Update on Social Business Transformation

©IDG Communications, Inc. Photo contributed by Matthew Mikaelian.

IDC Executive Advisory Group
Rich Vancil

Social Media in the B2B world has got a bit of a bad rap right now. Let’s frame the problem. The obstacles might be spoken (or whispered) as:

• “These new communication platforms, and this social media movement within our company…is …who knows? Well, let’s just keep an eye on it. Let’s see what develops. But for the time being these are…
• NOT the valid business-communications media we should be using to communicate with the serious audience we wish to reach. ”

These obstacles may be over-observed.

Let’s broaden the definition and talk not about Social Media, but about “Social Business Transformation”. The real Transformation lies not in what you see: with Twitter or LinkedIn or FaceBook. For personal networking, these tools may be the whole game: you are involved in connections that are one or two links deep. But at the enterprise level these tools are merely the surface layer. Social Business Transformation is about deep communications adaptation; changes in culture; new rules of engagement; shifts in organizational centers-of-influence; and then (lastly) the associated tools and technologies that enable communications on the surface.

IDC is digging deeper to uncover this major trend and transformation in business communications. “Social” will continue to press its way into the enterprise – into our lives as business professionals.

With my research partner and IDC’s Social Business expert Erin Traudt, IDC has just completed a series of interviews with IBM about their own Social Business Transformation We are impressed with IBM’s accomplishments.

To boil it down, here are three observations for Social Business Transformation success:

1. Tap in to the Professional Ego.

You say that you enter into a web community because you want to “connect”. But I would suggest that most of the energy behind any personal or business Social Media activity has a strong element of: “Here I am!” None of us would enter a single Social keystroke unless we wanted to satisfy an ego need. The need to feel important. And, (fingers-crossed), the desire to be recognized! By extension, would not the math argue that if we spend nine or ten hours each day at the workplace, that this dynamic should be a more powerful force in the business world (“Look at my great new technical workaround!”) than in the personal world (“Look at my cool new postcard collection!”)

The IBM developerWorks website is a technical resource for the IBM developer community. Established in 2000, it is now one of the largest IBM sites, with over 4 million unique visitors per month. It is a resource where developers in the IBM ecosystem offer their knowledge and skills. About one-half of the content on this vast site is posted from outside of IBM: developers, partners, and customers. Why does it work? Professional ego! But it takes time and investment. developerWorks has been an eleven-year work-in-progress for IBM.

2. You can’t force interaction.

The viable and vibrant IBM communities we have studied are years in the making. It takes significant time and investment to devlop a community to the point where it is somewhat self-sustaining. One IBM executive noted that Community development is like planting a tree where the first year of nurturing, watering and pruning requires almost constant attention. And more than one IBM community that we examined was several years underway and still under active investment mode. It is also notable that each Community only becomes self-sustaining because of the external contributions (see above). Our estimate would be that for every one community that is self sustaining, that there are hundreds in “push” mode (hoping that our voices will be heard and enjoined).

“If the people don’t want to come, all the marketing in the world won’t stop them”.

3. Construct and Adhere to Policy.

This is interesting. I think we all are a bit attracted to the Social Media because we can express ourselves in a way that allows us to put our corporate toes across the corporate line, if even for an instant! However, the successful sites that are viable today are here in part to some basic and sensible policing. We have to. We all need to protect our customers, to do the best by them.

Our sense is that sustained and successful Social Business Transformation efforts are going to be more powerful than we have ever imagined. Good examples (such as with IBM) are already in place. Of course there are challenges; but these obstacles will over time be trumped by the benefits (see Figures).

How is your company coming along on its own Social Business Transformation?
– Rich Vancil



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