How Social Is Your Business, Anyway?

I think we, especially as marketers, can all acknowledge that whether or not companies admit it, all businesses are already social. After all, customers post comments and reviews and employees are individuals with lives they share with their friends and families – including thoughts about their employers. In fact, there is even a coined phrase “dark social” to describe referrals that aren’t trackable by Web analytics (here’s a great real world use case of dark social in action). But for those businesses that have knowingly picked up the gauntlet, where are we on the path to real social engagement?

New IBM research has some interesting insight into this social adoption, including how companies themselves are defining what it means to be social. Three-quarters of the respondents in our latest study believe a social business is one that uses social technologies to foster collaboration among customers, employees, and partners – and we agree. So social is about helping people work together more effectively to make better business decisions. But this transformation isn’t easy and organizations can’t realize all of their social aspirations at once, as evidenced by the fact that only 20 percent of executives we surveyed say their own enterprises have attained the social interaction mentioned above.

“Hypotheses and assumptions abound, so we turned to science to help us determine what’s really happening. Through cluster analysis of 19 different social capabilities that executives are currently implementing or planning to implement, we discovered that companies tend to deploy certain groups of capabilities together. These five distinct clusters of capabilities – or ‘social ambitions,’ as we’ve called them – reveal the particular goals enterprises are aiming to achieve as they become more authentically social.

Charting the Social Universe: Social Ambitions Drive Business Impact, IBM Center for Applied Insights, September 2014

It’s a journey, and one that companies are tackling from different starting points based on their business needs and specific market conditions. Data showed that common (and logical) starting point for many organizations are to deploy capabilities around internal and external collaboration. Foundational social capabilities – like infusing social into basic business processes – still seems more difficult to attain, and is one of the least-deployed social ambitions.

So what are the five distinct social ambitions?

1. Drive Internal and External Collaboration

Objectives:

  • Increase employee productivity
  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy

Capabilities:

  • Collaborative applications
  • Enterprise social networks
  • Social media marketing

2. Build, Educate, and Protect the Workforce

Objectives:

  • Increase employee productivity
  • Optimize workforce talent

Capabilities:

  • Security intelligence
  • Workforce training
  • Recruiting
  • Policy communication

3. Understand and Engage Customers

Objectives:

  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy
  • Increase sales

Capabilities:

  • Customer analytics
  • Customer support
  • Social CRM
  • Social analytics

4. Mine Community Expertise

Objectives:

  • Optimize workforce talent
  • Increase employee productivity

Capabilities:

  • Onboarding
  • Locating experts
  • Crowdsourcing/Idea sourcing

5. Improve Business Processes

Objectives:

  • Reduce costs
  • Increase sales

Capabilities:

  • Workforce analytics
  • Sales software
  • Supply chain
  • Business process management
  • Workforce performance

Evolving into a truly social business is new and uncharted territory, so we can all learn from the pioneering companies on the forefront of this journey. To learn more about what surveyed companies tracked as success metrics, lessons we can learn from their experiences, as well as a checklist of the four key considerations of strategy, implementation, involvement, and metrics that you’ll want to apply as you chart your own course for social success, I invite you to see the details about the study and access the ungated research report.

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