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Choose Your Social Business Strategy Before Your Tools

The concepts, not the technologies, of social business pave the road to success.
-- Organizational Development: A wide variety of preparation and alignment of the organization can greatly aid in adoption as well as actual ROI when it comes to social business. This includes social media literacy, creating a central support structure for social business that facilitates community management and governance (often called a center of excellence, as much as I don't think the phrase is useful or accurate). Workers must be trained, and the legal, HR, and IT departments must be involved.

Virtually all of the above can and should be accomplished, to the extent it makes sense, without a preconceived notion of the tools that will be used. While certainly some organizations will already have investments, technology predilections, and other biases towards certain vendors, I'm also cognizant of the following:

A good many social business efforts have had to go back a second time and get it right.

This merely reflects the reality that, given that we're still learning how to adapt social media to the enterprise (making it social business), there's often a good chance that something off the shelf just won't be a good fit. I particularly remember a client that had first tried two social customer service products only to find that they had to build their own solution in-house before they solved their unique business problem. And oh, did it provide ROI once they got it right!

The lesson here: Agonizing over the tools, which so many organizations do, often does little but prolong the lessons you need to learn.

In short, the timing for bringing social technology into the equation still remains something of an art form. Do it too early and your entire social business effort will be bent around what the software does and how it works, often to the detriment of what really needs to happen. Do it too late, and you haven't really done much of anything yet, in terms of creating value. Yes, the tools have lessons themselves, and so they must be brought in at the right time. Just not nearly as early as many efforts do.

[ Related: Lifecycle Of An Enterprise Social Community (So Far).]

Thus, for most of us, keeping the core concepts of social business clearly in mind and not losing focus on them in the oft-byzantine worlds of our enterprises, is the surest way to end up someplace particularly useful. The tools, well, they're necessary too but they'll come and go and you'll end up with a portfolio of them in the end. Instead, a straightforward and forthright emphasis on what makes social business special and then ensuring it makes its way into how the business works should be the primary goal.

For the 10 fundamental tenets of social business, please see Social Business By Design, the management guide for developing an effective enterprise strategy for becoming a social business.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)