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The six stages of social business maturity: Where are you?

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17th Jul 2013
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Over the last few years, talk of social business has rapidly increased in volume. My #socbiz Tweetdeck column which was once a steady and calm flow of tweets is now buzzing with content.

But the definition of a social business needs some clarification.  When I talk about social business, I mean an organisation that is open and agile to change, that connects and builds deep relationships between multiple stakeholders, internally and externally, and that connects every one of these stakeholders with a clear business vision and purpose.

Also, doing social media and being a social business are two different things, and they aren’t interchangeable. In fact, it's quite possible to be a social business without doing social media in the form that we’re all very familiar with e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Nor is social business about social technology or platforms. It certainly plays a key role as an enabler, but its purpose to connect and collaborate people is really what I’m talking about.

Social business maturity is the process by which an organisation transforms from the inside out to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by social business. It's a long-term strategic commitment across the entire organisation where the reward is about business results and value. Doing social media will make these goals elusive, being a social business will make them achievable.   

The social business maturity framework

We’ve identified six key stages of social business maturity, starting at inactive, building through to tactical, formalised and then trail-blazing. We see these six stages as a social business maturity roadmap, where each stage has a clearly defined set of activities and outcomes to drive social business growth.

Major brands that have reached mature or trailblazing social business maturity are seeing real, tangible results now. Brands like Ford, Burberry, Dell, Toyota and IBM are able to link social business success to business goals, and are demonstrating the positive impact of their social business maturity through business metrics like increased profitability, reduction in costs, and increased innovation.

Ford (at trail-blazing stage in the US) is driving product innovation through co-creation by sharing early model prototypes with select customers, involving early adopter customers in the production line. Those involved in the production process advocate new models, for example with the last Fiesta launch, resulting in Ford achieving high levels of brand awareness before any traditional advertising budgets kick in. The success of these programmes has caused Ford to shift 20% of the launch budget of each new model towards pre-launch activities.

Burberry, namechecked as the eighth strongest global luxury brand in the recent Brandz100 (most valuable global brands 2013) report, has invested strongly in transforming their organisation into a social business. All employees and departments are empowered to collaborate with each other and with customers in a fully integrated end-to-end vision, strengthening connections between employees, brand and customer. As Burberry’s CEO, Angela Ahrendts says “The social enterprise has got to drive economic value.”

Accelerating social business maturity

But the road to social business maturity takes time. We’re talking about culture change, and effecting that change across the whole organisation. While we can’t expect overnight success, there are certainly key stages to accelerating social business maturity.

The ability to demonstrate success is critical to getting senior-level buy-in, which is why it is so important to ensure business objectives are driving activities and outcomes. By speaking the language of the c-suite, you instantly connect social business programmes to shared goals – we’re not just talking about marketing any more.

With senior level buy-in, organisations often see a vast acceleration in social business maturity and success, as they hold the keys to unlocking critical support like leadership, culture, budget and resource.

Social business maturity and success

So you know that by talking business results, you can get the c-suite on board, and you know that with the c-suite on board you can accelerate on your social business maturity roadmap. But what business results will being a social business get you?

  • Better knowledge sharing
    Unlocking knowledge across the business so that your employees (and customers) can connect with subject matter experts quickly and easily, and access relevant content from an extensive organisational network.
  • More connected employees
    Employees are better aligned with your business’s purpose and have increased visibility of how they contribute to its success. They are more connected to each other, and are closer to your customers. Your employees are your advocates.
  • Increased innovation
    Innovation comes from all areas of the business, and customer insights are fed into development cycles. Better collaboration between departments and individuals fosters faster innovation, and a deeper understanding of the customer improves positioning.
  • Improved brand reputation
    Building a network of strong ties with stakeholders internally and externally builds your army of advocates and influencers, and protects your brand in times of crisis.
  • Lower operating costs
    Easier access to information, working together towards a common vision, more efficient ways to scale and increased productivity makes it easier to get the job done faster.
  • Deeper customer relationships
    Customers feel closer to your brand and your employees, and your organisation has more actionable audience insights that are shared across the organisation. Your customers are your advocates.

What’s required then is an approach that links two important strategic strands: an evaluation of where a company sits in a social business maturity framework and a clearly defined set of business goals. When you bring these together you have a roadmap to reach social business maturity. As I said at the head of this piece, this often requires a cultural change within an organisation and transformative decisions like being a social business therefore need to come from the c-suite, so it’s crucial that you are talking the right language to the right people internally. It’s a brave step but the opportunities to meet business critical goals are there and demonstrable.   

Laura Dinneen, head of strategy at social business agency BLOOM Worldwide.

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