In my previous article, we discussed the five key drivers for adopting Social Business. With this follow up,  we will what companies have done who have been most successful in creating an optimal culture for Social Business deployments. By understanding the processes, skillsets and organizational structures associated with business value, we will see how companies have prepared themselves for collaborative success.

To recap, the five key drivers for adopting Social Business are:

  • Effective partner/supplier collaboration
  • Need to increase innovation
  • Identifying new market opportunities
  • Increasing employee cohesiveness on a global/enterprise-wide scale
  • Fear of losing proprietary and institutional knowledge

Each of these profiles had different strategies and focus areas for their social deployments.

To discover best practices associated with the culture of Social Business, Aberdeen first surveyed 270 organizations on their collaborative practices and performance. We defined top performers as those who had increased revenue and gained a positive Return on Investment (ROI) on their Social Business solution to see how successful companies were using social technologies.

We then identified the top 20% of all respondents, normalized for company size, and compared them to all other companies. By doing so, we compared 54 companies that averaged 28% revenue growth and a 108% ROI (meaning that they had fully paid back their costs) to 216 other companies that averaged 4% revenue and a 36% ROI (meaning that they had not received enough direct value to pay back their investment). How did these companies differ in their processes and their organizational capabilities?

Three Processes & Policies Enforced by Best-in-Class

#1. Department-specific policies for collaboration and informal processes associated with Social Business

The management of Social Business cannot be either too strict or too loose; it requires a steady hand.

On the one hand, Best-in-Class companies were 70% more likely than all others to set department-specific collaboration policies because every job role gains different benefits from Social Business which must be accounted for. In a product development or brand development team, creativity and ideation may require massive group interactions that can be quickly escalated to voice and video. In contrast, an accounting group seeking to close the books at the end of the quarter may only need targeted interactions associated with revenue and expenses, but in a very timely manner.

In each case, the department should set appropriate guidelines to incentivize appropriate behavior rather than simply provide the same undifferentiated toolset and rules to all employees. On the other hand, there must be room for new discoveries as well.

Although some Social Business tools are a couple of decades old, such as online community boards and group chat (originally known as USENET and Internet Relay Chat), many of these tools are relatively new both to the enterprise and to end users. They must be given some room to develop new use cases that may not be defined. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Best-in-Class companies had collaboration processes that were regularly used, but had not been formally documented yet because they were still new or experimental. By finding the balance between hard-line discipline and unfocused wandering, companies are more likely to gain value from Social Business

#2.  Integrate online Social Business functions with in-person and live collaboration & optimize internal collaboration applications with a formalized process 

Although Social Business can provide great value, it is typically an asynchronous tool where employees interact with each other at random, interspersed moments. This provides value, especially with interstitial moments when employees may provide quick insight. However, there is still the need for employees to work together at the same time on the same project while keeping the wisdom and insight gained online. To optimize these benefits, Best-in-Class companies were 175% more likely than all other companies to have a process to properly move the conversation between live and Social channels.

As for technology, it is tempting to say that culture always comes first in Social Business. However, culture is not built in a vacuum. When culture is supported by great technology, it can become much better. As an extreme example, think of the mobile world before and after the iPhone. Pre-iPhone, the enterprise mobile ecosystem was ruled by the Blackberry which did its secure messaging job quite well. But once the elegant and application-focused iPhone was created, mobility ecosystems took a giant leap forward.

Likewise, companies serious about Social Business did not just use off-the-shelf tools without a second thought. Best-in-Class companies were 82% more likely to consider how to improve the inputs and user interfaces associated with their solution, analyze the information received in more rational and business-oriented ways, and integrate appropriate tools with key business processes.

#3. Security and Governance, Risk Management and Compliance (GRC) were enforced in Best-in-Class organizations

Social Business is often mistaken for its consumer social networking counterparts, but social technologies do not relieve either the individual or the organization from their responsibilities to corporate shareholders, industry regulations and appropriate laws. To ensure that these tools were used both productively and compliantly, 2/3rds of Best-in-Class companies were able to enforce corporate security on all collaborative tools compared to only 39% of all other organizations. GRC issues were less enforced, since not all organizations surveyed were in highly regulated environments.Even so, Best-in-Class companies were 95% more likely than everyone else to make sure that all compliance issues had been met for the tools used to support Social Business.

Three Key Organizational Capabilities of Best-in-Class

These initial processes and policies will provide companies with the correct approach for Social Business, but without the right personnel, support and organizational commitment, these policies will be less effective in guiding Social Business to achieve key goals. From an organizational perspective, there are three key themes associated with Best-in-Class Social Business.

Learning Opportunities

#1. It’s about the people!

Obviously, you have to get the right employees to accept Social Business as an important approach. Traditionally, the deployment of any key enterprise application has required an executive champion and even in the world of Social Business where everyone is supposed to get a say, it still helps to have someone at the top of the food chain who actively supports the effort.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of Best-in-Class companies had this champion in place compared to only 38% of all others. However, executive attention is not sufficient to make Social Business work. Successful deployments also require buy-in from tenured employees who have been invested in the “old” way of doing business.

To get these employees involved, there has to be a value proposition that isn’t simply wrapped around making the business more “agile,” “innovative” or “2.0.” Social Business needs to provide information that allows sales teams to identify and close deals faster or pull in information that supports new product launches or find key skill sets to accelerate new projects. Show your employees how Social Business will help them and they will provide the value that justifies investing in Social Business.

#2. Loosen organizational boundaries and silos

Successful Social Business deployments are more likely to allow employees to reach other departments, talk to superiors and work with external resources that are outside their own functional area. A majority of Best-in-Class Social organizations gave their employees the freedom to work outside of the traditional hierarchy and provide opportunities both for cross-departmental and position-agnostic collaboration.

Rather than worry about whether an issue was being brought up “to the right person,” top organizations focused on getting all of the relevant issues and topics out for discussion and then elicited feedback from a broad range of sources. In comparison, only a third of all other companies had a formal effort to reach across organizational silos and only 30% allowed employees to effectively “manage upwards” and speak to their superiors.

#3. Support your Social employees to keep them productive

Although Social Business is often considered to be a self-service suite with little to no direct support needed, 61% of Best-in-Class companies leave nothing to chance and assign IT staff to support these technologies. In addition, these top performers were 55% more likely than all other companies to provide employees with tools that were requested, whether it be group chat, social monitoring tools, or wikis depending on the company’s need.

Best-in-Class companies were also over twice as likely to provide actual training for their Social Business solutions compared to their peers, but not to show employees how to use the tools. Instead, these top organizations focused their training on aligning technology to business results. By designating business process alignment experts to optimize Social Business, Best-in-Class companies maximized their opportunities to achieve operational gains.

From these processes and organizational capabilities, Social Business can be seen as a corporate investment that requires an appropriate framework and organizational buy-in. However, Social Business is also unlike most traditional investments in that it asks the enterprise to give up formal control to achieve long-term gains. This is not an easy step to take, but Best-in-Class companies have provided their employees with appropriate flexibility without threatening the firm as a whole. By following these steps, companies can set up their organizational culture to collaborate more productively and efficiently than their peers.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: