What differentiates the companies that capture the full value of social technologies from those that do not?

These organizations are usually successful because their leaders don’t see social technology as just another tool or a new shiny object, but as a catalyst for organizational transformation and an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

To achieve this transformation, the implementation of social business initiatives must be tightly coupled with a robust change management program. This approach helps shift mindsets and reduce resistance as these new technologies are incorporated into day-to-day workflows, helping transform organizational structures, systems and processes.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value could be unlocked in just four sectors by products and services organizations that enable social interactions in the right way. Yet organizations fail to realize this level of business value because of their disproportionate focus on the technologies themselves. This focus outweighs attention to the specific organizational issues that prevent productivity, innovation and collaboration in core business processes. Usually social business initiatives are left to IT or a specific function like marketing when they should be addressed through a cross-organizational effort.

So how can organizations effectively architect social business initiatives? We have observed seven principles that guide the success of social business initiatives.

1. Leadership Support: Sponsorship is Nice, But Engagement is Better

Having strong leadership engagement with social business initiatives -- especially at the executive level -- is often the dividing line between success and mediocrity. Supportive leaders who communicate a clear vision for social business and take a visible, active role in making it real set the tone for the initiative and inspire others to get on board. Assemble a steering committee that includes executive-level stakeholders (or at least a set of individuals appointed by executives) to assist with championing and operationalizing social business programs.

2. Strategy: Add Value Instead of Distracting Extras

Social technologies add the most value when they become central to the organization and complement (or, ideally, take the place of) core business processes. They shouldn’t be distracting “extras” or just another tool that prevents people from getting their jobs done.

Social business initiatives that do not have a defined strategy -- those that originate organically and develop in an unstructured way -- usually fail to gain widespread adoption and make a meaningful impact on the overall business. Make sure use cases and user experience will provide high value to audiences. We always suggest “putting community in the path of users” to drive adoption, which supports the goal of integrating the community with other marketing and communications programs.

3. Phased Rollout: Think Big, But Start Small to Show Impact

The most successful social business initiatives are often executed as a series of incremental releases or “waves” of enhancements and features. The mantra “Think big, start small, show impact” is important to keep in mind, as it prevents over investment in community development in the early stages of the program -- before it has been proven out. This process also prevents overwhelming your user base with “too much too soon.”