How Smart Businesses Reorganize For Social

Companies are stuck at departmental levels when it comes to taking full advantage of social media. Here's how to implement a company-wide social business initiative that delivers strategic results.

Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

August 23, 2012

6 Min Read

However, if fundamentally social forms of engagement with the world is in fact the future of business, then a few conditions must be true for it happen.

First, newer and more social channels for engaging with customers, suppliers, partners, and workers will have to be more efficient and productive than the old ways for them to significantly displace the old. Fortunately, there is now a fairly large body of evidence that social is indeed more productive.

Second, there must be enough reach and return in the new social channels to warrant significant investment in time, budget, and management attention at the enterprise level. This also seems to be the case, at least in the consumer world, with e-mail in decline and social media already larger and continuing to grow..

Third, social engagement must be something that most organizations can readily adapt to their business. Their workers must be able to change their behaviors to take advantage of them. In addition, the organization's business models and operating processes must be amenable or at least adjustable to a more social world. There are a number of important ramifications to social that enterprises are just now coming to terms with and hard decisions must be made whether to make fundamental changes in assumptions and ways of working.

Making this adaption seems to pose the largest obstacle for the average enterprise. As many of us now know, social business is not just about an email replacement, or an upgrade to better customer discussion forums, or even an improved marketing tool. Effective adoption of social business requires giving up a certain level of control, encouraging and harnessing user participation, and understanding how to systematically scale conversations that create business value--all while being as open, truthful, honest, and transparent as possible. These are tall orders in the long run for many organizations.

[ Related: Why Big Data Will Deliver ROI For Social Business. ]

The good news is that enterprises are indeed making progress on these fronts. In our study of numerous social business success stories for Social Business By Design, an important truth stood out across all the industries and corporate functions we examined. Successful organizations made both appropriate investments and meaningful changes to the way they operated, including their business processes and the assumptions behind them. They didn't just pave the cowpath, but genuinely rethought from the ground up how their business worked in new social channels, letting the network do most of the work and bring in substantially more innovation and richer outcomes.

Here's how businesses can successfully reorganize themselves for social.

-- Strategy first, validated by experiments. As I explored in a recent column, having clear business goals--such as better customer satisfaction, higher quality leads, and more productive workers--tied to a specific plan to use social business techniques to achieve those goals is one of the most important steps in becoming a mature adopter. In other words, make sure your social business strategy attains more than incremental returns. Then make sure you're on the right track with closely managed experiments that can be scaled up when they succeed, or retired quickly before much is spent.

-- Encourage transformation of departments, functions, and processes. This is the hardest part. Large organizations typically became the way they are precisely because they were able to throw off nearly every distraction that prevented them from getting there. Yet the shift to social channels requires deep, meaningful change in how the business thinks and works. This means the hard work of culture change for social business in a way that various parts of the enterprise will accept. Given that most parts of your enterprise won't already be experts in social media, and the more different a new idea is the harder it is to appreciate and absorb, this phase of adoption is a high hurdle indeed. Although tapping into change champions can be quite effective, a variety of techniques can and will have to be employed to surmount the obstacles, from performance incentives, strategic education, and reorganizing staff to business process re-engineering and outright acquisition of competitive startups.

-- Create a strong foundation to engage at scale. The whole social business industry has begun focusing on the virtuous cycle of engagement that generates the most value and is the fundamental operating concept of social business, inside or outside of your organization. Namely, go to where the relevant conversations are, listen to them, identify the ones that are important for your business, participate in them, and capture the value that results. Enterprises that don't organize to engage in scale will quickly find themselves outnumbered by their customers, never mind the marketplace. Social CRM, social product development, social marketing, social collaboration, and all the other flavors of social assume you know how to listen to everything, dispatch notifications to relevant constituents in your organization, and make sure they engage in productive and meaningful ways that creates useful outcomes with measurable business value. We see companies doing this in different ways, but centralizing the process of listening and analyzing and decentralizing engagement across the company is the most workable approach long term.

To make the shift to social, organizations must be clearly cognizant of the many changes in how their key constituents prefer to engage. Enterprises can then ramp up social business strategy and business transformation in these areas while putting in a consistent set of processes and policies for scaling. Engagement at scale will be one of the biggest challenges in the short and medium term for most organizations as they move to social business.

Who will lead all of this? As the latest McKinsey research points out, there is now between $900 million to $1.3 trillion at stake annually by underperforming at social media. This is very much a discussion that has moved into the C-suite of large companies. Becoming a social business is a strategic goal that must be supported at the board level on down as well as throughout the workforce in order to succeed. Focusing on the top aspects that will enable successful transformation will go a long way toward capturing your company's fair share of the social business market's current value proposition.

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Dion Hinchcliffe


Dion Hinchcliffe is a business strategist, enterprise architect, frequent keynote speaker, book author, blogger, and industry analyst who works with business and technical leaders in large companies to apply emerging technology to drive digital transformation and growth. He is most recently co-author of Social Business By Design from John Wiley & Sons (2012) and has personally led large-scale social business and smart mobility strategy initiatives for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 firms on three continents.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights