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FEATURE6 December 2013

How to improve social’s standing


Many businesses have social media strategies, but those strategies aren’t delivering real business value. It’s time they proved their worth, says Brian Solis. Interview by Brian Tarran.

Your business is on Facebook. You have a Twitter account set up. You even have a YouTube channel featuring a video of your CEO explaining his vision for the company. You probably think you have this whole ‘social business strategy’ thing nailed, right?

According to Brian Solis, you don’t. “That isn’t a strategy – it’s a series of tactics masquerading as a masterplan. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is like having a telephone or a printer – they’re tools that need a purpose.”

Solis is a digital analyst and principal at Altimeter Group. He’s written a new book with Altimeter founder Charlene Li, and the book’s message is simple: “It’s about time social media and social business grew up.”

“Every aspect of business can benefit from social media. But people need to take a step back and ask themselves what it is they’re trying to achieve”

The book is called The Seven Success Factors of Social Business Strategy. In it, Solis and Li draw a clear distinction between a social media strategy and a social business strategy. Where the former “lays out the channels, platforms and tactics to support publishing, listening and engagement”, the latter is all about integrating and aligning social media activities with the strategic goals of an organisation. Marketers have successfully convinced senior executives that social media channels are more than just “hubs for entertainment and distraction”. Now they must prove that they have real business value.

“Every aspect of business – from the brand through to functions like HR – can benefit from social media,” says Solis. “But people need to take a step back and ask themselves what it is they’re trying to achieve. Most businesses get caught up in this cycle of building pages, building communities and introducing content to keep people active and engaged. But the true opportunity here is to do something more meaningful.”

Activity to outcome

According to Solis and Li, the starting point of a successful social business initiative is to define the overall business goals you’re looking to achieve. Only then should you start thinking about how social media can help. The book presents several example initiatives, one of which is “to monitor competitor products”. The goal here, in this example, is to increase market share, and the part social media plays is as a listening platform: a place where the company can go to discover the pain points customers have with competitor products in order to help the company differentiate its own offerings.

Altimeter has boiled down social initiatives to five core categories. There’s ‘dialog’, ‘advocate’, ‘support’, ‘innovate’, and the fifth and final one – the one linked to all others – is ‘learn’. “It’s one of those solid business tenets, it’s bigger than just social media,” says Solis. “Learning, we believe, is a strong pillar in the business models of resilient organisations.”

As long as companies are learning from their social media activities, their efforts won’t have gone to waste, says Solis. But if social activities are going to be tied to business goals, then the metrics used to evaluate them must also be tied to tangible business outcomes.

Vanity metrics – likes, retweets or comments – are simple measures of activity. “They’re a key performance indicator, but it’s the job of the social business strategist to communicate the value of this activity to someone who doesn’t understand this world” – the CEO or CFO maybe – “in order for them to appreciate your work and decide whether or not to keep investing in social media.”

The Seven Success Factors of Social Business Strategy

( 1 ) Define the overall business goals

( 2 ) Establish the long-term vision

( 3 ) Ensure executive support

( 4 ) Define the strategy roadmap

( 5 ) Establish governance and guidelines

( 6 ) Secure staff, resources and funding

( 7 ) Invest in technology platforms that evolve