Top 10 Social Business Questions in 2013

3) What does social business mean for my organisation specifically?

Social business isn’t a bolt-on, or a function, or just another project – rather it’s a set of practices that infiltrate every business area, helping you deliver all your existing projects and reach your existing goals and objectives better, faster and cheaper.

That’s not to say investment isn’t required, as many organisations are struggling to resource their social efforts, particularly when it comes to monitoring and engaging in conversations online; and sharing useful and interesting content. And that’s before we even get onto internal collaboration and the reengineering of processes that block it.

Community management, at first, was thought of as something you could delegate to interns – young people who ‘get it’; but we’ve come to realise these external representatives of your organisation need to be highly skilled, experienced writers, with extreme common sense, good judgement and creative problem-solving abilities. We’re now beginning to see high calibre community managers, strategists, moderators, analysts and researchers form teams within a social ‘Centre of Excellence’ – the go-to place in your organisation for best practice and guidance on social.

To justify expenditure, you can build a business case based on the business value of social outlined in the previous post.

Chances are, to prove value, you’ll have to secure a few ‘quick wins’. This is a bit unfortunate, as building community and transitioning to a more agile, responsive way of doing business is no quick fix – rather it’s a continuous evolution. Saying that, you’ll always get more attention and budget if you can prove value in a few key areas. Perhaps you can establish a content group that meets regularly and has a collaborative space online where you can gather ideas, produce content and share best practices (e.g. optimising content so it’s easy to find, with the right tags, title and description). You can measure reach and engagement around your content and prove what’s working best – i.e. which content type on which channel is driving the greatest engagement / traffic to your site for the least expenditure. Over time you’ll be able to hone your efforts so your content strategy is delivering the lowest possible cost per acquisition.

Or perhaps you could begin with a social media monitoring exercise. Set up a trial on one of the many tools available like Sysomos or SDL|SM2 – make sure it’s configured properly to filter out all the noise; and run some reports to understand the ‘now’, e.g. the volume of conversations in relation to your brand, your category and competitors, conversation topics, sentiment, conversation triggers etc.

Not only does social media monitoring provide insight you can use to shape your social strategies, but it also makes social ‘real’ for the rest of the business, as you can easily demonstrate people are talking; and therefore that you need to be there, participating in those conversations, engaging customers on their terms. The alternative is sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending it isn’t happening.

Setting up social media monitoring dashboards will help your colleagues keep their finger on the pulse – but you’ll need to ensure it isn’t just nods, smiles and filing reports in a drawer somewhere, i.e. the important part is what you’re actually going to DO in response to what you’re hearing. There may be new product development (NPD) ideas, content ideas, complaints, advocacy, competitor information and other nuggets that require action. Putting processes and systems in place to respond rapidly to the outside world is the essence of agility.

Early on, it’s also important to define a clear, inspiring vision for social business in your organisation, to act as a centre of gravity that’ll pull efforts in one unified direction, keeping everyone aligned and motivated. Change is more likely to happen if everyone can see a better future in their mind’s eye; and if the first few, easy steps are spelled out.

You may want to create a video that captures this, a vision statement, a presentation – however you want to express it, make sure you leave out all the jargon and consider the roots and heritage of the business. Your organisation’s social future is an evolution and extension, not a scary new world, nor black art. The latter will never win you budget to make things happen, it’ll only alienate the majority.

Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ is worth a watch if you’re struggling to distill your organisational purpose.

The most advanced organisations have moved beyond continuously proving ROI (although they do have measurement and tracking in place that typically ties social to existing KPIs) – rather they accept that social is business as usual; just the way people communicate these days. We don’t continuously try to prove the ROI of email, or our corporate website. Social in on a similar journey of gradual acceptance.

The even more advanced accept that there will be an ever-increasing stream of new technologies and methodologies all the time; so the trick isn’t trying to predict the future, meticulously planning ahead to get there and jumping on every bandwagon – rather it’s gradually adapting and honing business systems (i.e. ways of getting stuff done, not just tools) so you become more responsive to change over time. That way you don’t need to know what’ll happen in advance.

Organisations are really bad at predicting the future – particularly big shifts and crashes (‘Black Swans’), so we’d save a whole lot of budget if we stopped trying so hard and instead focused on developing the traits that are likely to make us fittest in any given environment, come what may. These traits are things like having a learning culture (which accounts for 46% improved business outcomes across the board), being customer driven (at last we can make the mantra a reality by listening to conversations and asking customers things in real time using social; not to mention bringing them into more of the value chain, from R&D to customer service), having shorter planning cycles, a decentralised structure that isn’t fragile to outside change and a networked business model in which partners, suppliers and workers can innovate and solve problems together.

The future of business lies in a test and learn approach. Just as Darwin said, it isn’t the strongest nor the most intelligent that survive, it’s the most adaptable to change. Just as nature produces many tests, discarding what doesn’t work and replicating what does – our old traditional planning methods will gradually be replaced by real-time test, learn and respond. Agile, iterative (not predictive) strategy. I firmly believe this will stop us haemorrhaging cash on the whopping 90% of strategy that is wasted today.

Social business, to most organisations, means closer relationships, better quality products and services and a more effective, efficient workforce. To hone in on the biggest opportunities and lowest hanging fruit for yours specifically, first uncover the initiatives that are already underway and the business priorities that have already been set. You’ll be able to prove, in pretty much every case, that social business will get you there better, faster and cheaper – not just add ‘yet another initiative’ to the already huge workload.

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