Communications leading social business: Draft a social business strategy

If social business "describes how you are going to produce business value from that (social) behavior," as articulated in my earlier post, then what can a communications leader do to draft a social business strategy?

If social business “describes how you are going to produce business value from that (social) behavior,” as articulated in my earlier post, then what can a communications leader do to draft a social business strategy?

You cannot do it alone. The horizontal collaboration at the top is key. If you can get your colleagues in different disciplines to acknowledge the potential impact on the business from social behaviors, you are halfway home. You, yourself, must make the choice to start addressing social media not as a simple marcomms channel but as a human behavior accelerated by technology that offers opportunity, value, and significant risk if ignored or approached poorly.

To galvanize leadership, orchestrate a memorable moment in time. CIO and Forrester Research give guidance to CIOs to lead this charge. They talk about creating the “a-ha” moment where executives come together to share an understanding of how social media behaviors and technologies impact business. I am all for that. In fact, I was lucky enough to attend IBM's first social business summit 16 months ago. Senior executives from 63 companies all benefited from hearing IBM's point of view on social business. There is no reason the communications leader cannot be the driver of that a-ha moment.

Align with business strategy
What is your overall business strategy this year? Chances are it's a mix of your company's enduring character traits – what behaviors you find invaluable to doing business – and some here-and-now business priorities like expansion in growth markets, empowering company experts to build customer relationships (that's high on IBM's list), and expanding the services that customers find invaluable. Your social business strategy is strongest when built on core business strategy. This is a wonderfully creative process, and once you have a straw man on a single piece of paper, I would move on. You can always come back to refine later.

Audit your current state
How are business units around the world using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more? Who has implemented some type of social listening technology and process? Where are the bright spots – places where people inside the organization are doing something impressive and right-minded? This step makes a lot more sense once you have a straw man social business strategy in place. That gives you something to audit against. The only trick to this exercise remains how to do it without boiling the ocean. I would suggest making it a specific research project with a goal of delivering “pretty good” audit within a few weeks. When you establish governance (rules to be followed), you can create a type of self-reporting mechanism that encourages teams in Vietnam or South Africa to self-report their social media initiatives.

Establish a measurement model
Nothing breeds strategy like a common and well-thought-out evaluation criteria. If everyone around the world aligns with a common way of measuring their social experiments, they all start informing each other. You may decide that strategically, customer advocacy is an enterprise priority. You may come to that conclusion through your desire to make your efforts more efficient. Or you may decide to focus on relationship marketing versus advertising or because you believe in the strength of the Net Promoter Score. You will then establish a model for understanding the volume, sentiment, and particulars of customer endorsement in all its many forms. Suddenly business units around the world will understand how their efforts will be evaluated by leadership.

John Bell is global managing director of Social@Ogilvy.

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