Leveraging Social Media for Results – Creating Business Impact
While social media is everywhere, not many organizations have been able to truly leverage its power for business impact. Fortunately there is good news. Gartner authors Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald in their book THE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011 insist that with a clear strategy and a well managed process, business leaders can indeed create value for their organizations through “mass collaboration”.
The Key Ingredients - To make mass collaboration work, it is important to understand its ingredients separately and then put them together cohesively. These ingredients are primarily the social media (the online environment), the community (the people who come together) and the purpose (which unites the community).
Sounds simple? Yet research shows that when companies simply provide social media technology and hope for the best, only 10% of them succeed. 70% fail because adoption is poor, and there is little or no active community engagement. And 20% fail because the community that forms doesn’t deliver any real value.
So what does it take to make mass collaboration work?
A Vision - Leaders in the organization must create and drive a compelling vision. A vision creates a picture of what mass collaboration must achieve, who will form the community, and how it will help achieve the goals of the organization.
As part of the vision creation process, it is important to understand when mass collaboration is appropriate, and when it is not. For instance, it could work well in a context where members seek “collective wisdom” rather than “individual expertise” or for “gathering perceptions” rather than for “ascertaining facts.”
A Strategic Approach - To arrive at a strategy, the organization must frame a purpose. Who are the target participants? What is the nature and focus of their collaboration? What’s in it for the participants? What value will the organization realize? When a purpose is framed it must be magnetic, business aligned, and aligned to the existing culture of the group.
A strategy then outlines how the community will be formed, how the purpose will be tested, what investments are needed, how management will be involved, how security issues will be addressed etc.
A Purpose Roadmap - A purpose roadmap will help the organization grow the social media environment to meet different purposes as it evolves. This means the mass collaboration initiative can adapt to cope with changing priorities or new purposes over a span of time. It also helps identify the expected behavior of the community and build a business justification.
Companies that had a clear roadmap have seen business results.
The analytics firm FICO which offers FICO credit scores created a myFICO forum that engaged over 400,000 registered members contributing over 10,000 posts a month. By creating active community discussions they were able to achieve business results. In the final analysis, with less customer service calls and with increased sales, they demonstrated a 300% ROI through the community.
Launching and thereafter…
Ease of use: When launching mass collaboration initiatives, among the many things that matter, it is crucial that the platform is easy to use. For instance, Google beat its competition as a search engine not by being the first, but by being the simplest.
Engagement: Every mass collaboration effort must aim at creating a certain critical mass in terms of the number of people actively engaged in the interactions. While planning for this critical mass, it is safe to follow the 1 – 9 – 90 rule. Research shows that for every 100 participants, 1 person is an originator, 9 people are augmenters, and 90 are readers. Organizations must work to create this critical mass, and then gradually shift ownership to the community.
Tuning the organization: Finally it’s about tuning the organization, and adapting it to being social by ensuring buy-in from IT, Finance, and HR to ensure full support of the mass collaboration initiatives.
Difficult, but doable - CEMEX, a $14.5 billion cement and building material giant introduced a program called SHIFT which successfully used social media to engage over 18,000 people in discussion, debate and action. This initiative enabled rapid involvement from everyone, took the company structure and hierarchies out of the picture, and helped quickly develop numerous initiatives.
Craigslist disrupted traditional media and newspaper advertising with over 5 million visitors a month. And they did this with less than 25 staff in their organization.
In 2008 “PlentyofFish” a free dating site which was started in British Columbia was able to attract 1.4 million unique visitors a month, and earn revenues of over 10 million dollars a year. This tremendous feat was achieved by an organization with one and a half people – the founder working half-time, and one full-time employee!
If organizations are willing to invest the time and effort to create a robust strategy and a well managed process, there is no reason to doubt the likelihood of success. The social future is here. And how an organization embraces this future will determine if it will “thrive, survive, or disappear.”
While the recipe of this book is not for the faint-hearted, for the few willing to dive in, it promises a more than clear roadmap to business success by leveraging mass collaboration.