Is Your Business Ready To Be A Social Business?

A new IBM study shows social media is being integrated into business processes beyond channels – to learn more about the insights, I had a fascinating conversation with Eric Lesser,Research Director of the IBM Institute of Business Value. 

Generally speaking, I don’t have to convince too many entrepreneurs that this social media thing is here to stay. By now, the conversation has largely shifted from “is this viable?” to “what should our presence on social media look like and how does this fit into the overall brand?”

Don’t look now but the conversation about social media’s about to change once again. Not merely about this or that new channel. Not about what Facebook is adding or restricting.

No, I’m talking about something deeper – the growth of social business

Social business is about integrating the technology of social media into your business practices. It involves social tools to encourage greater team collaboration, productivity, new idea generation, better customer communication, streamlined processes and more.

If this concept a leaves your company feeling a bit behind the times in its progress, don’t panic. A new study can help reveal how organizations like yours can use social approaches to create meaningful business value.

I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Lesser, Research Director of the IBM Institute of Business Value, who recently spearheaded a new study on social business.  Through surveys and in-depth interviews of nearly 1200 individuals from leading organizations, Lesser and his team uncovered powerful insights on how companies are facing the prospect of not only adding on social media channels but becoming a true social business.

Dan Gershenson: How does social business change the landscape for business?

Eric Lesser: Throughout IBM’s Institute for Business Value study, we talked to people in industries from telecom to restaurants, from business-to-business to business-to-consumer. What do they have in common? They recognize that if they’re going to truly integrate social media in their businesses, they can’t just port over the tools they use in their personal lives. They have to learn how to use social media in ways specific to their business. Take training for example. What if you were able to use social approaches to create a community of learners that tapped into new content? Rather than instruction books, what about creating an instructional video that people could comment on? What opportunities can social create to allow you to listen better to customers and vendors for great ideas?

DG: How are companies beginning to recognize its importance?

EL: Through our study we found that social business is an area garnering significant attention and investment – almost half of the companies we spoke with in the study increased their investment in 2012. Interestingly, while Marketing and PR are the top two investments of these companies, they’re not the areas with the largest jumps in expected growth. That actually belongs to the areas of Customer Service, Sales, IT and HR.

DG: Why the biggest growth in those areas?

EL: Managing the brand and perception is as crucial as ever. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s also a need to apply social media to how internal work is actually going to get accomplished. Do these companies have all the answers to that yet? No. In fact, we see that more than 2/3 of the companies we talked to are underprepared for cultural changes as a result of social business. They felt their internal cultures were not social business oriented and they aren’t working enough on the applications of social business inside and outside the organization.

They’re not sure about the endgame.

DG: What can they do to prepare better for a shift like this?

EL: The question is not merely about getting more ideas but setting up more opportunities for ideas to come from anywhere.

As companies grow, the knowledge around the organization becomes more distributed, so making connections in the most productive ways becomes increasingly important.

Customers are expecting companies to know much more about them. That means companies can’t just rely on manufacturing and product knowledge. They need to deliver customer-driven content more effectively. Don’t just provide me a manual, but provide me with experts who understand my challenges and can show me how to fix my issues on a customized level. Some companies will struggle with this but customers are expecting this kind of service in their environment. They don’t want to have difficulty spelling out a challenge or they’ll move on.

Four Social Business Trends for 2013
Here are the next big movements Lesser expects companies to make in the coming year as they adapt further to being social businesses.

#1 Innovative Listening Methods More In Demand

On one hand, Lesser found companies were using social business methods to communicate 1-on-1 but also to communicate to crowds. That puts better monitoring tools at a premium while paying attention to sentiment analysis of your organization. “Some of this is going to be reactive, such as customer service through Facebook or Twitter,” he says. “But some of this will be proactive. This involves finding influencers and mavens connecting them to the organization and embracing their networks.”

#2 Customer Communities Continue To Rise

With people having a passion for virtually everything and anything, there’s no shortage of opportunities for community building. But how do companies set up those communities?

“Communities are built by bringing together individuals with a passion for your product or service, and engaging in an ongoing dialogue with them,” Lesser says. “For example, LEGO provides members of its communities the chance to submit an idea for a product and if it’s accepted, they get a cut of the royalties.”

You don’t have to be a large corporation for this idea to take shape – how can you involve your audience in product development or reward them for feedback?


#3 Shift from Brand Management to Greater Sales/Post-Sales Service

I started to panic a little when Lesser mentioned this development – what’s that? No more branding? To my relief, branding isn’t going away anytime soon. But it’s far more than establishing a presence, as Lesser explained.

“What’s going to be big in the next 2-3 years in using leads to drive sales is, how do we make sure the experiences across our social platforms aren’t completely disjointed? How is the overall look and feel seamless? That’s one of the opportunities for a much closer CMO-CIO partnership. There seems to be a recognition of a need to work together more effectively on areas like customer data and mobile. It’s going to be harder for a CMO to be successful without a CIO and vice versa.”

#4 Greater Shared Governance of Social

Less than 1/3 of the companies Lesser and his team spoke with have a shared governance when it comes to this concept of social business. “But the ones that do recognize that it doesn’t just belong to marketing and media relations. You’ve got to have sponsorships from multiple functions within the company, from HR to legal to risk management. They’re not just reacting to potential problems, but looking for opportunities.”

“Social business has far-reaching implications throughout the organization because when you’re asking employees to be ambassadors of your brand, everyone needs to better understand what customers demand.

Social business comes from recognizing that great ideas can come from anywhere in the organization, vendors and customers if you provide enough opportunities for it to happen.”