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Moving Beyond Social Media

Social media still matters. But to make these initiatives work for your business and its bottom-line, you need to move beyond social media alone and focus on social business.

In February 2006, Forrester Research published a report titled “Social Computing,” bringing the basic principles of sharing and collaboration into a commercial spotlight. In the report, Forrester recommended that companies “abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.” Social computing was more commonly referred to as social media and has always been about the people.

As social media evolved, we saw best practices emerge. Companies listening to unstructured consumer conversations to gain real-time insights. Employees humanizing brands by joining in discussions across channels. Activation of brand fans to help spread their passion for their favorite products and services, with consumer-generated advocacy complementing paid media placements. Anyone attending a marketing conference around this time was highly likely to hear stories about strange objects in blenders, photoshopped time lapse cosmetics videos, and a guy dancing on command in a chicken suit. By November 2008, I compiled a list of over 300 social media marketing examples; at the time, it was the largest list around.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, over 65% of online adults use social networking sites. Having the majority of the country’s population online and using some form of social media presents massive opportunity for brands — and even bigger challenges for companies that aren’t prepared to engage. Over time, as more people began participating in social media, new issues emerged. Companies could engage directly, but should every employee be involved? Employees humanized brands by speaking their minds, but what if they were disgruntled? How can activity be measured in order to determine what matters?

Moving Toward Social Business

To address these issues, companies must move beyond social media and focus holistically on social business. Individual efforts need to be orchestrated as part of a scalable corporately-supported effort. The process of listening and response requires a workflow to accommodate multiple levels of response, with policy to guide content and tools to facilitate publishing, tracking, and analytics. Most importantly, companies need to have the desire to connect with their constituents and harness trends to drive profitable returns.

For the most part, the structural and cultural changes required to move organizations beyond social media to social business have been ignored by many companies. Why? Change is difficult. Branding is fun; infrastructure isn’t. There aren’t hundreds of great end-to-end social business case study examples. But that doesn’t mean companies should stand by idly and wait to see if social business is for real or not. Just as we saw with early social media examples, competitive advantage goes to those companies able to act decisively and incorporate what matters into their ongoing operations, while discarding what doesn’t.

Getting Started with Social Business

Getting started with social business starts in a familiar place — after all, companies are made out of people. Brands need to start with culture, defining their shared values and beliefs, creating a strong core that supports authentic exchanges that are on point with brand goals. With the proper mindset in place, the organization should be designed to connect core constituents with consumers and prospects. The connections within the ecosystem will have strong and weak ties; a successful social business will have a continually expanding periphery. With standard protocols and shared services, brands can scale rapidly and successfully, managing stakeholder decision rights at various levels and driving economies of scale. Finally, engagement requires the use of the right tools for the right jobs. From consumer-level tools to emerging systems for sCRM, internal ideation, and big data analytics, businesses must upgrade and unlock the power of their people.

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