Putting Social Business into Action

This is part 8 of 12 from “Social Business: What Are Companies Really Doing?” a report on the findings of the 2012 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project.

We have discussed some of the many opportunities and challenges associated with social business activity. In this final section, we offer some practical and prescriptive guidance on how to begin (or accelerate) your social journey. It’s essential to develop a long-term vision about how your social business activities will connect with the realities of your organization. Beyond just buying social tools, the organization must commit resources (people and funding) to support their adoption. Integrating external data sources into enterprise systems and tackling the challenge of measuring results will also be critical to the long-term results of many social business strategies.

Start with a Long-Term Vision

A “clear vision of how social media supports business strategy” was the top facilitator of adoption in our survey. Therefore, we believe the first step in your social business journey is to create and communicate the broader social strategy for your organization. What business problems are to be solved with social business activities? What is the strategy for making this happen? What technology best supports these objectives? What kinds of social networks will support this strategy? Recognize that your social business journey will take time and that it will require and drive changes to your business processes, your organizational structure and how you interact with customers and employees.

Assess Where You Are Today

Identify problems that are currently being addressed with social tools. Explore whether the right social business resources are being directed toward the right business problems. If your organization is in a heavily regulated industry, are your regulatory affairs personnel talking about social business? What coordination exists between those who are most invested in social business activities and those who know how regulations address social business issues? Make sure you have a governance process in place to address these and similar questions as part of your initial social strategy.

Identify the people or roles that will focus on social business and how these individuals are to coordinate with one another. What, if any, relationship exists between your CMO and CIO around social business? Individuals in both roles should have a shared understanding of the risks and opportunities of social business.

Use listening tools to collect information on what is being said about your organization, your brands, your customer service and your competition. Our research indicates that only a small percentage of organizations have begun to connect external social data into existing enterprise systems and data. We see this as an area that holds tremendous potential value for organizations.

Support Adoption

Ensure that social business initiatives have enough resources. It is not uncommon for organizations to allocate funds for social software tools and then neglect or underfund the adoption components. Is an individual assigned responsibility for this effort, or is this an additional duty on top of someone’s current job? Are the right incentives targeting the right people? Are resources allocated for activities such as user training, communications, content building and community management? Is training available to distinguish personal and professional uses of social networks? Are sufficient resources in place to respond to brand issues that might develop in social channels?

Measure Results, Not Adoption

It is clear from our survey (and many other research efforts) that enterprises are having difficulties measuring the relationship between investments in social business and returns from these investments. Capital One’s Tom Poole echoes what we’ve heard from a number of executives: “We try not to hold ourselves to a pure constraint of measurable gains. I think we still believe we’re in an experimentation phase and trying to learn.”

Measurement may become increasingly important, especially if these activities require rethinking and redesigning practices, processes, measurement systems and information systems in significant ways. Although a consensus has yet to emerge on measuring social business activities, managers have several options. One is to conduct experiments that compare the performance of groups that are heavy and light users of social software and social networking.

Measuring adoption can be a misleading indicator of value. In fact, focusing on adoption as a success metric may lead to failure, according to the Deloitte study “Social Software for Business Performance,” since adoption metrics do not address what matters most to employees, managers and executives.20 For managers, what matters most is often whether the tool helps them do their jobs more effectively.


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.