Social business is not just about social media marketing but can involve all business functions. It’s about collaboration, community, customer-centricity and changing evolutions in the way we do business, based on social principles and technologies. There is no universal list of tips to become a social business. It’s not a matter of tips and tricks. Becoming a social business is a gradual process involving many levels of maturation – expressed in maturity models.

One of the first stages of social business, however, is engaging audiences, customer, prospects, fans and communities with relevant content, valuable conversations and social platforms. A white paper by HootSuite looks at the different steps.

Ten years ago the pioneering social network MySpace hadn’t yet launched. Today, over 80% of the world’s internet users interact with social media, so much so that social now accounts for approximately one in every five hours spent online. A McKinsey Global Institute study estimated that better use of social media by business could unlock from $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in additional value if businesses learned to make more effective use of social media. What accounts for this?

Social business: internal and external audiences

At its simplest, social business is when a ‘social organization’ engages with an audience using a social platform. The audience could be internal, or external, or both, and the organization could use one platform or many. While organizations are using social, they are at the early development end of the Social Maturity Model. The model, a continuum defined by several social experts such as the people at social dashboard powerhouse HootSuite in the paper, runs from the rudimentary Social Advocate stage where an organization designates an employee as the ‘social’ contact, all the way to the highly integrated Social Enterprise, in which empowered teams from large organizations interact across multiple time zones, cultures and social media platforms, delivering coordinated communication in accord with a well-developed policy. Companies at the Social Advocate stage can’t be expected to optimize the benefits of social.

One thing the HootSuite white paper notes is that the most effective social organizations look beyond the obvious accumulation of “Likes” and “Follows” on social media to the creation of a process to initiated conversations that lead to conversion. As marketing expert Seth Godin notes, “The conversation is happening about your brand whether you’re part of it or not.” Successful Social Enterprise companies monitor the discussions about their brands, both the positive and the cringe-inducing, and then they analyze it for better understanding. It was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who said that a brand is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Social allows organizations to be, if not in the room, at least within earshot.

Social business and a real understanding of the customer

Armed with a real understanding of what consumers think of their brands, the most effective social organizations then react, attempting to engage in a dialogue. While most companies (71% in a recent survey) think that customers engage with them on social to learn about new products, most consumers say the most important reason to follow an organization’s social marketing efforts is “discounts.” Successful social players incorporate this insight into their marketing. If they don’t always offer perks or coupons, they know to at least offer their customers advice and tips. Knowing why your customers follow you on social media is necessary to engage them in an initial dialog.

The companies with the most success using social media also know how to move from conversations to conversions because they measure their efforts and then analyze and fine tune them. They not only track “Likes” and Retweets, but also clickthroughs and sales. They track their efforts from social message to conversion with Google Analytics or other analytics tools, and evaluate their results against corporate Key Performance Indicators. So, where are you in the social business maturity model?