How CIOs Can Devise a Social Business Strategy

What does it take for businesses to successfully harness the power of social media? A new report from Forrester Research says that a social business strategy is key. Here's how to create one.

Untapped data. Inability to scale. Dismal adoption. Overspending. Gaping security holes. These are some of the most common challenges—and often sources of failure—that enterprises encounter following a social solution deployment, according to a new report by Forrester Research.

As more companies continue to embrace social technologies, the key to success, Forrester says, is in a social business strategy. "Yesterday's strategies built around market needs are outdated in today's empowered business world," writes report author and Forrester analyst Nigel Fenwick. "Dynamic, flatter organizations built around social connections that focus on solving business and customer challenges are replacing old hierarchial organizations."

But before developing a social business strategy, CIOs need to partner with the CMO and address two areas:

Create a social business strategy council. Understand that neither the CIO nor the CMO owns the strategy, rather the executive team must own it. Enlist the CEO to create a social business strategy council, comprised of business leaders and managers from across the enterprise, including IT, HR and legal. This team's responsibility, states the Forrester report, is to help create the strategy and see the implementation through.

Engineer your "aha" moment. This moment occurs when senior leadership realizes the full potential of social technologies to improve their business, according to the report. Forretser recommends creating a setting for this moment by bringing together business execs to explore how social technologies are transforming other organizations, and to discuss what is possible in your organization.

Here are the four steps Forrester recommends when creating a social business strategy.

Social Business Strategy Step 1: Considering Your People

Without an understanding of the expectations and experience of your employees, customers and suppliers, developing an effective strategy is difficult.

Start by assessing how creative your employees are. In using technologies such as Facebook or iPhones, do they imagine how they could be used to help customers? Is your company set up in such a way that employees feel free to act on creative impulses? This will help determine how far along your workforce is in social technology adoption, the report says.

Next, think about how social your customers are. Between 2007 and 2010, social networking usage more than doubled, according to Forrester, with 62 million U.S. adults visiting a social networking site at least monthy. "A clear understanding of your customers' use of social technologies yields potential insights into how to engage with them to create value," Fenwick writes.

Social Business Strategy Step 2: Listing Your Objectives

What do you want to achieve in social? List examples, such as "grow sales by x% a year" or "increase repeat customer business by y%," the report says. Each objective should have one or more strategies associated with it and should describe how to achieve the objective.

Next, review each objective-strategy combination in terms of emerging social technology trends and describe how these technologies can support, enhance or replace the strategy. Keep in mind the associated costs, risk assessments and ROI, the report says.

Social Business Strategy Step 3: Formulating the Strategy

Review your objectives and strategies and determine which of them has the greatest output (impact on achieving objectives) for the least input (risk, investment, effort and complexity), the report states. This will help determine which projects should be supported and which should be scrapped.

As a guideline:

-Low-input projects, which require little or no upfront investment, have little impact on business objectives but do have operational advantages, should be piloted.

-Initiatives with a large impact on business objectives, but are costly or complex, should be piloted so the business can minimize risk while learning how to maximize returns.

-Projects with little risk, complexity, effort and cost that have a big impact on business objectives should be invested in, supported and fast-tracked.

-Scrap projects with high input and little return.

Social Business Strategy Step 4: Selecting the Technology

In selecting the technology, the report says that "IT must mirror the technology market and provide business managers with an array of services to support the social business strategy."

Consider all options, the report says, including a platform approach, SaaS service and cloud-based solutions. Keep in mind how these services tie into the company's existing technology architecture. And when it comes to partnering with a vendor, be sure you understand the differences between the pricing models, such as freemium, pay-per-view and per-month licensing.

Kristin Burnham covers consumer technologies, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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