In isolated pockets of many large companies I see people trying hard to deliver good social media--a.k.a social business--results. A few internal "change champions" usually have a pretty good idea of what it takes to produce local results that will make the organization proud.
By looking at these examples, we can see that the groundwork required to be effective in social business is largely the same across most industries and geographies. A company needs forward-thinking vision and preparation, cultivation of the proper skills, a focus on creating effective social business processes, and perhaps most of all, the budget for additional staff and infrastructure. Unfortunately, as successful as these departmental efforts are, they often don't spread across the enterprise.
That's because the action in social business is largely still at the departmental level. Marketing has long been engaged in social marketing. The customer support department is ramping up social customer support. The collaboration team is crafting social collaboration efforts. And the intranet group is figuring out the path forward with social intranets.
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These points of light are extremely helpful but they're good at hiding the progress and lessons learned from the rest of the organization. They create social silos of different tools, policies, and staff. This has led to important discussions about how to structure social media efforts to make them more consistent, reduce duplication, and maximize shared results.
This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
More Social Business By Design columns
On top of this there's the perceived problem of social business adding more work and overhead to what the departments already do, a tough proposition in hard economic times. The shift to social isn't evident; without a strategic perspective, it just looks like more work, not a trend.
Thus, the overall move from old communication channels to the new social ones is often perceived as wastefully additive, and not necessarily a linear shift at all. A few months ago, I was speaking with the CIO of a Fortune 500 company, and he complained that he had hundreds of full-time social support representatives, each of which had to be trained in social media. Never mind that he had several thousand traditional customer service representatives already. The reality is that the bifurcation between the old channels and the new means they often don't seem to fit very well together.
All of these issues are symptoms that an organization needs to refine how it strategically thinks about and activates social business.
The case for strategic organization for social business
To be clear, there's little doubt that for now, social media is indeed an additive component to how we engage. Our legacy methods of connecting with each other such as e-mail, mass media, telephone, and other 20th century channels will be around for a while yet and will even remain primary channels for some companies for at least the next five years. But their growing ineffectiveness, lack of cost-effective scale, and limited ability to accumulate and exchange value is ultimately dooming them as relics of the pre-social era.