The Third Leg Of The Social Business Stool: Technology
Many companies jump into social media without fully assessing the risks. Make sure you understand the dynamics of social environments before you start with the technology.
In my last two columns, I discussed two of the three tenets of implementing a social business strategy: process and community management. The last leg of the social business stool is technology.
Social technology is everywhere, and often it's the place where companies start because it's the most obvious new element, particularly for interacting with external audiences. Businesses see most of their customers using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking channels, so building a presence there seems to make obvious sense. However, adopting the technology starts a company down the slippery slope of social business when that may not be its intent, so it's unprepared for the risks.
Marketing departments, for instance, will start a Twitter or Facebook page to reach more customers directly, but in the process they're setting the expectation that they're speaking and listening. Most organizations don't have the processes and governance in place to effectively listen and respond to individual consumers in meaningful ways. As a result, crises can emerge.
This happened not too long ago on Nestle's Facebook page when its "fans" raised pointed questions that the company wasn't prepared to respond to. Nestle knew it had some long-standing critics but apparently didn't adequately prepare for that debate to spill over into its social media efforts. Better planning would have identified issues likely to come up.
There's a dizzying array of software tools aimed at managing an organization's external presence. They include tools provided by the social networks themselves, like Facebook Pages and Analytics and Twitter's Business Center; branded social software; monitoring, analysis, search, blogging, mobile, and location-based technologies; social gaming; URL shorteners; idea generators; reputation analyzers; and recommendation engines.
A host of management applications (including TweetDeck, Seesmic, HootSuite, and CoTweet) integrate with many of the other social tools such as enterprise applications like Salesforce.com's Chatter. Consumer-influenced free-to-pay business models further add to this complex landscape because different business groups within a company are likely using a wide variety of applications.
Organizations can find themselves with a technical hairball in pretty short order. Start sorting things out by doing the following:
-- Undertake an enterprise-wide social technologies audit. Include internal departments, employees, and partners.
-- Educate point people within functional departments about the technologies that are available. Individuals in charge of digital marketing, online support, employee policies, knowledge management, and recruiting are good ones to start with. Analyst firms like Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Altimeter, and Constellation Research can help. For information on social network services, OneForty.com is a great place to start.
-- Categorize use cases and business goals, including branding, direct marketing, customer support, partner marketing and collaboration, market research, and alumni relations.
-- Identify data, security, and integration needs and risks.
-- Develop requirements by use case. For example, if direct marketing is a business priority, define how using social media marketing can integrate and enhance existing initiatives.
-- Recommend and get consensus on a portfolio of tools, whether they're enterprise social software or public social networks and applications.
-- Develop standards and guidelines on how employees and departments will present their activities on social sites. Identify both encouraged activities and those that are inappropriate for your business.
-- Provide employees with training on how to use and protect themselves on social networks and how to refer to and frame work-related content.
Social technologies, many of them delivered as services, are stretching businesses thin because they're easy to adopt, come at low or no cost, and are hard to control. Facebook and LinkedIn are threatening to disrupt traditional means of enterprise communication both inside and outside the firewall because those sites' private groups are typically easier to use than collaboration spaces within the enterprise, such as SharePoint, Oracle Webcenter Suite, eRoom, and other portal- or file directory-based approaches.
Even if your company doesn't intend to use social technology in the near term, its use by your employees and others is likely already impacting your business. Understanding the new dynamics that social environments create and the opportunities and risks associated with them is critical for all businesses.
Rachel Happe (@rhappe) is a co-founder and principal at the Community Roundtable, a peer network for social media, community, and social business leaders. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-271-4574.
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