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How To Beat Top Social Business Obstacles

CIOs give their companies low grades on social business maturity -- and struggle with many of the same problems, says Deloitte and MIT research. Here's advice on bypassing common roadblocks.

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More business leaders are acknowledging the importance of social business, but progress is slow and companies are facing similar problems, according to a new report, "Social Business: Shifting Out of First Gear" from Deloitte and the MIT Sloan Management Review.

In its 2011 survey, 14% of CIOs said social business was "important today." In 2012, that number jumped to 38%. But when asked to rank their company's social business maturity on a scale of 1 to 10, more than half of respondents gave their company a score of 3 or below.

The three major factors impeding progress, according to the report, which surveyed 2,545 people from 25 industries, are a lack of an overall strategy (28%), too many competing priorities (26%) and lack of a proven business case or strong value proposition (21%).

[ Social media skills are increasingly becoming part of many job descriptions. Read Social Business Skills In High Demand. ]

But these roadblocks are fixable, said Doug Palmer, leader of Deloitte's social business practice and one of the report's authors. "The potential business value that comes from using social technologies is really large," Palmer said. "People who have kept pushing through the challenges are seeing significant value."

Here's a look at the most common roadblocks at each stage of social business, plus tips for how to overcome them and get your business back on track.

Early Stage

In Stage 1 of social business, which 52% of respondents identified with, the top three barriers include a lack of an overall strategy, no proven business proposition and a lack of management understanding.

"Left unaddressed, these barriers can lead to daunting odds," the report said. "Gartner estimates that 80% of social business projects between now and 2015 will yield disappointing results because of a lack of leadership support and a narrow view of social as a technology rather than a business driver."

To combat this, the report suggests executives -- whether it's the CIO or CMO -- lead the strategy by:

-- Establishing and articulating a business value for beginning the project

-- Identifying a small number of processes and problems that social can address

-- Piloting and experimenting before fully deploying.

Also imperative through all three stages is personally participating in social experiments and conversations. "Lack of senior management sponsorship is significant," the report said. In businesses where support from senior leadership was lacking, respondents typically assessed their organization's maturity a half point lower. "Getting started is the hardest piece," Palmer said.

The report also recommends making sure measurement and ROI are at the project's forefront. In the early stage, executives should test, listen and learn from social data; begin to measure and understand its impact; and tie results to financial and operating metrics that matter.

"When seeking funding for a social initiative, for example, proposals should link the investment to what leaders are concerned about," the report said. "Once leaders see that link in action, they are likely to place greater value in social tools and technologies."

Developing Stage

According to the report, 31% of respondents associated with the second stage of social business, in which businesses struggle with too many competing priorities, lack of an overall strategy and security concerns. To address these concerns, executives need to do the following:

-- Develop a social business strategy and include in it corporate-wide compliance processes and security measures

-- Allocate resources -- both people and funding -- to implement -- Assign a corporate-level social business leader -- Challenge traditionalists to be open to change

-- Expand pilots across functions.

Traditionalists, Palmer said, are those employees who may be fearful of jumping in to a new technology. But when handled properly, they have the potential to become the project's biggest enthusiasts.

"You take someone who's a skeptic and you show them how this technology can make a business easier or quicker," Palmer said. "When they get it, they think, 'This is OK,' and then they use it to find a resource they didn't know about or they solve a problem using it. Then they tell a friend and a few coworkers and they sometimes become the brand's biggest advocates."

To properly measure their successes and failures in the second stage, the report recommends that executives collect lessons learned, identify performance gaps and outcomes, and leverage that date in business intelligence and decision making.

"Organizations launching a social initiative, for example, can start with one or two metrics tied to a business objective," the report said. "After tracking for a period of time, the company can build momentum by steadily adding new metrics and observing patterns in the data."

Maturing

The fewest number of respondents -- just 17% -- identified with the third stage. This group, which is further along in its "social journey," may struggle with too many competing priorities, security concerns and lack of an overall strategy, according to the report.

One key difference between this group and the prior two, Palmer said, is that 80% said they had a dedicated senior manager overseeing everything social, sometimes in a chief digital officer role. "While the specific responsibilities [of a chief digital officer] vary, CDOs can provide broad leadership and attention to key digital initiatives," the report said.

To address the challenges businesses deeper in social experience, executives need to:

-- Continually scan for new social technologies

-- Extend their social business strategy to include new opportunities

-- Drive improvement of security measures to account for new vulnerabilities

-- Initiate a new round of pilots and experiments.

While social data and measurement best practices are still evolving, Palmer said, businesses this far along in their deployment should continue to gather lessons learned and start integrating social data into business intelligence and decision-making systems.

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