Is corporate denial suffocating social?

Corporate denial comes in many forms but none more striking than executives who label social media a novelty.  In my role as digital strategist to Australia’s largest companies, I’ve met some non-believers and some sceptics, some who put social in the too-hard basket and still others who are seemingly oblivious to the great social revolution that is happening with Australian consumers and employees.

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One dubious, but at a stretch, plausible defence for inaction, is that social is still in its early days. We’re still in the opening swell of a huge tide of social-driven enterprise transformation that will drive competitive advantage.

First generation corporate social efforts have focused primarily on marketing with a flurry of activity around external social channels. These have helped companies engage their audiences, build brands and nurture communities.

But with volume based metrics such as likes, followers, mentions and click throughs as the primary measures, together with a lot of noise about negative customer comments and complaints, you can see why some executives have shied away.

However our thinking about social is rapidly maturing, as a recent study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte confirms. More than two thirds  of executives (from a sample of 2,545 respondents from 25 industries and 99 countries) think social business would be critical to their organisations in the next three years.

Why is social becoming a more strategic consideration? In studying the actions of social business leaders like Cisco, Dell and American Express, we find that they’ve moved beyond the concept of social as an application or tool. They have understood the inherent power of social, which is to tap into the hearts and minds of a broad audience whose actions can drive direct business benefits. 

Social is genuinely new. Before its invention companies had no way of participating in communities that extended far beyond their known stakeholder groups or deriving value from these communities in the form of ideas, sales, profile, goodwill, productivity etc.

What is Social Business?

  • Consumer based social media and networks (for example, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Slideshare)
  • Technology-based, internally developed social networks (such as GE’s Colab or the Cisco Learning Network)
  • Social software for enterprise use, whether created by third parties (for example Chatter, Jive) or developed in house
  • Data derived from social media and technologies (such as crowdsourcing or marketing intelligence)

Social Business: Shifting out of First Gear

  • 65% of respondents use social business tools to understand market shifts
  • 45% turn to it to improve visibility into operations
  • 45% leverage it to identify internal talent

As a business solution, social has evolved, moving well beyond the marketing department to address business objectives across the organisation, including customer service, competitive intelligence, product development, lead generation, targeted selling, project management, innovation and internal collaboration, to name a few.

Perceptive leaders have integrated social into many functions, measure it using intelligent analytics, and use it in daily decision making.

Deloitte’s recently released Australian Business Trends 2014, names nine business trends that will reshape the world and Australia in 2014.  One of the nine is ‘Social Business, Global Business’. The report discusses one of the social business initiatives of Telstra where the telco has pioneered the concept of crowdsourcing customer service via its CrowdSupport online community – underpinned by a social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. This solution streamlined a multi-channel customer service offering (predominantly phone and email) and ensures customers are able to receive near real-time answers and solutions to queries. 

Further afield, there are a burgeoning number of wealth management start-ups, many based in Silicon Valley, using social as a key element of their business models. Estimize uses the crowd to estimate quarterly earnings and claims to beat Wall Street 69.5 percent of the time. eToro empowers individual investors to copy the portfolios of successful traders. Kickstarter collects contributions (tantamount to donations) from the crowd for new start-ups, with no equity stake involved.

And countless new companies are simply providing a forum for wealth related questions to be asked and answered by anonymous parties. None of these business models are possible without social media.

Australians are social omnivores. Deloitte Australia’s 2013 survey into consumer usage and consumption of devices and media found that almost half (48 per cent) of Australian consumers update their social network every day or almost every day (5 – 7 days a week) and more importantly for business, 34 per cent of all survey respondents view social media as an important tool with which to learn about products and services. Our consumers want to interact with our product and service providers through whichever means suits them, and increasingly this is social. Our employees too have high expectations of social access and involvement.

What are the barriers and how are they overcome? 

The major impediments to harnessing the power of social business include:

  • Lack of support from the top
    Because senior executives don’t use or understand social media Starting with the CEO and board, education is vital.  Leaders must use social media themselves. The ‘why’ is the most important element in transforming the organisation. 
  • Absence of an overall strategy
    The loose threads of social spread across marketing, communications, operations, customer service, recruitment, internal communications, technology, product, legal and risk…must be pulled together into a coherent story and plan. Social Capital, the value derived from the use of social media, as distinct from the tools and applications, is key). 
  • Ill-fitting operating model
    Who owns social? The answer is often murky. Though it has commonly been born out of the marketing department, it needs to span all functions. The baked-in organisational constraints around functional and business unit silos need to be rewired in order to embrace social. One proven and effective approach is a Social Capital Steering Group with representatives from all parts of the business most impacted by social. This group should be responsible for strategy and governance. 
  • Skills deficit
    Though outsourcing social may be a practical step in the early days, social skills and capability must exist within all areas of the business. Banks for example have a great opportunity to train their relationship bankers in how to build their profile and generate leads through LinkedIn.  Analytics teams have another rich dataset for profiling customers and communicating with them in a personalised way. Employees can deliver immense value through innovation and collaboration via the internal social network. 

Social is here to stay. It is  as natural and advantageous to business as important technological forerunners such as personal computers and mobile phones.

Katherine Milesi – Deloitte Digital Partner and a passionate and experienced technology, marketing and social advisor.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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