Seven Traits of Highly Effective Social Business Initiatives

Bill O'Neil | August 12, 2014

Originally posted on CMS Wire.

Seven Traits of Highly Effective Social Business Initiatives
By James Davidson, VP Strategy at 7Summits and Riz Ebrahim, Senior Director of Advisory Services at 7Summits

These organizations are usually successful because their leaders don’t see social technology as yet another tool or a new shiny object, but instead as a catalyst for organizational transformation and an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

So how can organizations architect the social business initiatives? In our experience, we have observed that there are seven principles that guide the success of social business initiatives.

1. Leadership Support: Sponsorship is Nice, But Engagement is Better!
Having strong leadership engagement with social business initiatives – especially at the executive level – is often the dividing line between success and mediocrity. Supportive leaders who communicate a clear vision for social business and take a visible, active role in making it real will set the tone for the initiative and inspire others to get on board. Assemble a Steering Committee that includes executive-level stakeholders (or at least a set of individuals appointed by executives) to assist with championing and operationalizing social business programs.

2. Strategy: Add Value Instead of Distracting Extras
Social technologies add the most value when they become central to the organization and complement (or, ideally, take the place of) core business processes. They shouldn’t be distracting “extras” or just another tool that distract from getting a job done.

Social business initiatives that do not have a defined strategy – the kinds of efforts that originate organically and develop in an unstructured way – usually fail to gain widespread adoption and make a meaningful impact on the overall business. Make sure use cases and user experience will provide high value to audiences. We always suggest “putting community in the path of users” to drive adoption, which supports the goal of integrating the community with other marketing and communications programs.

3. Phased Rollout: Think Big, But Start Small to Show Impact
The most successful social business initiatives are often executed as a series of incremental releases or “waves” of enhancements and features. The mantra “Think big, start small, show impact” is important to keep in mind, as it prevents overinvestment in community development in the early stages of the program before it has been proven out. This process also prevents overwhelming the user base with “too much too soon.”

4. Role Model: Embrace Culture and Expect Behavior Shifts
Social technology allows users to effortlessly cross organizational and geographic boundaries, discover and connect with people, create and share content, and voice their opinions. These attributes of community oftentimes require a cultural shift for companies – away from traditional, “command and control” mindsets toward a more open, transparent and authentic culture.

5. Change Management: Expect Resistance, Activate Champions
The launch of online communities has operational implications to the business and creates a need for change management plans that include communication and user training. For example, allowing customers and partners to find answers to questions and solutions to problems requites monitoring conversations, responding in a timely manner, and ensuring accurate content is available. These changes in business processes and resource allocation must be addressed for a social business initiative to flourish.

6. Track and Show Impact: Keep Your Eye on the Prize
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Defining key performance indicators (KPIs) and measurement plans is often overlooked when launching a new community, but without this critical component, companies are unable to quantify the business impact the community is making. This makes it far more difficult to establish plans for optimizing success over time. We recommend defining KPIs that are tied to the specific business objectives the community seeks to affect, benchmarking them, and establishing measurement plans that examine both community health and vitality and its business impact.

This is the best approach to metrics: while it’s important to stay open minded about social initiatives (and it’s not always possible to have robust metrics from the start), it is critical to put rigorous analytics in place so that you can see incremental change and determine which elements of the technology are adding value.

7. Ongoing Support: It Takes a Village
No one social technology can transform organizations on its own. It is easy to underestimate the resources that will be needed to support social technology on an ongoing basis. Community management and moderation, content development, technical support and analytics are vital support functions that must be in place for a community to succeed – and these must scale over time as the community’s user base, content and functionality expand.

The Bottom Line
Customers, partners and your talent are all embracing social technologies. The true value of social business technology will only be realized if these solutions are incorporated into an organization’s culture, structure and workflows. The key to success is an emphasis on change management to help users adapt and make social business technology part of their everyday work. By doing so, your organization can truly create a more nimble and entrepreneurial operations model.

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