The figures vary but in the last several years a major change has begun in organizations around the world. Sometimes the efforts are small and unsanctioned, sometimes they are big and bold, but increasingly businesses are employing social media strategically to engage deeply with both their workers and customers. We see this all the time in the large firms represented in our Social Business Council and elsewhere.
One of the biggest challenges these efforts face, whether they are internal or external, is that engagement via social media is generally perceived as a voluntary activity. As in, workers can collaborate and customers can choose to interact with a business through older channels that are often more familiar and better supported by the organization itself. Or they can engage through social channels. For people to choose the social path of engagement as the most suitable one, there need to be motivations and incentives that are aligned with that path.
As companies seek to ensure the highest level of success with their social business efforts, I am seeing that they want a proven, reliable way to drive adoption of their social business strategy, whether it’s an Enterprise 2.0 initiative, a social media marketing program, or Social CRM effort. But social media is not as deterministic and controllable as the channels that have come before it. It’s one of the reasons I say that adoption of social media can only be co-created. It is as much up to the those engaging to create value, sustain engagement, and build community as it is to those that sponsor them. You can’t own a community like you can buy software or a marketing campaign, social business is a two-way street like nothing quite like it. This makes adoption of social business a very different creature from the way businesses used to engage before.
Fortunately, after over half-a-decade of experience in scale, we can see the broad outlines of adoption, which have stages that are very different based on the state of maturity and overall rate of social business adoption in the organization. In other words, as much as we might like it, there is no “one size fits all” approach to it. Fortunately, we can organize around these different stages, which fall roughly into four parts given below. Specifically, these are:
This post is part of a four part series on social business adoption that will explore each of these phases, with early adoption being examined here. For this effort, I’ve contacted over a dozen experienced social business practitioners, tapped into my research, and aggregated the results of numerous case studies. The outcome is what you see here and while it’s probably as definitive as you’ll find, it’s a necessarily limited view of a rapidly moving new field. Also, in the end, what drives adoption best is whatever actually works for your social business project, and what works best for your project often isn’t what’s in the check lists, no matter how good. Social isn’t as predictable or as deterministic as we might like, and that’s the challenge. Of course, it’s also a large part of the opportunity to drive innovative new outcomes you could never otherwise achieve or imagine. So while your mileage may vary somewhat, the adoption strategies presented here can be a very useful jump start of your social business journey.
Recognizing that that although social business is part of a single continuum across workers, business partners, customers, and the marketplace, that internal use of social business and external uses involve participants that have a very different relationships with the organization. Adoption strategies therefore vary the most between these two groups and so they are presented here separately, though there is often significant cross over, particularly in areas like community management and connecting social business activities to relevant business outcomes and bottom-line benefits.
Note that these adoption phases also take place during the journey of becoming a social business in the large and will be directly informed by that journey. Individual social business efforts, and their adoption strategies, should be loosely connected to what the entire organization is doing and “calibrate” to align themselves in the same direction.
While the blur between internal and external communities continues to increase, for now most efforts are still separate. Listed beow are the top adoption strategies for external social business efforts. Begin with these but experiment along the way and find the adoption patterns that are unique to your environment, culture, and constraints.
As social business scales up and goes external, successful adoption has a new, though often complementary set of requirements. Some of the differences revolve around motivation in that external participants aren’t typically paid to work for the organization like internal participants and so usually have a very different set of reasons they are involved. Other issues that tend to be unique to external social business includes appealing to a much broader demographic and competing with similar communities elsewhere on the Internet.
Note that this list cannot be exhaustive and there are literally dozens of techniques large and small that one can attempt to drive adoption of social business. You should also never forget the fundamental cycle of listen, analyze, measure, and respond. However, these cover the more widely used and repeatable techniques that I’ve seen of the many social business efforts that I’ve examined over the years. I’ll be covered the remaining adoption phases in upcoming posts but welcome your feedback to improve and extend this list.