One of the trends that we clearly see this year is that organizations are taking stock of all their social media efforts, internally and externally. Usually they are trying to get beyond the initial learning years and the resulting early chaos to determine how they should best be structured to deal with what has become the world’s largest and most engaged marketplace. And, while everyone can and should be a foot solider in the modern social enterprise, businesses are also starting to realize that the days of isolated tactical experiments are drawing to a close.
We frequently encounter businesses today that have dozens and sometimes hundreds of individual social media efforts. This has become a major issue for those climbing higher on the social media maturity curve. The mainstreaming and growing strategic importance of social media, combined with the aforementioned proliferation and spread across most organizations, is creating unique challenges all their own.
Thus, many businesses now realize they’ve lost intellectual control over a seemingly galactic number of social media projects and that there is too much duplication, inconsistency, and poor coordination between them. As a result, organizations are seeking ways to consolidate, optimize, and bring focus to their social media efforts. What’s emerging is something that for lack of a better term I’ll call a Social Business Unit. It’s actual name varies in organizations and might just be a group inside Corporate Communications or it could be a full-out, dedicated Social Business Unit that’s been created as part of a new organizational entity.
Now, I should be clear that top-down hierarchy and central control is not the name of the game for a Social Business Unit. In fact quite the contrary, and I’ve previously explored why this is with push vs. pull management models and CoIT. Instead, the Social Business Unit is much more of a facilitator that enables local success by providing needed guidance, best practices, coordination, and occasionally actual resources such as community management and social listening.
In the end, we see organizations crystallizing their most strategic efforts around social media and Enterprise 2.0 (the full Social Business spectrum) into a support unit precisely because they want to enable local action across the business that makes sense in the full context of the organization. It can also deliver business results more coherently, efficiently, and cost effectively. Last but not least, that these results will be both goal-oriented as well as emergent is something that a Social Business Unit must be crafted to enable.
While most Social Business Units we’ve worked with have focused more on external social media than internal, because they are part of the same continuum; we see that most of these efforts are involving both sides. External social media tends to get more attention first because of the sheer number of efforts in many organizations; there are usually fewer internal social media efforts though almost always at least a handful.
What’s in a Social Business Unit
While the exact composition and goals of a Social Business Unit varies by organization, we generally see the following breakdown, which is depicted in the visual above:
- Competitive Assessment. Most organizations track and respond to their peers and industry players and this is no different with Social Business. While there are sometimes exceptions, with players that are far ahead of their peers when it comes social media, it’s vital that companies have their picture of their competitive context. Just doing what your competitors are doing is not the goal here. Instead it’s finding where the gaps and opportunities are while also looking at what’s next, not just what’s already been done. Your customers expectations will also be set by how your competitors are engaging them. The race to build relevant customer communities and capture the social engagement of the marketplace first can be a zero sum game with a limited time window for action. Understand where you stand with social media, use this information to grow organizationally, and maintain the picture as you begin activating at the next strategic level.
- Social Listening. While most organizations focus excessively on the big-name ecosystems like Facebook and Twitter, there are actually hundreds of relevant social networks today and many online communities — especially vertical ones related to your business — that must be tracked in order to get a picture of what’s happening in the marketplace that affects your organization. Business opportunities, nascent customer support situations, product innovations, and more awaits firms that build a capability to listen across the social media landscape. This is very different from Web analytics where the goal was to understand what people are doing on your own Web properties. Instead, this is about going out to where the customers are (and live) and understand what’s taking place that matters to you, in real-time. Social listening is a good candidate for centralization in the Social Business Unit as long as the data streams are pro-actively opened up to internal social media efforts.
- Analytics & Business Intelligence. This is about making sense of the continuous stream of business-relevant knowledge coming out of the social media universe. It’s about having insight vs. just having data. Organizations can’t individually listen to millions of customers and other stakeholders. But they can build an integrated picture and begin mining it for insight and information. They can also sort the conversations they need to be involved in for size, urgency, and priority. While the actual enterprise-class tools for this are just now reaching the marketplace, much can be done with existing services and tools to make sure that opportunities and crises are identified, isolated, and responded to appropriately. And the need to take appropriate action brings us to the next Social Business Unit capability.
- Engagement Processes. Social media is much more than just listening or analyzing. Companies now must engage in the conversations that matter to them and they must do it in scale. Ignoring the customer is no longer an option, nor are uncoordinated, inconsistent, or duplicate responses for your company. The Social Business Unit can provide a lightweight and effective routing service for new business, support, innovation and other conversations, both to internal efforts as well as coordination between them. A certain level of automated response, saying that answers or help are coming soon are useful as well. But the message here is that the Social Business Unit has a cohesive, company-wide capability for social media engagement (typically through a centralized community management team) while local business units have the option of participating in any organized response.
- Capability Acquisition. Building a Social Business Unit takes time and usually has several phases as lessons are learned and the ideal set of resources, responsibilities, and processes are defined. Getting the balance right between central control of social media and distributed action is also difficult and a light hand is often needed early on. Ideal Social Business Unit leaders and ombudsman are politically savvy yet are very careful not to seek too much control over existing initiatives in the organization. I’d note that effective capabilities tend to focus on enabling social media efforts rather than policing them.
It’s been very interesting to watch this new phase of maturity with enterprise social media over the last few months. Large organizations are now clearly realizing that their customers have moved en masse and the industry is just now coming to terms with how to best organize around social media. I’d also point out that Social Business Units, while certainly not mandatory (and many companies will never have one), are not the only way to activate around social media strategically. But the point here is that many organizations are finding them to be useful constructs to start delivering on social media in a more sophisticated and comprehensive manner while capturing valuable economies of scale.
Could your organization benefit from having a Social Business Unit?