Social Business 101: Framing Your Strategy

8 minute read
Rob Howard avatar

In my previous article, I shared the first five tips and recommendations for getting started with social business:

  1. Social is the new normal
  2. Target the social ecosystem
  3. Social isn’t a destination
  4. Facebook, Twitter and other social media
  5. Strategy, not technology

As promised from the last article, I have compiled five additional recommendations to help those looking to integrate social into their existing business.

#6: Invest in People

When I founded Telligent in 2004, there was no concept of “social business”: instead, organizations were adopting what was at the time called Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, forums and eventually wikis) as a way to demonstrate innovation to their customers.

I saw this firsthand when I was at Microsoft during the launch of the company’s first blogs on blogs.msdn.com.Back then, that was a revolutionary new way to communicate with people.Essentially, it cut out the marketing and PR filters and enabled people to have real, authentic conversations.

As the industry has evolved, we’ve seen a shift from technology as the driving force behind social business to business use cases, and now corporate strategy.

As social business becomes a change agent in your organization, invest in your people.While it is true that sometimes you can build it and they will come, predominantly this is no longer the case.Your organization is competing with hundreds of other channels for the attention of your customers and employees.In order for you to evolve your business to be a social business, you need to invest in having the right people in place: this means you need to staff and enable your team to meet your core business goals.

This investment in people can come in many forms.For example, community managers will help manage customer experiences and run education programs within the business to help everyone understand how to engage with customers.The people you invest in should have goals and objectives that align with the use case for the social business investment.Most importantly, you have to identify a champion -- likely someone in an executive position -- that can promote and lead the business through this cultural shift.

Key takeaways:

  • Social business is now a change driver for your organization -- manage it as such.
  • Invest in the people that represent your community -- training time and resources will help them help you.
  • Social business success isn’t simply about picking technology -- people have a larger role to play.

#7: Evolution, not Revolution

In December 2010, Bill George, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, stated that social networking was the most significant business development in 2010 because it was, “enabling business leaders to regain the trust and credibility they have lost over the last 10 years.”

While the concepts of enterprise 2.0 technologies have been around for several years, many in the industry were (and still are) positioning social business as a revolution, ripping out traditional collaboration tools such as email, document management systems and more.This has been met with considerable resistance. While there are some companies willing to push this boundary, many are more interested in understanding how to integrate social into their existing business.

Rather than taking away the collaboration tools that many people have become accustomed to, businesses that truly understand this transformation focus on the integration of social into existing business systems, not creating more silos of information in the organization with new technologies.

This philosophy is not one of a social revolution, but of a social evolution.This refers to how businesses are evolving to gradually become more social and take advantage of the behaviors that are so prevalent in our day-to-day lives with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more.

Key takeaways:

  • Social is a natural evolution of the business; organizations need to regain trust and credibility with customers.
  • Integrate with existing collaboration tools, don’t use social as a replacement.
  • Let people use the tools that best fit their needs and share information.
  • The value of social business becomes self-evident and more powerful the deeper it is integrated into existing behaviors.

#8: Focus, Focus, Focus

Social software is hot.There is hardly a market or an industry that is not using or looking at how they can use social software.Similarly, it is hard to find a software product today that doesn’t have some type of social capability.Social software is also a lot of fun.There is an instantaneous feedback cycle: push out ideas and content, see how people react, revise and edit and publish again.

It is incredibly easy to get distracted by all of the social capabilities -- the bells and whistles, so to speak -- that are available.

I believe there are three key themes that every leader should focus on when evaluating how they are going to apply social to their business:

  1. Is social integrated or is it another silo?Social being offered as a silo isn’t meant to be a negative connotation.Rather, it depends on where the business is as it relates to its view on social software: tactical or strategic.
  2. What is the use case? What specifically is social software going to be used for and by whom?Is it internal knowledge management? Employee onboarding? Sales enablement?These are just a few of the many examples of social business use cases (for more, be sure and check out Ray Wang’s 43 use cases for social business).
  3. How is the value measured?This comes back to the use cases selection, because the value and the measurements needed will vary by use case.Unfortunately, there is no single "perfect" metric that can be used to measure the success of your social business solution.

Key takeaways:

Learning Opportunities

  • Don’t get distracted by the bells and whistles; integrate social into your business.
  • Select and identify a use case that social is going to help support; identify the stakeholders and customers of that solution.
  • Measure the value with KPIs that map back to the use case that was selected.The KPIs for each use case vary.

#9:Lead by Example

If you believe, like I do, that social is a transformative agent for evolving your business, then your executives must lead by example.While your social effort will not be successful without grassroots support in your organization, the active participation of senior leadership is critical. You need to be the best customer of the software, most outspoken advocate and help others be successful.

We’ve seen this story repeatedly: the advocate for the solution becomes the chief evangelist for helping educate others on the best ways to use the solution.

Key takeaways:

  • You are the best person to evangelize social software in your organization.
  • Help others understand and use social software by running brown bag lunches and classes to disperse the education.
  • Leverage existing pockets of influence to drive internal adoption of social business.

#10: Technology has a (Big) Role

A key point I’ve made repeatedly in both part one and part two of this article is that technology is the easiest part of the social business equation.However, technology still has a very important role to play in enabling a business to become more social.

Whether integration with Facebook or Twitter, integration with existing community software, integration inside the firewall for employees or outside the firewall for customers and partners, the technology enables the integration to either be difficult or easy.

Technology is also going to map directly to your philosophy for how your business should use social.Is social an integrated set of experiences (this article’s recommendation) or a separate silo that provides the social experiences?

The good news is that no matter your current view of social technology (tactical or strategic), there are a number of great solutions that can meet those needs.As social becomes a more strategic part of the business, I believe that the concept of a social platform will begin to be spotlighted as a fundamental aspect of the equation.

Key takeaways:

  • Technology is the easiest part of the social business equation.
  • The right social technology for your business is determined by your own view of social: is it just technology, is it tactical, or is it strategic?
  • Social is about an integrated set of experiences, not a destination.

I hope you enjoyed these tips and can put them to use.Remember, 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. You are starting with the basics and working your way up. These five recommendations in combination with the previous five should be viewed as the foundation to help jumpstart your social education.

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About the author

Rob Howard

Rob Howard is the founder and chief technology officer of Zimbra, Inc. (formerly Telligent), and is the visionary behind the company’s product development and oversees the technology roadmap. In July 2013, Telligent acquired Zimbra from VMware.