From Social Brand to Social Business

Many organizations today spend a lot of time, resources, and financial investment trying to understand the social landscape and engaging their customers and prospects. They are on a quest to become a social brand. They are investing in Facebook applications, branded communities, and blogs, and many are using online monitoring solutions to listen to what people are saying about the brand. And, from this perspective, many companies today are doing a decent job. 

Friends, fans, and followers are important, yes. And brands increase their social equity by engaging in two-way dialogue with their constituency. And transparency is key to these external engagements. But while many organizations are trying desperately to humanize their brand, they are failing to understand that they need to humanize their business first. 

Therein lies the business challenge for many organizations. Years ago with the expansion of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, and as the influence of the social customer became apparent to everyone, companies of all sizes and in every vertical began to “join the conversation.” It was not only an expectation of customers that companies would engage with them but also an expectation of social influencers, who enjoyed playing Monday morning quarterback and often criticized brands for every customer action/inaction. 

And companies listened. In response to the social customer and the growing criticism from the masses, organizations today are now aggressively hiring community managers and social strategists, allocating budgets to social media, hiring social media agencies, integrating social media into other areas of paid media, and doing their best at community engagement. They are doing everything a “good” social brand should be doing. 

But a good social brand causes problems behind the firewall. From the outside looking in, most wouldn’t recognize and understand the challenges that social media has created in the enterprise. The anarchy, conflict, confusion of roles and responsibilities, lack of communication and collaboration, and organizational silos that exist behind the firewall are not visible. These challenges make the process of becoming an effective social brand much more difficult and less effective. So for many organizations, this quest to become a social brand and a social business is a simultaneous effort. 

Social business is an organization’s natural (sometimes forced) evolution to humanize its business operations. It deals with the internal transformation of an organization and addresses key factors such as change management, organizational models, culture, internal communications, collaboration, governance, training, employee activation, global and technology expansion, team dynamics, and the establishment of a measurement philosophy. 

For companies to do that effectively, they must get smarter; acquire new technologies, intelligence, and talent; and become more open and transparent. They will have to actually communicate with each other, share knowledge, tear down silos, and essentially change the way they work day to day. They will have to establish processes and governance models that protect the organization yet empower their employees. They have to change the way they do business, from the way they develop new products to the way they write a press release, and that starts with the people of the organization.

A social business is built on three pillars: people, process, and technology. All three need to work independent of each other, yet need to be completely integrated into the DNA of the organizational culture.

The foundation of a fully collaborative social business, whether for a small or a large firm, is the company’s most valuable asset, its people. The social business model addresses the need to drive organizational change in an effort to shift employee behavior, communicate more effectively across job functions and geographies, and tear down organizational silos. The technology, collaboration software, and community applications deployed behind the firewall will not be effective unless there is a fundamental shift in the way employees think, interact with one another, and communicate. These change management initiatives have to be driven by organizational leadership and practiced at every level in the organization, from senior leadership to customer support agents. Otherwise, change will not occur. This means that executives must not only talk about changing the organization but exemplify the behaviors that really do facilitate and practice change.

The result is an increase in trust among all employees at every level, trust of employees and empowering them to engage externally, and an increase in budget investments to social business initiatives, collaboration, and more effective social organization models.

Process cuts through the entire fabric of the organization. It ensures that every job function in every business unit and within every geography is consistent. For example, when a new employee joins a company and wants to start blogging or tweeting on behalf of the company, a process should be in place that governs training, certification, and social media policies.

Another example is when marketing departments in other countries want to create a Facebook fan page specifically for their geography. A process should be in place that will manage the creation of new social media destinations and escalate such requests to a governing body (i.e., a social media center of excellence) to avoid duplication and inconsistent messages.

Processes should help facilitate the chaos that exists from behind the firewall—that is, employees sharing sensitive material externally, social media ownership, crisis management and product feedback workflows, and ensuring there is one measurement philosophy that the entire organization is bought into and using for reporting.

Additionally, training initiatives, social media policies and guidelines, moderation policies, and global expansion must be documented, approved, and then rolled up into a co-created governance model. This ensures that there is message consistency globally and a legal documentation that protects the organization, empowers employees, and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

A social business needs technology to facilitate change and collaboration.

Organizations need to be smart and think long term before investing in technology applications that facilitate internal collaboration (Jive, Lithium, Yammer), social listening (Radian6, Meltwater), measurement (Rowfeeder, Argyle), social relationship management (Sprinklr, Syncapse Platform), and social CRM (Nimble, JitterJam, Pivotal).

Companies need to first understand what it is they are trying to achieve before thinking about which technology vendor to deploy. Are they trying to streamline communication between business units or geographies? Are they looking to roll out a collaboration application that will eventually replace their intranet? Or are they planning to use social CRM and weave it into their sales and marketing initiatives? Whatever the case, it’s important to understand the culture of the organization and its leadership. Technology will not change an organization’s culture. However, having a strong understanding of it will have a huge impact on the technical requirements, choice of technology, and how to implement and configure it.

The challenge with technology is that there are so many software vendors in the space to choose from. Organizations need to think strategically before making significant investments in technology and consider scale, integration, support and maintenance costs, and the current suite of applications that are already deployed within the enterprise.

The foundation for social business transformation is culture and leadership. All the technology in the world deployed in the enterprise and all the process/compliance documents created are useless if organizational behaviors aren’t changed. Change starts from the top and business leaders are the ones responsible for facilitating this change.

Michael Brito is senior vice president of social business planning at Edelman Digital, the interactive arm of the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm, and author of the book Smart Business, Social Business. Brito can be contacted through http://thesocialbusinessbook.com.


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