Where’s the Business Value? (Not Just in Marketing)

We asked our respondents how important they thought social software would be to their organization’s success in meeting eight specific business challenges over the next two years. (See Figure 8.) The top two business challenges that could be addressed by social software were managing customer relationships and innovating for competitive differentiation.

The importance of marketing and innovation to an organization is difficult to overstate. According to management theorist Peter Drucker, “Because it is its purpose to create a customer, business has two — and only two — functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation create value; all the rest are costs.”12

But marketing and innovation are just the start of the value story for social business. In our interviews with thought leaders and executives, we also found that operations and leadership are benefiting from social tools. These four areas — marketing, innovation, operations and leadership — are where social business is creating significant opportunity and, for some companies, significant value.13 Using social tools for marketing is not the be-all or end-all of social business: it is a component of the overall value that social business can deliver.

Figure 8
The Importance of Social Software in Meeting Challenges

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Organizations are using social software, social media and social networking to improve their relationship with customers in a number of ways: monitoring online communities; creating and supporting virtual communities; developing new communication channels; and fostering a wide range of customer engagements, including coupons, contests and other sponsored events. With their social business activities, enterprises have been able to enhance their understanding of and engagement with their customers. At the same time, customers, vendors and suppliers are clearly willing to engage with business in online social forums. In particular, product fan sites have proliferated across the Web, increasing the visibility of influencers and a core customer base.

McDonald’s In 2010, McDonald’s launched McRib, a limited-time-offer sandwich. It quickly developed a loyal fan base that was “raving about the product in social media,” according to Rick Wion, the company’s director of social media:

When we saw these superfans, we decided to use social media to engage with them.

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1. As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Services LP, which are separate subsidiaries of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

2. Source: MIT Sloan Management Review interview with David Sacks, CEO of Yammer, February 24, 2012.

3. Social media is how people get together virtually to accomplish outcomes. Social software is the set of tools that gives people in a social network the means for automation, virtualization, scale and abstraction. Social networks are formal descriptions of groups of people who congregate in a social medium.

4. Not all social business activities will produce mutually useful connections between individuals. In some cases, it may be beneficial to diminish certain connections between staff or with some customers. Further, the use of emergent communication and collaboration tools like Yammer may one day become part of the baseline. When that happens, using these tools may cease to qualify as a social business activity as we’re defining it, not because they are any less social but because they no longer “amplify” connections.

5. D.M. Smith et al., “Predicts 2010: Social Software Is an Enterprise Reality,” Gartner, December 3, 2009.

6. A. McAfee, “What Sells CEOs on Social Networking,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring, 2012, http://tablet.mitsmr.com/feature/what-sells-ceos-on-social-networking.

7. Other uses of “social business” might refer to organizations or to economic systems that promote some notion of social welfare. For an example of the latter, see M. Yunus, “Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs” (New York: Public Affairs, 2010).

8. See F. Gossieaux and E. Moran, “The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media” (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010); and A.J. Bradley and M. McDonald, “The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees” (Cambridge: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011).

9. E. Deci and R. Ryan, “Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior” (New York: Plenum, 1985).

10. This example comes from an interview with Fergus Griffin, senior vice president for solutions marketing at Salesforce.com. Additional detail was sourced from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTOL6gUgoJQ.

11. G. Tay, “Ask Five Questions to Determine Whether to Deploy Social Software Bottom-Up or Top-Down,” Gartner Research, January 20, 2011, http://www.gartner.com.

12. P.F. Drucker, “The Practice of Management” (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954), 37.

13. Of course, social business activities can be valuable in many ways. It is our belief that social business activities in these four areas have the potential to generate substantial value.

14. E. von Hippel, S. Ogawa and J.P.J. de Jong, “The Age of the Consumer-Innovator,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 1 (fall 2011): 27-35.

15. S. Nambisan and P. Nambisan, “How to Profit from a Better ‘Virtual Customer Environment’,” MIT Sloan Management Review (spring 2008): 53-59. For an analysis of Threadless and social media, see D. Hinchcliffe and P. Kim, “Social Business by Design: Transformative Social Media Strategies” (San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, 2012).

16. This example is based on Y.M. Antorini, A.M. Muñiz, Jr. and T. Askildsen, “Collaborating With Customer Communities: Lessons From the Lego Group,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 3 (spring 2012): 73-79.

17. J. Hagel, “Pull Platforms for Performance,” February 20, 2012, http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com.

18. T. Levitt, “Marketing Myopia,” Harvard Business Review, September/October 1975.

19. Providing clear guidance about communications external to a business can be tricky, especially in regulated industries like health care and financial services. Too much guidance can put a damper on social business activities. “If I ask an organization for their social media policy, and I get back a 50-page document,” says MIT’s Andrew McAfee, “that might as well just say, we’d prefer it if you don’t use social media.” Even in unregulated industries, too much oversight can cast a shadow on innocent interactions. Babson College’s Keri Pearlson describes a recent meeting with a colleague and two representatives from a large technology firm. Her colleague tweeted that she and Pearlson were at a lunch meeting, naming the firm but not the individuals. When the representatives returned to work, the office was buzzing about who was speaking without authorization about the company. Staff had been monitoring information flows from Twitter about the company and had seen the tweet from Pearlson’s colleague.

20. M. Miller, A. Marks and M. DeCoulode, “Social Software for Business Performance: The Missing Link in Social Software — Measurable Business Performance Improvements,” Deloitte Center for the Edge, 2011.

21. M. White and B. Briggs, “Tech Trends 2012: Elevate IT for Digital Business,” Deloitte, 2012: 5.