We've hopped around from 'Web 2.0' to 'Social Media' to 'Enterprise 2.0' to our current spot on the 'Social Business' train, keeping all of our baggage in tow.  And that's the problem. 

If we really want to see the same kind of effectiveness in the work place that we've seen in the consumer space, it's time to ditch some old habits. Here are four essential ways to make your business a social business.

1. Respect Time Management

I could be on Facebook all day. In fact, most Saturdays and Sundays I am. But if I'm on [insert your social business app of choice] all of my work day, how would I ever get anything else done?

Moreover, if we think about teams of people from various departments coming together in an effort to streamline workflow for what is most likely the very first time, a lot can go wrong. For example, a recent Forrester report entitled Social Breaks The Logjam On Business Process Improvement Initiatives outlines three challenges which impede business processes from being successfully implemented:

  • Getting on the Same Page: 
    Not everyone has the same level of comfort with new technology, and this can present a significant barrier for new "social business" collaboration and sharing tools. In fact, Forrester says professionals still report taking three to four cycles of testing and trials to standardize both terminology and methodology for their initiatives. 
  • Fighting Turf Wars
    Power struggles over business process management domains often pull teams in time-consuming political maneuvering. 
  • Lack of Ownership:
    The first two setbacks often result in a negative environment in which no one feels like taking charge, and taking the punishment for doing so.

Do your best to preempt these issues -- keep the focus on how new processes and tools can reduce the time spent on specific tasks.

In the end, social business tools are best thought of as opportunity costs. Will your investment in identifying and connecting with prospects, customers, and influencers outperform your other activities? The answer is yes for most businesses.  But make sure your initiatives treat time management as a deity of the first order.

"Analyze their workflows to see where key integration points between collaboration tools and other applications should be," writes David Roe. "If enterprises don’t do that, workers have to continually shift between collaboration tools and applications, which is time-consuming and often involves duplicated content."

2. Manage, Refine the Volume Controls 

One nice thing about consumer social networks is that your engagement can vary across the full spectrum -- from full time maniac, to lurker, to zero engagement. There's no pressure, and it's up to you to decide when or if you feel like participating.

But of course, this probably doesn't fly in the workplace.

Writer and consultant Clay Shirky is famous for saying, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure." Dion Hinchcliffe of ZDNet referenced this phrase in a recent piece called Seven Lessons Learned on Social Business, calling it "truer than ever": 

I consistently see reports from organizations engaging in social business that, after a couple of years, activity streams often end up looking like their email inboxes. In other words, too much to keep track of. But not every social interaction has the same level of social importance or needs to be encountered right when it's created. The newest enterprise social media applications now have "volume controls" and filters to give workers control over what they are watching or alerted to. Social business does indeed unleash a flood of knowledge. The secret to climbing the social media maturity curve is to learn how to see what you need, when you need it.

The best practice is to make sure your filters and volume controls are evolving along side with participation. Engagement eventually becomes noise if it's not what you need for your particular tasks.

3. Differentiate Between Networks and Communities

The key issue here is one of definition. While in the past the words community and network have been used interchangeably, recent social business times call for a bit of differentiation.

We've done our part to over-think these terms and we're sure you've bashed your head against a keyboard a time or two as well, so in order to keep it simple we propose using definitions provided by Dave Coleman, Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies:

  • Networks: Large groups of people with loose social ties 
  • Communities:  Groups of people that rely on the strength of social ties, where your being there is important 

Today, these definitions make sense. If you want proof, just zoom out of a social network like Facebook and consider the shape of the connections: infinite, omnipresent, continuous -- like a giant never-ending spiderweb. Zoom out of an organization and you'll see various teams of people that, although they work close together, are clearly sectioned off, like honeycomb. 

While consumer networks define success by the number of individuals they acquire and connect, defining the success of a community can depend on a number things, including the type of community you have created and its purpose.

Here's a snippet of discussion from our recent social business Tweet Jam (The Role of Communities in Social Business #SocBizChat): 

@billycripe your community is successful when participants feel like their benefits justify their participation & You know your community is successful when it is 1. achieving & supporting core beliefs/goals/interests/outcomes 2. active!
@ITSinsider: Success of a community is not measured by adoption. it's measured by what the community aims to do
@MeganMurray: No definitive answer that encompasses the development or value of a cmty. So much has to do with understanding the who & the why
@hyounpark_AG: Communities are successful when they create change aligned to their interests. Challenge for biz is in guiding productive change
@R2integrated: Community should build loyalty (retention) or help you attract customers. That could be in product, care, or sales.
@sggottlieb: Successful communities have layered participation. satellite members give/get little but may transition to core members.

Clearly there are still many social business kinks to be worked out and edges that need softening, but for now it's important to develop a notion of community as a different embodiment than a network. If treated the same, social business and E2.0 initiatives will likely deliver less value. 

4. Focus on Small, Strategic Successes 

While Facebook is sitting happy and increasingly fatter with its 750+ million users, applying the same formula -- the larger the number of participants the better -- to a business atmosphere can be a colossal mistake.

Think of it like this: The general goal of a social consumer network is to increase and drive participation and sharing.

If we bring the same mission to a social business context, we're not necessarily improving task efficiency and knowledge distribution.

In other words, rather then going for a large, horizontal deployment strategy, determine which teams could use a little social oomph and start with them. Collaboration tools serve little purpose if they aren't being used to address operational challenges.

"Situating social media in high intensity areas of worker engagement and putting it in the flow of work is much more likely to result in substantial return on investment than large, horizontal deployments." wrote Hinchcliffe. "Myopia on wide-scale adoption often masks the real utility that social media can bring in achieving better results to shared, team-based activity." 

In Conclusion 

This list is not all-inclusive, but keeping it short and sweet is essential to focusing on what’s most important. Keep the above four practices in mind, and your socbiz initiatives will be headed in the right direction.

And as Beverly Macy, CEO of Gravity Summit says, "My advice is fail fast, fail forward, but do something. The rewards are waiting for those who blaze the trail."