Some small businesses start without a business plan, finding success in a breakthrough product or service early on and building upon that success organically. However, it’s inevitable that the venture will need to have a structured business plan put in place at some point if the business is expected to scale, expand and ultimately thrive. This well understood concept is the basis for what I’m informally labeling “social business planning”, yet from my experiences working across multiple organizations, the current focus remains on social media programs (the external) without putting in the appropriate social business infrastructure (the internal). Sound like theory? It’s not. Many of you reading this are probably initiating your own versions of social business planning and if you aren’t you will be.
Parallel Path Planning & Implementation
There are several considerations to factor in while aligning your social media programs with your social business infrastructure. The first is that in today’s agile world it’s realistic that neither comes first. When I visited Dell several years ago, it was clear that the company had leapfrogged others in the social space because they were not afraid to take risks and implemented “pilot programs”. Pilot programs are small, manageable initiatives where progress can be made rapidly and leveraged as proof points while gathering data. Today, you can be assured that Dell is looking to scale and integrate social into their entire business model and this will likely be an ongoing process which requires a good deal of incremental change. But this is inevitably the next step. So in a digestible format, how does social business planning break down? I have a few thoughts:
The program side of social media often includes initiatives where brands and companies perform outreach toward customers or engaging them in the hopes that they will advocate on behalf of the company or brand. Employee engagement is a similar model but focused on employees and it acts as an umbrella over much of the social business infrastructure. When Nokia implemented an internal forum where employees could freely complain about the company anonymously, they in essence created a form of employee engagement where they are able to gain valuable insights. Companies such as McDonalds are known for engaging employees prior to launching major branding initiatives. Specific to social media, engaging employees in semi-public environments such as Facebook is where the lines between social media and business blur. Helping employees engage each other on secure internal networks can help ensure that they socialize internally since it’s likely they already do this externally.
I often hear from companies that they have the most personal and effective sales and customer service reps. This is followed by the fact that few of them feel comfortable leveraging social networks for the company, or that the organization has not taken steps to formalize this as a function. Before any formalization can occur, it’s worth considering that your representatives may need training just as they did in traditional channels. Providing customer service in social spaces often means that you are engaging in public and not everyone is naturally comfortable with this. Some companies have found success through their business culture—Best Buy being one of the few to succeed in modestly scaling customer service via social systems. If your organization doesn’t naturally lean toward engaging in public spaces, you’ll need to identify the people in and outside of your organization who are and have them systematically train others. I’d recommend training start with small connected groups and gradually expand through the organization. Edelman’s belt system is a good example of a training program which can work at scale, moving your employees from rudimentary to more advanced levels of social media proficiency.
The speed at which social technology moves translates to the need for new processes to be in place. Whether it’s Motrin Moms or Dominos, it’s been well documented how real time the internet as become. A crisis can go full blown in literally minutes and hours and doesn’t take weekends off. Organizations will have to take a second look at their existing process models and find ways to streamline as a result. This may mean opening up new channels of communication between departments so information can flow freely, or removing single approval bottlenecks and replacing them with multiple sources of authority (think nodes on the network as opposed to silos). Process will have to be intentionally re-designed not replaced with chaos.
Implementing a “social media center of excellence” or committee that works with core and extended teams cannot occur without there being some changes in the way your company organizes and staffs employees. Some companies such as Comcast have begun organizing around their service groups. Others have marketing playing a more prominent role. Each organization will likely organize and staff differently when it comes to integrating programs with infrastructure. Altimeter Group recently shared some of the models they are seeing emerge in this space.
My experience in the workforce has been that people don’t naturally share what they know and that even if they wanted to, IT departments have struggled with finding the silver bullet of technology that allows them to. In contrast, the external social networks allow us to share knowledge like crazy. In my estimation, platforms such as Slideshare, blogging and Wikis have actually changed how people view knowledge sharing. Instead of being rewarded for hoarding what you know, participants are rewarded with visibility and accolades. This is a complex problem for organizations and I’m not going to solve it in this post, but suffice it to say that your social media programs are less likely to be successful if you can’t even share internally.
Policies & Guidelines
Several years ago organizations instituted guidelines around blogging. Social media has evolved into much more than that since then. Real time communications and location based services signal what we are doing, when and with who. Policies need to be updated constantly and more importantly be relevant to companies who activate their workforce in social systems. Guidelines should provide employees with basic rules of conduct within the relevant social systems. At minimum, I’d recommend that your organization revisit both areas and ensure that they are still relevant and actionable.
More specifically your corporate culture and don’t be fooled your company likely has one—every social system does. Before Zappos, Southwest Airlines was engaging customers via Twitter. They were also one of the first to launch a highly engaging and informal blog. How? They have an entrepreneurial and scrappy corporate culture which stems directly from their founder. The culture of your organization is likely going to be tied to the success of your social business planning and any initiatives that involve engaging participants authentically. Cultures can be notoriously open or closed and everything in between. Consider though that even secretive corporate cultures such as Apple benefited by opening up (in an intentional way) their ecosystem such as the App Store. I’m not an expert in transforming corporate cultures, and common sense dicates that it’s amazingly complex. But, companies such as P&G have historically experienced transformation in areas such as innovation and design. It likely takes a long time, but it’s possible and in my opinion may be needed for the best business results when it comes to “social”.
Follow The Money
Which brings us to the conclusion. What are results? That’s fodder for further analysis. But consider the above chart from Forrester. It estimates that the highest increases in spending will be in the areas of social media and mobile technology. Why? Because attention has shifted from broadcast to networks and this trend isn’t going to reverse itself any time soon. If you accept this as a viable thesis, then making the case for investing in infrastructure or “social business planning” shouldn’t seem very far fetched. So what have I missed here? What would you include? How are you performing your own version of social business planning. I’d like to hear about it.