How Social Is Your Business, Anyway?

Published in ClickZ on October 29, 2014.

Evolving into a truly social business is a tricky task, and one that can take a while to accomplish. How does your brand stack up?

#IBMSocialStudy -- new research from the IBM Center for Applied Insights

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


  • Increase employee productivity
  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy


  • Collaborative applications
  • Enterprise social networks
  • Social media marketing

2. Build, Educate, and Protect the Workforce


  • Increase employee productivity
  • Optimize workforce talent


  • Security intelligence
  • Workforce training
  • Recruiting
  • Policy communication

3. Understand and Engage Customers


  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy
  • Increase sales


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

4. Mine Community Expertise


  • Optimize workforce talent
  • Increase employee productivity


  • Onboarding
  • Locating experts
  • Crowdsourcing/Idea sourcing

5. Improve Business Processes


  • Reduce costs
  • Increase sales


  • 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.

Are You Ignoring Your Best Brand Advocates?

Published on ClickZ October 30, 2013

I joined a Twitter chat about the value of social this week and during the course of the conversation, was surprised to learn that for some people, the idea of enabling employee advocates was a novel concept. So many people recognize the power of social media for marketing and external evangelism, yet they neglect the power within their own organization!

We all know that social technology enables human connections. But the thing is, there are no boundaries between consumers or employees, because most of us are both. Technology has also amplified the speed and reach of every type of communication. This evolution in how we share information and knowledge goes far beyond just social "media." It's a complete transformation in the way we interact. When businesses fail to take advantage of the valuable assets in their organization, they miss out on an excellent way to create both customer engagement and employee empowerment.

Social strategist Ted Rubin was featured recently in a great article by Cheryl Connor, in Forbes. He said, "When someone asks, ‘What is the ROI of Social?' I ask back...‘What's the ROI of Loyalty, what's the ROI of Trust?' In order to sell the concept, you've got to talk in a language they'll understand."

I'd take this a step further, to ask employers, "What's the ROI of employee engagement and effective communication with consumers?" When employees are empowered to make direct connections with the customers they serve, it fuels productivity and loyalty from within. In addition to having satisfied employees, an organization can create an internal army of brand ambassadors and influencers who can help promote the business.

So often in marketing conferences, we hear about an employee who has gone above and beyond for the sake of a customer. In this social and connected world we live in, this single experience can spread like wildfire, promoting the organization in an organic, authentic way. Giving your employees the power to speak out on behalf of your organization (with some guidelines in place) can only help broaden the voice of your brand voice and increase the level of visibility in the marketplace.

What does it take to develop a following of employee brand ambassadors? Start with these guiding principles:

  • Make your organizational knowledge accessible to all employees through the use of social technology within the business.
  • Empower employees to participate in social media on behalf of the brand. 
  • Put clear, easy-to-follow guidelines in place and have a plan for dealing with potential mistakes. 
  • Facilitate innovation by listening and encouraging feedback around processes, services and products. 

Over the next few years, it's going to become clear that businesses will need to give employees a social experience just like the ones they get in their personal lives. This will not only help businesses retain valuable employees, but it will also be a benefit to the bottom line--and a significant competitive advantage for those that do it right. It will improve employee engagement, productivity and innovation. It will help employees deliver exemplary customer experiences to consumers. It will allow organizations to rally their largest group of brand advocates: the employees themselves.

One thing is absolutely true in this new world of free-flowing information: everyone has a voice and the platform to use it. If you're not using it, someone else will.

What Does It Really Mean to Be a Social Business?


Social media and social business are terms that are getting used a lot lately. But while one may enable the other, they're very different - and organizations that don't understand the distinction may be missing out on a huge opportunity to improve their business processes.

Debate Brewing

Social media continues to mature as both a channel and a market in its own right. It's even becoming an agent for social change. Technology made it possible for us to connect, and now social media has made it possible to do it in a more organic, human way. It's hard to believe, but Facebook and LinkedIn are each coming up on their 10th year, and Twitter is now six years old. Together, they've fundamentally changed how we engage with one another online. Millennials who grew up in a social world are entering the workforce. What happens next? Social business.

While the concept of a social business has been around for a few years, right now it's really gaining traction. But there's a huge difference between a business that uses social media and one that that empowers social connections and makes them a fundamental part of operations. In other words, some companies tweet about their products - and that's it. Truly social businesses use social collaboration to change the way their employees and teams interact.

Not everyone agrees - the debate is brewing, and a number of papers, research reports, and books appear on the subject every day. I recently engaged in a discussion on the subject during a Twitter chat hosted by @PamMktgNut. Check out the #getrealchat transcript to read the whole conversation. I love the fact that we were using social media to discuss the topic, and that we got to hear 136 perspectives in a real-time discussion. The consensus was that social media is a marketing and communication channel, and social business is a philosophy that combines process, technology, and people to be successful. Of course, social media is a part of the greater concept of social business, since it helps an organization communicate with external constituents. But an intrinsically social company infuses social interaction into every part of their business operations.

The Social Business

The way I see it, a social business is a connected organization where the expertise of the individual is accessible by all through the ability to collaborate. Internal and external social communication fuels the development of new product and service development by employing social listening and analytics. It's the application of the new communication medium that was introduced by social media into the very fabric of how we work.

I believe that social business is the next step in the evolutionary process in the day-to-day functions of digitally enabled enterprises. Much in the same way that the Internet revolutionized how we all work in the era of e-business; social processes, technology, and mindsets will revolutionize how people in organizations connect, collaborate, and share knowledge.

What Do You Think?

Of course, this debate continues in the marketplace, and since this is an ongoing evolution, it's likely to change. Large software vendors like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and are starting to formulate strategies for developing new ways business is conducted in the digital and social era. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what this means for you - and also for the future of your business.