For the past few years, companies have been exploring initiatives internally and externally that dance around the notion of “social” methods for engaging all of the people in an enterprise ecosystem - to bring about better results for these companies. These social methods have been described with terminology such as “enterprise 2.0”, “social computing”, “web 2.0”, “social media”, and so on. The evolution of these social methods has led now to another term: the Social Business.
I find the term “Social Business” a necessary one: to remind companies that people are very important to their success: customers, employees, partners, suppliers, and so on. I see the term “Social Business” encompassing what companies might become to engage people - inside and out – to achieve business goals, and frankly, to stay in business. Again looking at terms in common usage: Enterprise 2.0 has been concerned with the “inside” (I call it social collaboration) and social media / web 2.0 have been concerned with the “outside” (external-facing customer engagement). A blurring between Social Inside and Social Outside has begun, partly driven by the adoption of customer-facing social media tools by internal collaboration programs.
A lot of the conversation for the ins and outs of social these days has focused on technology and practices - and even on “naming conventions” - but People as the focus is what really makes a difference for a business to achieve success. People participating in the “Social Business” are cross-generational: there are lots of people of all ages who are savvy about collaboration, communication, social media, respecting colleagues and customers – none of these activities are the sole turf of any generation. And I’ll repeat: the focus on the value of People and trust in what they can accomplish (not just on tech and practices or processes) is at the heart of healthy companies.
Why does a renewed - and authentic - interest in People matter to a business? From the customer perspective, much has been written about customers now driving relationships with businesses where businesses listen to what customers want, like and don’t like. From the perspective of employees and partners, a great deal of what companies need comes from people: innovation, creativity, ideas for new directions, passion, enthusiasm, customer relationships, knowledge, experience, judicious consideration, and so on.
The Human factor always has to be distinctly considered in anything called “social” -- otherwise it’s just a buzzword shell game. First there must be authentic respect for all the people in the enterprise ecosystem; then enterprises can work on building out social practices that consider the human element – afterwards, apply technology and processes where they make sense.
Value of Social Business - Inside
In enterprise activities such as collaboration, knowledge management, business intelligence, business process management, adaptive case management, there is a significant role to be played by social capabilities to improve how these activities perform and provide relevance and results. Social business on the inside is also rightfully tied to enterprise collaboration and intranets that are taking on more social media type capabilities. Many software solutions are including social capabilities as methods to improve solution usage and value, as well as do a better job of incorporating the importance of the human element.
For example, Business Process Management (BPM) solutions encompass practices and tools that are evolving and including more people-oriented methods in terms of social collaboration capabilities. Forrester’s Clay Richardson comments:
Enterprise social – and social BPM by extension – is seeing healthy adoption in industries and organizations that have open cultures and have a need to innovate and share ideas quickly. Although it might seem counterintuitive, we’re seeing the greatest adoption of social BPM patterns in the healthcare and public sector – specifically in defense.
Sandy Kemsley, independent analyst and systems architect for enterprise infrastructure, also understands well the people side of business:
Tom Davenport recently wrote about the need to add structure to social in order to bring enterprise value: Transaction systems like ERP and CRM, tools for workflow and document management, and project management systems all made it more clear to people what they need to do next in their jobs. That capability has undoubtedly led to productivity gains.
But work effectiveness also demands that people share their knowledge and expertise with each other. That’s where social media comes in. It makes it easy to reach out to others for help in making a decision or taking an action. And the transfer of knowledge through social media doesn’t require a lot of difficult knowledge management work in advance.
Business Intelligence is another software solution space that is looking at building in collaborative layers throughout the BI lifecycle. The possibilities for new applications of analytics increase with collaboration. Inviting in many-to-many interactions also opens up processes to new ideas from participants. Gartner found that social venues and collaboration help to track and capture outcomes of the decisions made based on BI / analytics:
Gartner's user surveys show that improved decision making is the key driver of BI purchases. However, most BI deployments emphasize information delivery and analysis to support fact-based decision making, but fail to link BI content with the decision itself, the decision outcome, or with the related collaboration and other decision inputs. This makes it impossible to capture decision-making best practices. Solutions are emerging that tie BI with social software and collaborative tools for higher-quality, more transparent decisions that will increase the value derived from BI applications.
Promoting social on the inside draws on the rich value that lies in the many people who populate the enterprise.
Value of Social Business - Outside
Social media and social CRM solutions and practices are gaining interest and usage as means to work with customers throughout the customer lifecycle with the company. Social media and social CRM also play important roles for connecting the Social Business-Inside with the Social Business-Outside.
Social media is not just the latest fad in marketing; and to really work, social media is not “one-size-fits-all”. Enterprises must understand how a go-to-market strategy that includes social media will help with objectives and obligations; then enterprises must figure out which social media to use and why. Social media commitments require an authentic personal touch, both for how customers are communicating with the enterprise, and how the enterprise responds and sustains customer conversations.
Maria Ogneva comments on the social customer and social CRM:
The ability for everyone to engage and be in alignment: Social media is not a silo, and no one department owns it. There must be a process in place by which each message gets automatically routed to the right person, classifying it by type (question, complaint or compliment), content (what it actually said), sentiment, action needed, and influence. This helps automate the triage process, which until now has been mostly manual.
Jeremiah Owyang’s work with brands employing social media to better connect and support customers is extensive and well-known. In his presentation on “Three Trends Companies Must Invest in for Social Business”, Owyang introduces the notion of Rings of Social Influence which include employees as company ambassadors for communicating with customers, as well as these recommended best practices for such employees:
- Establish guardrails to protect both employees and the company
- Offer internal training courses, (like Intel’s certification program) and recurring training
- Offer an internal water cooler where they can talk in a safe place and plan: Yammer, Socialcast, Community Platforms
And of course companies must recognize the power of the customer voice and consider Owyang’s recommended best practices for customers active in social media:
- For better or worse, customers are already talking about you – how can you aggregate their voices closer to your brand?
- Develop an advocacy program to recognize and reward your top customers.
- Change your mindset to understanding that critical feedback is an opportunity for product and service improvements – then use to increase loyalty and WOM.
Social Business Equation: Inside + Outside = Eliminate silos
Many enterprises are understanding the value of social media to better engage and retain customers, to attract prospects, make sales, help customers solve problems: Social Business - Outside. But it seems to be much harder for enterprises to understand social on the inside and why that matters. Enterprises must come to understand that social on the outside won’t be substantially achieved – let alone sustained - if social on the inside isn’t working.
Social on the inside pertains to all company teams that touch customers, prospects, partners, and suppliers – basically the vast majority of the company. The commitment, usage and value of social on the inside and the outside must be real – employees, partners, customers will quickly figure out if a company is faking it. With healthy social practices inside a company, the support and growth of social for any interactions involving the enterprise human ecosystem – inside and out – should then be a natural and vital part of overall company strategy.
Here are the big questions:
- Can the enterprises that need to, change quickly enough to re-humanize?
- More importantly, will enterprises even choose to change?
This change – understanding and nurturing the value of all the people in the enterprise ecosystem – impacts how the company operates internally, how it does business externally, how the company effectively engages the human ecosystem that is truly needed for the company to survive as a successful business – inside and out.
From this change comes these rewards: big impact on continuous innovation / relevant product development, drawing the best out of employees, collaborating with customers and partners on future direction and products, listening to all of the people in the enterprise ecosystem to draw on their experiences and expertise for building and sustaining competitive edge >> all contributing to the success and relevance of company.
The strategic decision to become the social business has to come from upper management and boards of directors – it has to be a key aspect of the enterprise – or it won’t happen in any significant or sustained fashion. When an enterprise chooses to become a “social business”, the divide between social-inside and social-outside should blur as more and more as silos within the enterprise hopefully disappear, and as bi-directional connections to customers and prospects, partners and suppliers become more authentic and more immediate.
Jeremiah Owyang has produced a very good starting point for depicting the Social Business Stack, expressed in terms of technology. I’ve added a “reminder” element to his diagram:
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services