The Gap Between Social Media and Business Impact: 6 stages of social business transformation

In business, social media is becoming a lot like email. Every company has it. In an Altimeter Group survey of 700 executives and social strategists fielded in late 2012, we found that 100 percent of participating enterprise organizations run to varying extents an active social media strategy. But unlike email, organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively communicate through the likes of Facebook or the tweets of Twitter.

Over the last several years, businesses have increased the pace of adopting social media strategies for use in marketing, service and other related capacities. What’s becoming very clear however is that adopting social media and understanding its impact on customer and employee relationships and also the bottom line are not always linked. This disconnect between social media strategies and business value is forcing many executives to rethink their overall approach and the infrastructure they built to support it. The result of this reflective process is motivating organizations to transform everyday social media initiatives into deeper social business strategies.

Charlene Li and I spent the better of the last year studying how organizations approach social media and how planning, processes, and outcomes mature over time. Our findings are significant and are included in our newly released report, “The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Media Transformation.”

The results of our work were surprising to say the least. We uncovered a notable gap between organizations that executive social media programs and campaigns and those that specifically invest in social business strategies. Altimeter defines the evolution to a Social Business as the deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

On one side the chasm, there are businesses (or departments) that are actively investing in social media without intentions or outcomes being tied to business goals. On the other side are organizations that are deeply integrating social media and social methodologies throughout the company to drive tangible business impact.

In fact, we found that only 34% of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and just 28% felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12% were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year. And, perhaps most astonishing was that only one half of companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

But there’s hope. Charlene and I learned that the two most important criteria for a successful social business strategy are that it is 1) clearly aligned with strategic business goals of an organization, and 2) has organizational alignment and support that enables execution of that strategy. What separates them are six distinct stages that we believe most organizations have or will traverse as they mature.

The six stages are as follows:

Stage 1: Planning – “Listen to Learn”

The goal of this first stage is to ensure that there is a strong foundation for strategy development, organizational alignment, resource development, and execution. Key tenets of this stage include listening to customers to learn about their social behavior; using pilot projects to prioritize social efforts; and using audits to assess internal readiness.

Stage 2: Presence – “Stake Our Claim”

Staking a claim represents a natural evolution from planning to action. As you move along the journey, your experience establishes a formal and informed presence in social media. Key tenets of this stage include leveraging social content to amplify existing marketing efforts, providing information to support post-transaction issues; and aligning metrics with departmental or functional business objectives.

Stage 3: Engagement – “Dialog Deepens Relationships”

When organizations move into this stage, they make a commitment where social media is no longer a “nice to “have” but instead, is seen as a critical element in relationship building. Key tenets of this stage include participating in conversations to build communities; using engagement and influence to speed path to purchase efficiently; providing support through direct engagement, as well as between people; establishing a risk management and training discipline to shift mindsets; and fostering employee engagement through enterprise social networks.

Stage 4: Formalized – “Organize for Scale”

The risk of uncoordinated social initiatives is the main driver moving organizations into Stage 4, where a formalized approach focuses on three key activities: establishing an executive sponsor; creating a hub, a.k.a. a Center of Excellence (CoE); and establishing organization-wide governance. Organizations should plan for a potential CoE pitfall, however, as creating one may lead to scaling problems in the long-term.

Stage 5: Strategic – “Becoming a Social Business”

As organizations migrate along the maturity model, the social media initiatives gain greater visibility as they begin to have real business impact. This captures the attention of C-level executives and department heads who see the potential of social. Key tenets of this stage include integrating social into all areas of the business; garnering executive engagement; forming a steering committee; and pushing social operations out to business units.

Stage 6: Converged – “Business is Social”

As a result of the cross-functional and executive support, social business strategies start to weave into the fabric of an evolving organization. To move into this stage, organizations need to make a commitment to a single business strategy process; merging social with digital; creating holistic customer experiences with converged media; and developing a holistic social culture.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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