Most organizations are only at the “intermediate” stage of becoming social businesses. That's a key finding in a new report from the Altimeter Group, which looks at the current state of the social business transformation. The report is based on interviews with social media strategists and executives at 65 firms with more than 500 employees.

The Difference

The report, “The State of Social Business 2013: The Maturing of Social Media into Social Business,” points out  “there is no one way to become a social business.” Rather, an evolution occurs that aligns social media strategies with an organization’s business goals. In fact, companies are using a variety of organizational structures, with hub-and-spoke being the most common (41 percent of respondents). In this structure, a cross-functional team occupies a central position and helps other units.

There’s a significant difference, the report notes, between a company that executes social media strategies and one that is truly a “social business.” To reach the latter state, it explains, an organization must have undertaken the “deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.” In other words, social media thinking, techniques and technologies are part of the corporate DNA.

The report identifies six stages toward that state:

• Planning: Development of a foundation of strategy, resource development, organizational alignment and execution before there is a significant presence in social media

• Presence: Movement from planning to action, with a social media presence

• Engagement: A commitment to making social media critical to “relationship-building along the entire customer lifecycle"

• Formalized: Organizing for scale across departments and sub-brands

• Strategic: Social initiatives have business impact and are integrated throughout the company

• Converged: Social media strategies are part of the fabric of the organization

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On the Move

According to the report, only 17 percent of respondents are in last two stages and only slightly more than a quarter have departments that work in unified fashions instead of silos.

But companies are clearly on the move. Fifty-two percent of surveyed executives are fully engaged with their organization’s social efforts, while 78 percent of companies have set up a dedicated social team. Marketing, corporate communications or public relations departments are the home base for social media teams in 66 percent of the surveyed businesses, from which social media will expand across the enterprise as organizations move into the strategic and converged phases.

This expansion is critical to becoming a social business, as social media/strategies move into such areas as customer support, human resources, product development/R&D, IT, legal and market research. This year, social media will begin to scale in many companies, the report states. Social data will become more useful, internal education and training that includes social will become more common and content marketing — often a lure for social interaction — becomes more of a priority.

Social Media Management Systems

Social budgets have remained constant this year relative to last year’s, although companies are increasing their spending on social media management systems such as HootSuite, Spredfast and Sprinklr, as well as on training and education to spread the word about using social techniques.

The report's conclusions about the state of social business, unfortunately, are based on relatively small survey sizes:  only 65 respondents in Q3 2013, and only about 130 in each of the three previous years.

Nevertheless, such a sample can still point to the speed at which the transformation is taking place. As the Altimeter Group recommends, companies can use the report's perspectives to benchmark themselves, define challenges/opportunities and better align social strategies with business objectives.