From Social to Business

Something has changed, for ever, in the way social is seen and is going to be addressed by organizations in every part of the world. If for good or bad, you’ll judge for yourself.

It is my understanding that for companies that have spent the last few years experimenting on how to leverage knowledge sharing, collective intelligence, social networking to improve marketing, sales, support, innovation but also internal collaborative flows among employees, partners and suppliers, the end of 2011 meant a trigger, a point of no return.

Even if from opposite directions, two posts have unearthed surprisingly well the signals of this impending shape-shifting change:

  • In his Social Business Facts and Fiction, Sameer Patel used the recent Making The Business Case For Enterprise Social Networks report from Altimeter to state (please also read the insightful comments):

    “The first innings of social in the enterprise is over. Those organizations that like to experiment have done so. Beyond those, a small number of executives who innately believe that collaboration is absolutely critical to execution have put their weight behind these programs. Industry colleague Dion Hinchcliffe has been documenting examples of both kinds. But there’s massive untapped opportunity out there to revise the value proposition for those numbers-driven businesses who will want to understand how all of this enhances what they’ve invested in for the last decade. Until then, this massive bucket of executives will treat “social business” as another Mickey Mouse program until they see how it matters to revenue increase, cost reduction and risk mitigation”

  • A few days before, Mark Tamis wrote the following in his Go With The Customer Flow:

    An interesting statistic caught my attention about customer interaction through  Social Media; these interactions represent only 1% of company-customer interactions, and are expected to grow to 4% in five year’s time in France. In other words, 99% of interaction take place outside of Social Media! This to me leads to a very fundamental question about whether we are suffering from the Shiny Object Syndrome with regards to Social Media and customer engagement.

    “Going with the Customer Flow” entails reducing the frictions in the flows that leads to the confluence of your business’s and your customers’ desired outcomes. That means getting the big picture of the customer journey, understanding how they ‘hire’ the different tools at the various touchpoints such as social media, opinions from friends, their peers, your Salespeople, Marketing and Customer Service and how you can organize your internal flows to optimize the outcomes at the various touchpoints. We should certainly not lose sight of the fact that there is a whole world out there beyond Social Media that impact the Customer Experience!

The same sense of inadequacy and gap between social and reality has been expressed infinite times by well-known naysayer Dennis Howlett in Enterprise 2.0 is a crock, Social CRM – another crock? and Enterprise 2.0 is beyond a crock. It’s dead. The jury is still out looking at the very recent debate Social Enterprise: Real or Fiction with Dion Hinchcliffe.

Where is the reality? Does this mean Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, Social CRM and the likes are crappy and useless philosophies? Is all this just a fad? Does this mean social is just another Knowledge Management-like vision whose tangible benefits will never materialize?

Well Yes. At least until organizations will keep focusing only on the social part of the name.

This part of the game has come to an end! What I’m seeing by looking at the tens of real social business projects I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in from 2007 but also at the kind of requests I’m getting more recently is that the market is facing a huge opportunity: moving from social to business. In other words starting to embed social in those same flows, processes, practices and tasks companies are already using to both make the ends meet and gain a competitive advantage on the market.

In order to address this opportunity though, some deep changes will be unavoidable for those organizations willing to move along the Social Business path (yes both consultancies and customers) and finally realize concrete, meaningful, measurable and repeatable business outcomes:

  • Bridging skills and competencies: if social is just a piece, organizations need to bring to the table those who know about processes (CRM, PLM, BPM, Supply Chain, etc) but especially about new tools to understand and measure the end-to-end cross-channel customer experience (service design, customer journey, jobs to be done as explained by Mark).
  • Integrating new capabilities: if the rubber has to meet the road thinking is not enough. For walking the talk vision has to be translated into reality by actually changing processes, evolving culture, rethinking the way both individuals and communities are engaged by the organization, communicating with customers in the new way. It means scalable system integration but also organizational design, incentivation schemes, partnerships design, creativity all aligned under the same vision.
  • A unified customer centric vision: yeah I know every single company (often sincerely) believes to be customer centric but as customers.. we know the truth. The fil rouge for connecting capabilities outside-in around the right cross-channel customer experience is the belief that to thrive and gain market in turbulent times you need to differentiate yourself on how well you know and serve your tribes (not talking just about segments..) by enabling and reorientating the boundary spanning flows that produce the service / product

How many companies do you know with such a vision, skills and capabilities in the same place? I’d personally like to know more of them.

The fragility of social business is largely due to our inability to recognize the full scope of the change unfolding. Choosing different lenses it’s easy to realize how to reap the benefits of social you need to holistically work on the organization in its relationship with all of its constituents. It is about technology, processes, people but with a totally different twist and tool box that only today we are starting to understand.

Are we in the right seat to guide the ship? My friends, the reality is that social is but a piece of an amazingly complex (and growing) puzzle. An extremely important piece though. If long-term sustainable change cannot be dictated top-down when crowds of individuals are asked to go the extra mile, to bring their passion at work, to be the business innovators, to care about customers in a transparent and globally connected stage.. engaging them, bringing them to the core of the business and giving them a piece of it is the only way.

Social is just this: the new paradigm for connecting, involving and engaging crowds of individuals towards the co-creation of value. A paradigm that we have to measurably embed in what companies are already doing through levers still spread all over the place.

It may take a bit of time but it will be a fruitful journey.

This post is also available in: Italian

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Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Enterprise Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

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