Over the past eight years, I've traveled to various countries consulting with customers from a range of industries who are working on creating or enhancing their social business strategy – specifically with respect to how they are using social community software to transform communication and collaboration among their organization’s customers, partners and employees.

As companies continue to evolve their social business strategy, numerous questions always tend to come up along the way. One particular question that I was recently asked was, “What are the three core elements of social business?” Here’s my response:

1. Emphasis on Business Outcomes, Not Technology Features

What distinguishes an organization in their use of social technology? Strategy

That is why it is important to note that organizations that are linked to being key models of how to use social software to change a dynamic in their business define a clear strategy early on, measure on a consistent basis and evolve and make corrections along the journey. However, too often social business conversations focus primarily on the features and capabilities rather than the strategy that will produce desired business outcomes. For example, at Telligent we recently responded to a RFP which had over 500 requirements – this included everything from nuances such as how tags worked to more specific capabilities such as video transcoding.

What constantly amazes me about these conversations relate back to my primary point – the most successful uses of social business have nothing to do with technology, but instead business transformation. Organizations that put an emphasis on how social evolves their business tend to have the most success. For example, one organization that we've been working with uses social as an enabler for their sales organization. Just as the organization uses CRM tools to track and manage customer data, they also use social to track and manage all the specifics of what customers are doing, how they go through the buying process, and the outcomes.

Key takeaway: Technology is the easiest part of the social software equation. Spending the time to understand what an organization’s goals and objectives are and mapping those to a business strategy takes forethought. However, organizations that apply strategy to their social endeavor also are the ones that tend to get the results others desire to achieve.

2. Social is an Integrated Set of Experiences, Not Another Destination Site

I believe that social is the connective tissue that enables organizations to bridge many different business technologies: document management, HR, sales and more. Essentially, social business connects the organization together.

We often see organizations approaching social as another vertical technology solution inside their enterprise architecture, sitting alongside HR systems and document management systems. As a result of this approach by organizations, larger enterprise vendors are facilitating this trend by adding 'check box' social features into their software.

Telligent Social Suite for SharePoint is a great example of this. Microsoft SharePoint provides enough social capabilities to check the box, but people find that after scratching the surface there is often a need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars with professional services organizations to transform SharePoint to be social. This is a flawed approach. It is best to let Microsoft SharePoint do what it does best and instead integrate best-of-breed social business tools into Microsoft SharePoint.

Social is not a destination, but rather, a set of experiences dictated by the type of interaction the consumer desires. Leaders recognize that social isn't just another set of features, but an integrated set of experiences that touches multiple systems. In some ways it’s the ultimate middle-ware: connecting people to one another and to the information they need. The key to this is that social flows across the different work tools that people use every day – email, document management, mobile, the intranet and more.  

Key takeaway: Successful strategies rely on applying technology to maximize the reach for each of the channels that the business has invested in, not to create yet another silo of communication – this reach is achieved through integration.

3. Provides Clear, Measurable Impact to the Business

Social can provide clear, measurable impact to your business. But, in order for this to happen, you have to identify the use case that social will address and be sure to link your community strategy back to your corporate objectives.

There are many proven use cases to choose from, both internally for your business or externally for your customers. One of the most frequently cited examples is customer support - through the use of social communities, businesses can provide tools that enable customers to support one another. This has a very easy and direct (and proven) measurement.

But, what about some of the use cases that aren’t as clear, such as employee networking? How, do you measure the value of enabling employees to better connect with one another? Empirically we know that enabling employees to connect with peers and network internally has benefits to communication, decision making and morale. And while this is likely the most valuable measurement - the holy grail of social – it is the most difficult to measure. I often equate it to the phone or email – how do you measure the value of these devices?  

That is why shifting from a tactical approach to a more strategic one can help overcome these measurement difficulties. Any well-run organization has clearly defined corporate objectives that articulate the value proposition they expect to deliver. Communities should be viewed as enablers of corporate objectives, and in order to generate the highest possible return from a community, it is crucial that you link community strategy to corporate objectives. However, focusing on measuring ROI too quickly can actually be detrimental to a community’s success. In our World Class Community Whitepaper we walk you through the three steps to get to ROI – once these steps are completed, it is then reasonable to investigate how much value has been created and to calculate ROI.

Key takeaway: Communities associated with corporate objectives have the potential to create a tremendous amount of value. However, you must also keep in mind that you need to find the applicable measurements for the use cases you choose.

Now it’s time to take a look at your organization’s social strategy. Does your social business strategy currently include all three core elements? If not, or even if it does but you are just looking for information on how to enhance it, then we recommend that you join us May 22nd for our social support webinar that will touch on the first core element of focusing on business outcomes. Learn firsthand from leading experts as they discuss strategies for enhancing support with social media and online communities. Register today!