This is your real social business strategy challenge

Recently, Altimeter Group published an infographic on the state of social business (see below), meant to promote their research on that same state of social business (in 2013), released in October. The “headline” of the infographic: “Social Media Matures, Yet Many Companies Still Lack a Strategic Foundation”.

The infographic mainly focuses on the use of social media in the enterprise, just a piece of what social business in the broader sense is really about. Yet, the main findings (the lack of a holistic and cross-enterprise level strategy) can be applied to other social business domains such as social collaboration, to name just one of many more, as well. We still focus too much on social media and not enough on strategy, business and the bigger reality of social business. Here is why.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the Altimeter Group research.

It is built around what Altimeter Group defines as the stages of social business maturity, in this case (there are other social business maturity models):

  • Planning (no significant presence in social media channels, listen and learn to ensure a strong foundation of strategy and resource development,…).
  • Presence (a presence in social media, a pretty broad definition).
  • Engagement (social as a critical component in the relationship-building along the entire customer lifecycle, so we’re in the use of “social” for external reasons here).
  • Formalized (organizing across the enterprise).
  • Strategic (becoming a ‘social business’, let’s call it ‘rather integrated’).
  • Converged (totally integrated from all perspectives).
Most enterprises characterize themselves as intermediate in social business maturity – Altimeter Group The State of Social Business 2013
Most enterprises characterize themselves as intermediate in social business maturity – Altimeter Group: The State of Social Business 2013
One of the reasons the report focuses mainly on social media is that very few organizations have reached the ‘strategic’ social business stage and even fewer the ‘converged’ stage. As the report says: “most enterprises characterize themselves as intermediate in social business maturity”. Another reason is probably that de facto (I quote) ‘marketing and communications become the social media core‘, even if the use of social media is spreading across the enterprise. And, finally, note that the definition of social business in reality depends on who uses it. Social business isn’t just about social media or marketing of course. In fact, there’s still too much focus on social media, not enough on business, the human dimension, collaboration and so much more.

Strategy is a challenge everywhere, not just in social business

Social business is about business in the broadest sense. The main challenge of social business, a lack of a decent cross-departmental strategy, is not just that of social business. It’s the challenge of our organizations as a whole and of virtually all forms of business and marketing on the micro-level.

Want examples? Core challenge in content marketing? Strategy. Key challenge of integrated and customer-centric marketing? Strategy. Main challenge in making internal collaboration work? Strategy.

When looking at social business in general, the lack of an overall strategy is the top barrier impeding the use of social business within an organization, as the latest MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte University Press social business study shows as well.

The top barriers impeding the use of social business – MIT Sloan Management Review Deloitte University Press
The top barriers impeding the use of social business – MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte University Press

Social business: changes in how we work and define…strategies

What’s important in the latter study is the self-reported perspective of the organization on the future impact of social business on the business of respondents. By far, “social business is mainly seen as an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we work” instead of a tool to communicate. Work isn’t just work in the strict sense here. It’s also management and forming decisions. And thus defining…strategies.

While the majority of the attention regarding social business still seems to go to social media and marketing, changes in the way we work in the broadest sense possible are fundamentally more important for the near future, with a less siloed view as a key challenge.

A few results in that regard from the MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte University Press “social business study”:

What ranks highest as operational benefits from using social business in a department?

  1. Breaking down silos (let’s start with working through them, collaboration and more efficiency indeed).
  2. Faster time to innovation (isn’t this mainly about collaboration as well).
  3. Improving employee morale and motivation (ask yourself why).

Main collaborative benefits of using social business in a department?

  1. Faster problem resolution.
  2. Better access to internal resources.
  3. Better use of internal staff expertise.
Collaborative and operational benefits from using social business in the department – MIT Sloan Management Review Deloitte University Press
Collaborative and operational benefits from using social business in the department – MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte University Press

Indeed, all about speed, innovation, efficiency, human benefits, processes, shared/combined knowledge and information (management and accessibility). The irony is that in the broader perspective, social business enables organizations to rise above the limits of siloed strategies and work towards a more holistic and integrated view leading to better, more efficient and more integrated strategies, regardless of business function. Yet at the same time, a lack of a decent strategy is the main barrier, whether you look at it from the perspective of the Altimeter research or the MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte University Press report results.

Social business maturity is not about social media: changing the mindset

So, I think it’s time to look less at traditional social business maturity stages as they often start from the adoption of social media for whatever reason (and the same goes for other maturity models, for instance regarding content marketing). That’s not what it should be about. Social business maturity is about common sense, enabling/rewarding collaboration and the ability to act in a connected/integrated way. We can keep those models but for the right reasons.

I think it’s time to look at the efficiency level of an organization from the viewpoint of its’ ability to have a cross-departmental culture of a people-oriented strategy. Not strategy for the sake of it but strategy as the simple mindset and (often collaborative) must of understanding that 1) you need a goal, 2) you need a path to achieve that goal, 3) it requires collaboration to get there and 4) each strategy is worthless if you don’t start by looking at the human dimension of what will work and why (again enablement, involvement, motivation, management,…).

Social collaboration doesn’t work if you don’t take into account the people you would like to collaborate. Content marketing doesn’t work if you have no clue what content matters for your key audiences. You can complete the list.

In the end, it boils down to this: social business requires strategy but effective strategies require collaboration and the mindset of a ‘human organization’ instead of a narrow top-down mentality with an inability to at least work across silos or simply work together (employees may work in silos but they aren’t silos). Strategy is not the challenge of social business. It’s the challenge of human business. Heck, having a decent strategy is essential in all projects, plans and business goals. And strategies simply work better when there’s a people-centric and collaborative mindset and culture.

On top of that, in a connected digital business reality, these different strategies can’t be siloed either. They are connected too. In the end that’s what integrated marketing, the way forward of customer-centric marketing including social, is about as well: 1) having a strategy for various goals, 2) connecting each strategy and 3) even reverse the view and building the integrated strategy first and look at channels, tactics, budget allocation etc. next. Similar integrations and exercises need to be done in other business (and technology etc.) areas as well with on top of that another connected/integrated view between the various levels and areas.

Strategies are about people, good strategies involve all people you…need to involve

All this is not even a challenge of the ‘social media’ age, let alone ‘digital age’ either. The best companies I have known always had a culture of collaboration, people-centricity, listening to internal and external stakeholders and acting upon it. Strategy is a social challenge by definition. It’s indeed about management, “will” and enablement. The social organization. It’s about involvement. Just ask customer experience and conversion experts who have always known that the best strategies involved the people that mattered (including customers) instead of relying on the famous HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion ) and the ivory towers of the self-absorbed organization. Whatever the area of business or operation you want to improve: getting all stakeholders and ‘socializing’ the decision and strategy making process is key.

A people-oriented and collaborative mindset, that’s your real social business challenge. And it’s not really about corporate DNA. It’s about ‘your’ people and how, as “managers” or “leaders” you can enable them in an open way (with leaders not necessarily being those ranked higher on the organization’s organigram but the stakeholders effectively taking or being given (part of) the lead.

Or even simpler and as I wrote at the end of a previous post: have a strategy – that works – for everyone and everything. With this small but crucial extra: everyone really means everyone, internal and external stakeholders. Strategies are about people, regardless of how fluffy that may sound.

So, what if we looked even less at social media adoption across the organization as some kind of parameter and how exactly we define social business from our own angle and started looking more at good business and how we can do it better using social technologies and other ways of working taking into account that amazing mix of changing ‘behavior’, technology and so much more?

The state of social business 2013 – source Altimeter Group
The state of social business 2013 – source Altimeter Group