How To Scale Social Business For The Real World

New channels = new challenges. Learn how smart organizations are adapting to the new ways customers connect.

Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

September 17, 2012

3 Min Read

From our research, we can see several fundamental capabilities that must be fostered in most organizations as they head into the more fragmented, yet opportunity rich, era of engagement. To wit, these central capabilities are:

-- An organization fluent in engagement. Everyone is a marketer now, according to McKinsey and Company. What this really means is that to engage, companies must have everyone involved and able to support engagement. As I've said before, this can't mean everyone spending all of their time in engagement. But it does mean that skills, culture, and expectations have to be set while processes and business models are adjusted so that workers are comfortable in directly enabling the organization to scale-up engagement to the world.

-- Workers dedicated to engagement. Simply put, this means community managers, and typically several groups of them. In the more sophisticated organizations, I see two layers forming: A global community management group and then local or specialized community managers that are subject matter experts, but belong to another part of the company. I've long been on record that community management is the key capability missing in too many organizations trying to become social businesses or otherwise move to two-way engagement. Invest in engagement support centrally, and enable it at the edge of the organization as appropriate.

-- Centralized listening and dispatch, along with support for specialized decentralization. Over the years, I've come across many large organizations with fragmented or disorganized listening capabilities, overspending on duplicate tools, staff, and infrastructure. This has led to the rise of social media command centers and other forms of centralized listening and response. However, there is still some use for autonomous operators in most organizations who listen and engage for special reasons, as long as clear rules of engagement are defined. More on this subject in a future column.

-- An engagement process that matches the organization. There is no one-size-fits-all way to structure your organization for all the types of engagement that exist today or are coming soon. Adaptability and a solid foundation for the elements that are relatively unchanging are key. Tools are not a strategy, yet are vital for success. Start first by figuring out what problems you have with engagement and develop an open-ended and dynamic strategy that plans for change as the norm.

One of the biggest challenges of the era of engagement is going to be dealing with the inherent scale mismatches: Workers outnumber management, customers outnumber workers, and the marketplace outnumbers everybody.

Combine this with the eroding wall of engagement between the inside and outside of organizations, and it's a recipe for a series of major transitional challenges. Fortunately, we're getting a sense of how to deal with this. With the right strategy and tools, most organizations can make the transition relatively non-disruptive. That is, if they have the requisite willpower, executive mandate, and understanding of the inherent value in making the transformation.

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.

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