Recently I’ve been taking a close look at what is coming next in social business. While social media has grown to become standard in just about every company’s business portfolio, it’s just as clear that things are not standing still. The business blogs and customer forums of a half decade ago are still here (and still important), but the larger strategic discussion has moved well beyond them to more transformative thinking, with approaches to match.
This week I’ve spent a lot of time looking at one of the next frontiers of social business, the intersection of application software and social networks. As I examined on ebizQ, the next app you use is increasingly likely to be inside a consumer social network such as Facebook or LinkedIn (no solid word yet on how Google+ apps will work.) This trend is also moving into the enterprise as social apps have started becoming available in Enterprise 2.0 platforms, as I recently looked at in detail with Jive Software’s Apps Market for their popular social business platform.
Social applications are increasingly proving to be an effective way to direct community-based activity into useful directions and social networks are a natural home for them. By providing application experiences within the users current social context, applications can lightly structure or orchestrate collaborative behavior at useful outcomes. Driving outcomes like this have proven effective across virtually all the departments and functions of the modern organization.
However, as ripe with potential to reap meaningful ROI from social networking, social apps are just one intriguing examples of the overall evolution of social business. The big picture has been growing clearer in the recent years, even as the landscape keeps moving, as companies have learned to update their digital strategies with social business and begin to genuinely apply what we now understand as the truly transformative power of social media to how they run their businesses.
A Four Step View of Social Business Maturity
The social business ladder, when dealing with the connection of an organization to the broader external marketplace, can be said to have four major steps. Organizations typically start by trying to drive the world to their online presence, a clear extension of their Web sites and typically consists of the addition of blogs, customer discussion forums, and other basic social features. This is effective and useful, to a point, but it’s limited to basic information discovery, high-level awareness, brand messaging, and communication. It is also typically the purview of just one part of an organization, usually corporate communications and/or marketing.
However, companies typically realize there is much more to the social business story than basic social media. They then reach for the second rung of the ladder: Going to the world. This was made easier by large global social networks like Facebook and Twitter — as well as regional social networks in countries where these two market leaders have stiff competition. Driving the market to a social media presence on a corporate Web site is hard work, expensive, and limited in effectiveness compared to just going directly to where the world already is. The second rung is about building reach, establishing network effects, and connecting within the social channels that almost everyone already uses. This is a much more scalable and effective approach and is exemplified by Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and decentralized badges and Like buttons that connect an organization’s content and experiences that are elsewhere on the Web back into the world’s main social ecosystems.
Going to the world is powerful expansion in the way of thinking about and applying social business, but it’s just halfway there. More mature organizations have figured out how to more deeply engage the world via social business by greatly “turning the knob to the right” in how they listen, analyze, and engage. Scale is the name of the game when companies progress to the third rung of social business maturity. Listening to and understanding where all the important conversations are, tapping into them in a timely fashion, systematically understanding their implications to the organization, and ensure that appropriate responses, from simple information returns to complex marketplace collaboration, take place. All of this drives better decisions and results across all lines of business. The list of areas that benefit from engaging with the world including sales, marketing, innovation, hiring, support, operations, supply chain, and more.
Most companies are on the first two rungs and some companies are now on the third rung of this social business ladder. A few companies however, are progressing to what appears to be the next and most advanced level. This stage of social business is the most transformative of all and the natural outcome of the relentless blur that I hear about from more and more C-level executives as they witness the boundaries of their organization changing under the relentless pressure of the new, often highly social, ways that workers and customers use technology to connect with each other. The broad changes that businesses are experiencing are extensive yet they are also looking to be one of the most rewarding ways that we have to enlist the creative and productive output of the global population in rebuilding and growing our businesses. Businesses are asking “What will power next-generation enterprises?” A large part of the answer lies with mature social business approaches on the right side of the chart above. I’ll be looking at some of the more significant implications in the fourth rung in upcoming posts.
How Do Organizations Get There?
To get there, the enterprises of the very near future will have to be more visionary in an on-the-ground and effective way than they are today. As IBM’s Sandy Carter pointed out recently, based on her many conversations, there’s still work to do to communicate that social business involves far more than just PR or marketing. It requires engagement by the entire organization. McKinsey also recently underscored the inverse point, that “we’re all marketers now“, just further proving the point that we’re all much more involved in everything now as business activities become far more connected. In the end, the companies that can manage risk well while enabling their own disruption by climbing the social business maturity curve will be best situated to take advantage of the very significant and measurable benefits.
Where are you on the frontier of social business and why?