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August 5, 2014

The Right Social Business Strategy Will Usher in a New Generation of Collaboration

By Karen J. Bannan

The value of social business efforts is in the eye of the beholder, according to Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group. And yet there are strategies and moves that can benefit organizations across the board.

We recently spoke to Solis, the author of the recent report The 2014 State of Digital Transformation: How Customers Are Investing in the Digital Customer Experience and he detailed what companies should be thinking about and how social business can affect an overall digital transformation. The conversation is below.

KB: What’s the biggest mistake that people make when it comes to social business?

BS: What we have seen is that a lot of companies are guilty of putting technology first and furthermore, depending on who needs it, isolating and siloing the technology simply because they are focused more on function than the greater vision of engagement.

We’re seeing right now this great inflection point where many businesses jumped and embraced social media without really thinking through what it meant to become a social business. There’s a difference. Many strategists and experts recognize the importance of social – both social business and social media — as a new channel but didn’t think of the greater dynamics of collaboration internally and externally.

Collaboration implies that people are working together to accomplish, goals, objectives and aspirations, but a lot of businesses stopped their work at engagement. Did we participate and create networks that brought people together and are we keeping them going? That got companies into the rabbit hole where people were always trying to engender responses or [if it was internal for social business] things never got adopted or failed because there wasn’t a greater vision or leadership at the executive level.

You need someone asking the big questions: What are we going to do about collaboration? Why is it important to us? Why is it important for you, my employee, to be part of a larger network? And they didn’t because they were just rolling out social technology but failed to recognize the need for leadership and management to reinforce that behavior and cultural change to help inspire people to invest in what the new norms.

KB: So how do you improve social business today? What works?

BS: We’ve documented six stages of social business evolution and its important for every strategist to document where they are and where they need to go. Every case that I have worked on starts with a vision of what a social business looks like and the value it carries to the market and also internally. The value that all sides would recognize –customers, employees, supply chain, sales networks. Those successful businesses recognized that social media was merely an extension of a larger business strategy. They didn’t get caught up in the tools and made sure that the governance, philosophy, methodology and processes as much as technology was there from the start. They also thought about the question of how do we train and reward new behaviors, and built out an infrastructure that acknowledged that social business is part of a transformation that is a bigger, enterprise-wide form of change. And it also focused on the digital customer experience, investing in support and service. They tackled the questions: “How do we change the way we work overall and improve the digital customer experience in ways that are more natural?”

What we’re talking about, really, is changing the infrastructure of a business to be more social overall. That’s a philosophical change, and when you examine the issue you end up asking why weren’t we more social to begin with. Just look at CRM as an example. Not everyone or every department at a company has the same access to customers. One insurance company actually told us their best customers got their worst customer experience. They were customers of so many different products and there were silos set up so when they called in whomever they were speaking with might not know about those connections. We’ve all done it. We’ve created distance between us and our customers. The technology that was supposed to connect us didn’t. That’s why social business has the promise of being so special. It takes us back to our roots when we connected with the customer and with each other. And that’s where digital transformation is so helpful and where it needs to kick in.

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