How to bootstrap your company’s social business efforts

More and more companies want to take advantage of new social tools and practices. But where do you start?

The good news is that many companies have already started. And they’re sharing their experiences at conferences like Enterprise 2.0 this past week. Yet I was struck by how many companies measured success by the number of users and activity on their platforms.

That seemed wrong.

Now, getting 10,000+ people to use a platform is pretty impressive. And conference speakers told compelling stories of employees sharing and connecting in new ways. But I couldn’t identify the problem they were solving. Or the business value they created.

So here instead is a different approach. It focuses first on addressing basic problems using simple methods. Then it builds on those solutions, engaging more people and further changing how they work.

Start with internal Communities of Practice

One of the most basic problems you could address at your firm is to help people get better at their jobs.

And, for almost any role, communities of practice can help you do just that. Whether you’re a salesperson, a claims adjuster, or a client service rep, there’s an innate value in sharing what’s working and not working. And that value increases when it’s focused on measurably improving the effectiveness of a given role - e.g., by having the people who do the work actually shape the work.

As a way to get started, implementing communities of practice has 3 other benefits:

  • They’re practical. They let you demonstrate how a social way of working can have clear, measurable results in ways anyone can understand.
  • They’re simple. Changing how employees work is easier to implement (in terms of legal and compliance issues) than changing how you engage with customers.
  • You can get help. Because people have been working on building communities for a long time, there are plenty of excellent resources to help you.

Connect businesses with a Social Media Council

Many different groups at your firm are already considering social media projects - either to connect employees or to engage customers. But these kinds of projects are so new that there’s often very little structure in place to help them.  

So businesses have to do a lot on their own. They have to understand legal, data security, data privacy, and HR issues; navigate compliance processes (where they exist); find suitable technology.

You can address these difficulties by creating an internal council, comprised of social media practitioners from across the firm. Simply sharing what’s working or not working - and who’s doing what - can save businesses and control functions months of frustration.

More importantly, the group can now act as a collective and shape shared services - e.g., social media monitoring or new approval processes - that can help them implement their projects.

Concentrate your expertise into a Center of Excellence

If you build communities and a social media council, they’ll need help and on-going expert advice to get things done.

You may already have social business experts spread across your firm, doing other jobs. By bringing experts together into a formal center of excellence (typically only 2 to 6 people), you’ll make it easier for businesses to know where to go.

You also make it easier to bring together knowledge on internal best practices. To learn from other companies by participating in groups like the Social Business Council. To design the shared services your firm will need to further change the work across more of the firm.

Build a tribe to scale what you’re doing

As you implement projects - even a few - you’ll quickly run out of resources.  

But the answer isn’t to hire more experts and grow the central group. They can never know enough because changing how your firm works requires detailed, local knowledge. You’ll need people - a lot of them - at all levels in all areas in all locations.

The solution is to complement your small center of excellence with a much larger collaboration community of practice. IBM, for example, has built BlueIQ , a collaboration community of over 2000 people, to help drive the adoption of collaboration tools and practices across IBM.

The collaboration community is what links distributed, grass-roots enthusiasm to enterprise objectives. The key is defining clear roles and ways to contribute so they can do more than just share. They can get things done.

Building an effective tribe that’s 10 to 100 times larger than your central team is a practical, low-cost way to scale your efforts across the firm.

Now (and only now) get a platform

The technology matters. The simplicity. The convenience. The ubiquity - everyone using the same thing and having it available everywhere.  

But it won’t matter much if you don’t know what you’ll do with it.

That’s why it’s so important to build internal communities and work with businesses in the social media council. By working on real business problems first, you get practical experience and insight you wouldn’t otherwise have.

This way, you can have 1000s of users the day you launch your platform. You’ll have better reasons for promoting it to others at the firm. And you’ll know exactly what problems they’ll be trying to solve.

Making it stick

If this sounds like a lot of hard work, it is. Other approaches are certainly more exciting. Perhaps launching a platform first, coming up with clever marketing, and participating in social events and communities.

But that only leads to shallow engagement. It creates a nice place for employees to go but it doesn’t significantly change the work.

You’ll get deeper employee engagement through solving basic problems at your firm. And you’ll get deeper engagement from senior management by posting measurable commercial benefits.

That’s a much better way to start.