How can your business become a social business? A new report from the Altimeter Group outlines six maturity stages your company will experience on the road to get there.

The report -- "The Evolution of Social Business" -- says the stages for transforming into a social business are Planning, Presence, Engagement, Formalized, Strategic and Converged. The definition of a social business, according to the report, is “the deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.”

Key Elements of Social Business

The report said the key issue is that many social strategies are not linked to business goals, but are instead often driven by a “social for social’s sake” orientation. Altimeter also noted that, even when goals are aligned, social initiatives frequently must deal with a lack of defined strategy, governance or funding.

In each of the report’s stages, successful social businesses master several key elements, including a clear definition of business goals, development of a long-term vision for becoming a social business, key executive support and creation of a roadmap for initiatives.

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The first stage -- Planning -- involves listening in order to learn how customers use social channels, and prioritizing strategic goals that can have the most impact. Altimeter points to the example of Dell in 2006, which observed for nine months what people were writing on blogs and discussion forums about Dell before initiating its first social media presence.

In the Planning stage, pilot projects can point to the social media solutions delivering the most effective projects for a business’ problems. Measuring progress is also essential in this stage and the others, beginning with competitive and internal readiness audits and metrics that go beyond simply tracking mentions or sentiment. Instead, measure how those mentions impact your business.

Presence, Engagement

The second stage, Presence, is when the company stakes its claim, such as launching a YouTube channel. Here, the company is testing the waters for what works, and Altimeter said it has found that successful organizations employ social content for such purposes as amplifying their current marketing efforts or aligning concrete metrics with business objectives.

Engagement is the third stage, when a company uses dialog to deepen relationships -- building communities, speeding the path to customer purchases or providing customer support directly through social media. In the fourth stage, Formalized, the company organizes its effort to scale, especially so that a consistent, branded customer experience is presented through all channels. An executive sponsor, an organizational hub and organization-wide governance can all help a company develop a coordinated approach.

Strategic, Converged

In the Strategic, fifth stage, the organization witnesses the business impacts of the social efforts. The initiative becomes integrated company-wide, a cross-functional steering committee would best be formed, and, ideally, big data from social interactions is mined for business intelligence and employed to inform the evolution.

The sixth phase, Converged, marks the point at which the business becomes “a more social entity” with a clear vision and set of integrated practices for how social media “improves customer and employee relationships and experiences.” By this point, there is a single set of business strategies for the company into which social media has been interwoven, and there is a “holistic” social culture where social technologies fade into the background.

“Embracing social media does not create a social business,” the report says, but becoming part of a company's DNA does. Once the sixth phase has been achieved, social is no longer special: “It’s simply the way you get work done, functioning much like the telephone.”

The report was based on interviews with 26 executives and social strategists at 15 companies, and a qualitative study of 698 executives and social strategists.