As new forms of social media proliferate and enterprises scramble to keep pace with their customers, social business is a force that cannot be ignored.

This year I expect we’ll see many more stories about how organizations are using social software to evolve how they run their businesses, communicate with customers and uncover incredible value.

As an industry recognized leader and innovator, we’ve seen some great success stories:

  • Projected savings of over US$ 30 million for a large telecommunications company as it changes how it supports its customers.
  • Identification of over US$ 100 million of new sales pipeline that was previously unidentified.

While impressive, these kinds of stories aren’t new. However, they are precisely the type of stories that get the c-suite even more excited about social business in 2012.

So if you are new to social and want to apply it to your business, where do you start? As a helpful aid, I’ve compiled a list of ten recommendations for what the c-suite should focus on in 2012.

#1: Social is the New Normal

Your customers and employees use social software on a daily basis. From making simple decisions about which e-book or new app to purchase to more complex choices about which school your child should attend, it is evident that social is engrained in our decision making process.

From our mobile devices to the workplace, information is so easily accessible today that we no longer simply seek content, instead we seek validation of a nearly limitless set of choices.

As an example, here is something I did recently when looking for a new triathlon watch. There are numerous choices on the market from Timex, Garmin, Polar and countless others. To help me make my decision, I went through the following process:

  • First, I researched the different watches on their respective websites to get a sense of their features and capabilities. How did I get to these websites? By using a search engine. I never started at the "root" or brand website.
  • Second, after researching the watches, I searched on various sites such as Amazon.com, and began reading reviews -- listening to what other people had to say.
  • In the final step in my research process, I used online communities offered by a few of the brands to read about real customer experiences. Unfortunately, not all of the brands offered communities, so I also used communities not affiliated with the watches.

Interestingly enough, what motivated me to eventually choose a Garmin was not the watch itself, but the feedback from a triathlete regarding Garmin’s web tools for tracking all of the watch data and their active community.

Key takeaways:

  • People don’t start at your website. The search engine is the new home page.
  • Your brand is being discussed everywhere. It is best if you provide a place for these discussions to take place, because if you don’t provide a venue for discussions, it will happen elsewhere.
  • Recommendations, likes, blogs, forums, reviews and other forms of "socialized" feedback are critical in the decision making process -- more so than traditional product copy.
  • You lose the opportunity to engage your customer or gain valuable product feedback if you don’t offer a community for them to participate in.

#2: Target the Social Ecosystem

In the recent Altimeter report, “A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation,” it identified that a typical company manages an average of 178 social media accounts. The problem is that different groups within the organization usually manage each of these channels. One department may track Facebook, another focuses on Twitter, while yet another manages and follows the brand’s own online community.

From a consumer’s point of view, this makes for a very chaotic, disjointed experience that doesn’t mesh well with how brands want their products to be perceived. What brand owners want is an integrated brand experience that flows from Facebook all the way back to their online community.

Organizations that have a comprehensive perspective of social view all of these channels as an ecosystem where they can participate in the various ways that people experience their brand. You can read more about the social ecosystem in the article on CMSWire.

Key takeaways:

  • Organizations are managing many different social channels. Unless these are integrated, they can cause a disjointed experience.
  • There is no silver bullet solution. Don’t invest in a single channel; instead look to manage the social ecosystem.

#3: Social isn’t a Destination

True for both employee social networks and customer communities, social is not a destination, but a set of experiences dictated by the type of interaction the consumer wants.

This is also a caution when evaluating technologies: social software is not portal 2.0. Social is integrated into the existing experiences that the business already has. For example:

  • Integration with traditional document management collaboration tools such as Microsoft SharePoint
  • Integration with content management platforms such as Sitecore or Tridion
  • Integration with social media, such as Facebook and Twitter

Successful strategies rely on applying technology to maximize the reach for each of the social (and traditional) channels that the business has invested in, not to create yet another silo of communication. This reach is achieved through integration.

This view is especially true within organizations. For people, social is an ingredient that is blended into all aspects of their enterprise software investment.

Key takeaways:

  • Social is not portal 2.0, but rather an integrated experience.
  • Technology is used to maximize the reach of each social channel.
  • Social is an ingredient that is blended into all aspects of the enterprise software investment, not just another website.

#4: Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Media

In 2011, I had a conversation with a CPG customer who was thinking about switching all of their social investments to Facebook. Ultimately we convinced them that Facebook is a very important channel, but it is just one way they reach customers in the social ecosystem -- however, it shouldn’t be the only way.

Social media is extremely important, but organizations need to remember that they can’t force where consumers are spending their time. In fact, many brands have lost the power to control the media like they once did -- the power has switched instead to the consumer. Brands have to be cognizant of this and engage everywhere their consumers are, not just on specific destination sites.

Secondly, there is a big difference between Social Media and Social Communities. People spend time on Facebook to connect with friends, family and individuals they interact with in their life. People spend time on social communities to resolve problems or make decisions.

Within Facebook I can see how my network interacts with or views a particular brand, but this isn’t the exclusive tool for making decisions about how I will consume that brands products or services.

Finally, with regards to all social media, ownership of the content is important. Many organizations have learned this lesson the hard way, divesting themselves of all of their on-domain content in lieu of moving their brand to Facebook. Then they found out that the data and information they used to measure their brands "reach" was no longer available to them.

Key takeaways:

  • Social media is important, but shouldn’t be your only investment.
  • Social networks like Facebook are used to manage relationships between people; social communities are used for making buying decisions.
  • Ownership of content is important and businesses should understand what they are giving up when moving content into public-facing social networks that are off of their domain.

#5: Strategy, not Technology

What sets leaders apart in their use of social technology both in their organizations and externally? Strategy.

Organizations that are heralded as the models of how to use social software to change a dynamic in their business define a clear strategy early on, measure constantly and make course corrections along the way.

Last year I spoke with a VP of Social from a world-renowned ad agency. He shared with me one of the objectives of his customers -- get more likes on Facebook. They had no plan to convert “likes” to leads in the sales process or how to integrate with CRM to classify and identify these individuals, just get more likes.

Technology is the easiest part of the social software equation, spending the time to understand what the goals and objectives are and mapping those to a business strategy takes forethought. However, leaders that apply strategy to their social endeavor also are the ones that tend to get the results others desire to achieve.

Key takeaways:

  • Leaders define a clear strategy for how they will apply social to their business.
  • Technology is the easiest part of the social software equation.

Where are Recommendations 6-10?

Be on the lookout on CMSWire for my forthcoming part two article that will reveal my remaining five recommendations.

Social is a step-by-step journey: you have to learn the fundamentals before you can plan, and you have to plan before you can build, and you have to build in order to succeed. Remember, you are starting with the basics and working your way up. These first five recommendations should be viewed as the foundation to help jumpstart your social education.

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