the tailored offers and coupons being printed out will remain in the bottom of my shopping bag awaiting recycling. What a lost opportunity to know me.

Instead, what if I could automatically “check-in” to my grocery store and receive a list of tailored specials on my smartphone dedicated app. They might also know that I’m shopping for a big party (thanks to integration with my Facebook status updates) and someone from the Deli section would make some recommendations. I could also see and pick which specials to include in my shopping list and then be guided by an in-store GPS app that navigates me to the shelf where each of my items are located.

Some people call this “social CRM” and the evolution of “Big Data”, two very hot tech topics these days. But these are spaces that are still being defined and the data integration needed means that it may be years before most of big data and social CRM can reach their full potential.

I’m advocating something much simpler and that can be applied today — which is the hard work of thinking through how your customers *want* to be known by you. This means turning the tables and anticipating how your customers want these new relationships to work.

How To Get To Know Your Customers Better
One way to do this today is to find simple ways to integrate current social data about your customers into your every day work flow. I use a very simple plug-in for Gmail called Rapportive that shows the latest Facebook posts, tweets, and other social media updates right next to an email from someone. It provides context for follow-up emails and conversations and is a great way for me to be connected with what’s important to the people I interact with.

In the beginning, this will be a highly manual effort, but over time you’ll find commonalities and trends in terms of what works to get closer to customers. More advanced tools like Nimble (aggregates all social account activities) and GetSatisfaction (aggregates customer questions into a single community) can enable additional aggregation and help scale. My colleague, Jeremiah Owyang, will be releasing a report this Thursday about the latest social media management suites that can help with this as well.

The other thing I see companies doing is putting in place the building blocks for these new experiences. The Midwest grocery/department store chain Meijer recently launched a smartphone app called “Meijer Find-it” where a shopper can search for an item, add it to a shopping list – and see it’s exact shelf and aisle location. It’s only available in a handful of stores and it’s a static map — but it’s a beginning.

How To Tell When You Know Too Much
The biggest question that comes up when discussing this topic is privacy and permission. How much can and should you piece together across social media about your customers? How can you tell when you’ve crossed from knowing and anticipating what your customer want, to uncomfortable spying?

It comes down to constantly checking in to make sure that the relationship is moving in the direction that both parties want. At some point, your customers will have had enough — they feel they are known enough and don’t want to take the relationship any deeper.

The master at this process has been Facebook. With each innovation, they push the boundaries of where we previous drew the line on what we would consider sharing. Not everyone is eager to embrace each new change, but more do because they see the value. Facebook has had the courage to lead change and advances, knowing that not everyone will follow. But they also knew where to draw the line — and to acknowledge when they had crossed it.

You will have to risk crossing that line as well, and as long as you are transparent about your mistakes (see my first prediction) you will be able to recover and retain a strong relationship with your customers. And isn’t it worth it, to be able to get to know your customers

Your task in 2012 is to discover what it is that your customers want you to know about them — and how it adds value for them, as well as for you as a company. It will take a lot of testing and learning, as well as numerous mistakes. But by the end of the year, you should have learned a great deal more about what it is that your customers want you to know — and hopefully have strengthened the relationship to allow that “knowing” to take place.

Next up: How connected are your employees?

Predictions and Priorities for Social Business in 2012 – Part I

My pet peeve about the annual predictions ritual is that they lack context for action. It’s nice to know that tablets and big data are important — but what should you do about it?

So here’s my attempt at not only forecasting but also to provide actions that companies should be prioritizing in 2012.

The Process: I went through my speaking and client engagements in 2011 and looked at which topics and themes I kept referring to over and over again, especially toward the end of the year. I also analyzed which of the tweets from these events were most retweeted to verify where the heat was.

I boiled it down to three predictions and also explain why I think these are a priority for business leaders to address in 2012. Because they are on the long-ish side, I’ll be posting one a day so that there can be discussion about each prediction and priority.

Prediction #1: Consumers will reward transparent companies with their loyalty. Companies must get courageous with transparency and make it an every day occurrence. Or they will face the wrath of outraged customers.

Almost 8 million people have now seen the FedEx delivery guy tossing a monitor over the fence. FedEx’s response was timely and tried to be authentic, but lacked only one thing — a link to that video. It was just a short search away, so why not link to what everyone already knew existed? Regardless, I was glad to see FedEx respond quickly when so many other companies facing a crisis try to wait for the situation to fade away.

The gold standard on transparency reaches all the way back to July 2006 when Dell’s brand new blog had the courage to write the post entitled  “Flaming Notebook” about a Dell computer bursting into flames in Osaka, Japan. And they included a link to a photo of their product exploding into flames.

Where did they find the guts to do this? Michael Dell made it crystal clear in his instructions for the post: Dell was built on the value of going direct to consumers and the blog had to communicate and live by those same values.

I’ve told the Dell flaming notebook story and shown that photo at hundreds of speeches and asked a simple question: If your organization had it’s version of flaming notebook happen today, would you be able to write that post? In a most telling way, there are only a few hands that get raised.

Dell’s flaming notebook was five and a half years ago, before there were Facebook Pages, before Twitter even existed. It was the Dark Ages of social media and Dell understood then that it was important to build a new, unique relationship with their customers.

Think about what would be needed to get your organization to that point and make it a priority to be transparent about the everyday small problems that always occur. Practice on the easy stuff to get prepared for The Big One.

Too busy you say, with your existing social media efforts to do this? All of the efforts that you make updating your Facebook page or posting on Twitter add up to mere hand-waving if you can’t master this new type of relationship demanded by your customers.

Does your organization have the courage to engage when things go wrong, no matter how big or small? How did you organization get to this point? Please share where you are on your journey, and what you found helpful to bring greater accountability and transparency into your company.

Next up: How well do you really know your customers?