by Nigel Fenwick

4 steps to a successful social business strategy

Mar 14, 2011

There are some notable social technology success stories such as BestBuy’s Twelpforce. But, while each isolated approach to using social technologies may be successful, when taken as a whole, these tactical solutions fail to capitalise on the full potential of social technologies to transform business strategy.

Flattened organisations built around social connections that focus on solving business and customer challenges are replacing old hierarchical organisations. In these new social organisations, employees are adapting technology used at home to help solve these business and customer challenges.

CIOs and CMOs need to come together to help the executive team create a people-based approach aimed at meeting business objectives by changing the way in which these networked people communicate about, and derive value from, products and services.

A mistake many people make is to start with social technology. In fact technology should be the last step in the strategy development process. Instead, develop a social business strategy by following Forrester’s POST sequence, which looks to people first, then objectives, strategy next, and lastly technology:

1 People: assess the social maturity and needs of employees and customers One of the biggest obstacles to successfully incorporating social technologies is underestimating the people factor, which may seem surprising, since by definition, social applies to people. But, without a thorough understanding of the expectations and experience of the workforce and the customer, it will be very difficult to develop an effective strategy.

This means the first step in developing a social strategy is assessing the employees, customers, and suppliers of the business to determine what social media tools they already use.

2 Objectives: review the business objectives Social business strategy should be directed toward achieving the organisation’s goals and objectives, it’s important to review each objective and the associated strategic plans in light of social trends.

Create new social capability maps to show how social technologies can support the business. Then explore scenarios in which social technologies can support, enhance, or even replace the existing strategies.

3 Strategy: formulate a scenario-based social business strategy After developing strategic scenarios, it will be clearer which scenarios offer the most attractive risk/reward combinations. Some scenarios will appear as no-brainer options that require little effort, while having a big impact on business objectives.

For less straightforward cases, weigh the effort and risk against the ROI to determine the appropriate portfolio strategy. Where scenarios have high impact on business objectives, but also require large time and investment commitments, try piloting these initiatives first.

That way, the organisation can minimise risk, while determining the full potential of the scenario.

4 Technology: select the appropriate social technology architecture Only after working through the first three steps are you ready to tackle the question of technology. By this time some technology options may stand out above others.

But with technology choices increasing daily, IT must provide business managers with a variety of services to support evolving strategies, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based options. Some strategies will be best supported by an architecture that allows social functionality to be incorporated into existing applications in the business.

Others may be better suited to stand-alone solutions or some other option. Whichever way you are leaning, try communicating your overall business strategy goals to potential vendors.

Ask them to come up with a licensing approach based on the business’ desired outcomes, thereby creating a powerful incentive for both parties to work together toward success.

Create the aha moment But don’t forget, with so much hype around social technologies, executives are likely to have some misconceptions surrounding their value. Look for ways to share the benefits of a social business strategy with business leaders using examples, books, workshops and case studies early on.

Try to create an aha moment for your executive team – the first time they realise the full potential of social technology has to transform your business.

Nigel Fenwick is VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, serving CIOs

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