What's the bad news? According to a study by Prescient Digital Media and reported on by CMSWire, over 1/3 of executives and end users within companies rate their social business platform as "poor or very poor". What's the good news? Thousands of companies have rushed in to make every conceivable mistake in the book so that you can learn from them. Some of the mistakes are obvious, and some more subtle.

Common Mistakes

1. It's just about the technology. I wish. I wish I could take a pill for anything that ails me and buy a few licenses to fix any business or organizational problem, but you just can't. Anyone who thought they could unleash some technology and collect fan letters from their employees did them a serious disservice.

2. It's not about the technology. Candidly, not all social business solutions are created equally. There are critical things you need in order to assure that your business gets value. You need to connect into where the work is getting done, and you need to be able to surface things in context. You need a platform that works with the systems you have today and is delivered in a way that your business can consume.

If you thought that social simply meant having an activity stream then you are probably in the 1/2 of companies who intend to replace their solution within the next year.

3. Cheap or Free is Good Enough. Yes, there are open source solutions that on the surface appear to be social platforms. Yes, there are distressed vendors who will sell you their platform for almost nothing. And yes, I'm sure your multi-million dollar relationship with IBM or Microsoft means you will get their new version of the Notes or Sharepoint platform for no additional spend.

If you don't understand what you are trying to accomplish with any of these platforms then you most certainly are going to try to get the cheapest thing possible because there is no way to understand value. While you may have saved some money in the near term this is a tremendous waste of an organizations most precious resource which is its people and their time.

4. Our Employees Are Already Using It. That's great. But what are they using it for? Lightweight social networks tend to have a tremendous initial burst of activity and then grow stagnant. I attribute this to the "All Hands" effect.

Whenever your company gets together there is tremendous activity as everyone you bump into has some interesting insight into the business, you get the latest gossip, and you hear how things are happening in the field, in the labs or overseas. By day three you are actively avoiding the chit chat because you've got to get your job done. The water cooler and casual conversations are an important part of any culture, but it doesn't justify an entire platform.

So, enough about the disgruntled 1/3 who got it wrong. What about the 20 percent that are really happy with their results? What do they have in common? Not too surprisingly they probably did a lot of things right. Once you dig in, you begin to see a common pattern.

When Do Companies Get it Right?

1. They focus on business value. Everyone says it but very few do it.

When you bring in a social business platform you should have a clear idea of the business results you want to achieve. Technology can produce value by: removing hard cost; increasing productivity; accelerating outcomes; or improving the quality of an outcome. If you know what you are trying to achieve or what current problems you are trying to address then it is very easy to know if you are successful.

2. They partner with the right vendors. The right vendors should have a deep wealth of experience in understanding how companies achieve business value. They should not only be about the technology, but should be able to assist with the mapping of the way you used to do things to the way you will do things in the future.

Most importantly they should have a legion of happy customers in their wake that are in your industry; customers that are willing to provide references. If you can't find someone to talk to that can speak to how the vendor assisted them in achieving success then I would move on to the next offering and save yourself the replacement cycle.

3. They know how to measure success. When you clearly know what problem you are solving, then you know how to measure the result. Many early adopters of social platforms used all of the wrong metrics. They measured activity and engagement, which made a lot of sense on a consumer platform where they sell advertising but none at all in the enterprise.

If your goal is to reduce the time it takes for you to complete Statements of Work in order to win business then you should see that time reduce and your win rate increase. If your goal is to provide quicker customer service with less employee resource, then you should see your resolution time improve, your customer sat go up, and your overall ratio of cases to customer service reps improve.

It sounds like common sense … because it is. If you thought your objective in bringing in a social platform was the number of conversations, or the number of documents created, or the number of active users, you are going to have a really hard time being successful.

The bottom line is that people go to work to get a job done. They have real problems and challenges. Social business software when used correctly and integrated into the systems employees use every day can grow a business by making it more aligned and productive.  

Editor's Note: To read the article that spurred this response, check out @tobyward's The Poor State of Enterprise Social Business