The good news: We now know that organizations that use social media in their business activities do indeed generally see positive results. The data, both survey and otherwise, over the years makes that increasingly clear. Often, perhaps most of the time, it comes from amplifying an existing business process, such as marketing or worker collaboration. Sometimes, although less frequently, it comes from rethinking how business itself is done and redesigning operations from the ground up around social.
Either way, as I explored recently in this column on how businesses are reorganizing for social as the industry matures, the tendency is to focus on an individual activity or process and figure out how to apply social to it. Undoubtedly, this is the only practical place to start for many of us. Most companies prefer to experiment with social media and find out where it works for them before they increase their investment and focus on it, despite the rapid demographic shift of most of their stakeholders (customers, workers, etc.) to these new channels.
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
However, we've learned some important lessons in the last couple of years that I'm beginning to suspect should be the new focus of our efforts to strategically derive the long-term promise of social business. While we've learned that you can indeed achieve some incremental benefits by sprinkling social media around the edges of your business, the major benefits seem to come from something more substantial. By this, I mean putting social closer both closer to core of how we operate and using it more consistently across our organizations' boundaries.
This won't come as a surprise to those who have been doing this for a while. Based on early experience, a more unified vision for social business as a continuum of open collaboration and communication throughout our companies has been brewing for a while now. Unfortunately, as we'll see, this isn't how things are proceeding yet in most companies.
[ Get your priorities straight: Social Strategy First, Tools Second
Recently we surveyed the members of the Social Business Council, a community of practitioners from large enterprises, to get a sense of how social engagement was faring overall for them. You can read Susan Scrupski's high-level summary of the survey for details (she headed the council when it was conducted). The results, at least for those who have tried to achieve widespread change in a global corporation, aren't much of a surprise. Injecting social business methods while shifting the local culture and aiming at business problems clearly takes considerable time and effort in such organizations, plain and simple.
However, as we read Susan's summary, a singular fact jumps out at us, namely that a whopping 96% of internal and external social business efforts aren't integrated with each other. This jibes well with McKinsey's big insight in their yearly social technologies survey of thousands of large companies. Specifically, that most companies are in the early developing stages of social business. But a few have come out of that process, and they are seeing higher levels of ROI. How few? Of the nearly 3,000 large companies they surveyed, about only 100 had fully networked their ecosystem, inside and outside. When they segmented the results, it was that tiny group that was seeing the best returns on investment by far.
What does this mean exactly? It means there is value in enterprise social media, but the real ROI comes from focusing on where the value is. And that is in breaking down the barriers that are making communication and collaboration perform poorly across and outside your organization. Virtually all enterprises today already have legacy tools to interact digitally. But we know now they are hampered by a variety of early and unavoidably premature technology, infrastructure and policy decisions, such making most information private by default, putting the power to communicate widely in very few hands and having no easy way to find the data or people you need to do your work, even when they readily exist in your organization, to name some of the bigger obstacles.
When we see social business performing particularly well, it's because the largest possible number of participants was sought and engaged. Time and again in my research of social business case studies, we see this and it's why Principle #1 in our book is "Anyone can participate." The first wave of digital interaction tools such as email, IM, shared content management and so on had value. But they still had too many barriers to get at the more profound possibilities writ large by pervasive and global digital networks.