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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.

81 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Gap Between Social Media and Business Impact: 6 stages of social business transformation”

  1. Some would argue
    that social media is one of the most important tools to be use in improving
    your business.As far as I know,almost all companies nowadays have their own
    profile in some social networking sites but only few were confident to say
    that having a social media presence helps them increase their ROI. We must
    put in mind that social media will only be helpful if you do the right
    strategies in using it.Thanks for sharing these tips!

  2. dooleblue says:

    The strategies are so important how to presence of your business on
    social media. The first stage is a great foundation to deep analyzing
    and watching your customers’ behavior. NIce to share with us.

  3. Andrew Grill says:

    Brian, it is a great piece of work. I have started to dissect it over at

  4. Dara Khajavi says:

    Great breakdown of the different stages. I think my business is currently in the third stage and trying to figure out how to get to the fourth stage. This breakdown has helped me pinpoint certain strategies I need to use.

    • Ranjini rao says:

      Your are absolutely right.

      Brian- very interesting and indeed an
      indepth article on the various stages of organisations coping with the
      Social media revolution & adoption.It would be interesting to know
      if Altimeter has conducted any study for growth markets esp in B2B
      Social Media engagement , adoption & practices?

      Also I think
      we are in stage#3 trying to figure out how to create compelling content
      via self nominated Subject Matter Experts and front end clients on a

      You may agree that there are certain behaviourial cum cultural aspects
      & disparities when it comes to matured markets visa vis growth markets like India .

      ** Disclaimer:This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent my organisation views”

  5. Ara ohanian says:

    Brian, thanks for sharing this important work. My guess is that most organizations are currently at Stage Three: engaging with their wider audience and learning how to converse with them. Brian, one question for you. For Level Five do you believe any business can become a social business? Do you believe every business should?

    • briansolis says:

      It really is up to the leadership and whether or not becoming “social” is best for the business. But I believe that there are tenets in each stage that benefit organizations, so to some extent, yes.

  6. Dave Crenshaw says:

    Brilliant post, Brian. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Ad Gerrits says:

    As allways with your posts: compact, clear and touching the core.

  8. PamMktgNut says:

    Excellent post Brian. This information will serve as a useful foundation to help educate our clients. I already used it in a social business audit last week.

    Most of our clients are somewhere between stages 3 & 4 with an eye on 5, becoming more strategic. Yet most of them think they are much more advanced than they are until you really start to peel back the layers.

    Thanks so much for your excellent work!

    • briansolis says:

      You are welcome and thank you for reading it! Make sure to pay attention to the CoE Trap! Even those far and to the right are suffering from this now.

  9. hey Brian,
    Obviously, marketing and public relations have drastically changed after the implementation of social media. What I found helpful is that you mention communication has gone from one-way strategies to consumers to being able to educate, investigate and follow how companies arrange their products for themselves. It seems the internet has given consumers and companies a more efficient way to understand the functions of business all through social media.
    Thanks for the insight!

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