It's September, time for the kids to head back to school and time for CMSWire to introduce a new editorial focus. Our focus this month is an easy one: how to move from simply using social media tools to being a true social business.

It's Not that Easy

Okay, you can pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing. If it were easy for organizations to make the shift, we'd could end our focus right now and give you the 12-step approach.

It's just not that simple.

Part of the reason it is not simple is that organization does not have complete control over how it happens. As Dion Hinchcliffe tells us: media is not as deterministic and controllable as the channels that have come before it. It’s one of the reasons I say that adoption of social media can only be co-created. It is as much up to the those engaging to create value, sustain engagement, and build community as it is to those that sponsor them. You can’t own a community like you can buy software or a marketing campaign, social business is a two-way street like nothing quite like it. This makes adoption of social business a very different creature from the way businesses used to engage before.

I like the old adage: 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'. A business can offer tools and technologies that support more effective collaboration or that try to engage with customers, but it's up to those individuals to take the steps required to interact. So it's important to really think about what you are trying to achieve by using social media and plan your strategies/implement your tools carefully.

Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of taking months or years to decide on the right approach and the right tools, because we are learning new things every day and the tools are changing rapidly. This means we have to be quick to try things, learning as we go. We also need to be ready to accept that something isn't working and ready to change it. Our business processes and technology implementation processes aren't always prepared to be that flexible, one challenge that needs to be overcome.

You can also look at that metaphor from a different angle. The internet has made people much more aware of their power as a consumer and they have certainly found ways to get the information needed to make buying decisions without having to talk to the product/service vendor. However, they also expect more engagement from these vendors.

It's about more than a great website, or a twitter/Facebook presence though. And organizations need to recognize that social isn't another channel. That it needs to be a fundamental element of how they do business, whether they are engaging on digital channels or offline channels. To be successful, it all needs to work together.

The Road to Social Business isn't Paved

How you incorporate social media tools and concepts into your business is going to vary not only based on the type of business you have and the organizational structure you employ and embrace, but also on whether you are dealing with your internal customers (employees) or your external customers.

Some say that you have to embrace social on the inside first, before you can be successful on the outside. While I think there is overlap and that your employees need to understand the value that social media brings when working with customers, I don't necessarily think you need to master it internally first. What you do need are champions, many of whom need to be management, but many who are also on the ground working with your customer-focused teams.

Embracing social internally is really about collaborating effectively, sharing knowledge and ideas, all with the goal of growing the organization, and hopefully growing the individual as well. It's a different, yet similar set of tools and strategies. Rachel Happe offers a look at what the social organization looks:

Most organizations have a long way to go to be places that employees are clamoring to work for but in the new communications environment that clamoring employee enthusiasm will drive revenues and market share if it exists. That employee enthusiasm also drives alignment with corporate values and messaging, increases opportunities because all employees are advocates, an decreases risks because employees feel more individual responsible for protecting the interests of the organization.

Focus on What You Need to Do

The first step to becoming a social business is to just do something social. Now having that Facebook page, Twitter account or community doesn't make you a social business. But you are doing something.

Make sure you clearly understand your business objectives and goals, then start thinking about what types of "social" initiatives you can work on that align to them. Make a plan, keep it flexible and start doing something, keeping in mind that you not only need to be listening to what your customers are saying, but you need to analyze and measure and respond accordingly.

Final Thoughts

I think the only wrong way to become a social business is to not become one at all. Because it means that you aren't thinking about what's important -- your employees and your customers. How you choose to interact with and engage both of your customer bases is your process to move towards becoming a social business. And there are many different opinions and strategies on how you do it. So let the discussion begin.