How to become a social organization

I spoke to Anthony Bradley, who is Group Vice President at Gartner Research. He manages teams that cover business process management, project and portfolio management, enterprise architecture, IT procurement, IT procurement and supplier management. He also advises his clients on the use of social media solutions and social software in business. Anthony’s latest book is called Social organization: how to use social media to harness the collective genius of your customers and employees. In this interview, he explains what a social organization is, why most people get it wrong on social media, and more.

What is the social organization?

Social media enables mass collaboration. It is the unique power that it brings. Never before have hundreds, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people been able to effectively create content, share experiences, build relationships and engage in other forms of productive work to achieve otherwise impossible results. A social organization can harness the power of mass collaboration (enabled by social media) to address significant business challenges and create new business opportunities. Social organizations see social media and mass collaboration as strategic for their business. A social organization applies social media and mass collaboration to new challenges and opportunities to rally communities of people and engage them to create business value.

Why are most people wrong on social media?

Most executives are caught up in the buzz. So there is a misconception among business leaders that all you really need is a Facebook page and a Twitter account and then, viola, your organization is now social. As a result, many organizations are relegating social media to the marketing department. This can certainly benefit marketing, but this limited vision severely handicaps the impact. The vast majority of the significant, if not transformational, business benefits of social media come not from marketing communications, but from productive communities. Communities of employees, partners, customers, prospects, etc., formed around an objective that is both meaningful to the participants and relevant to the company.

Additionally, many executives see social media as a technological issue. We see a widespread bad practice that we call “providing and praying”. It just involves providing access to some social media technology and praying for something good to result. We estimate that “providing and praying” fails almost 90% of the time. Productive communities do not spring up effortlessly and spontaneously with the mere presence of social technology. Growing communities requires focused planning, appropriate investment, and diligent execution.

Should every company strive to integrate “social” into its business model, whatever its size and sector of activity?

Every business, regardless of size, industry, geography, etc., should harness the strategic potential of social media and mass collaboration. Why, because they are all made up and “surrounded” by people. Social media is very difficult due to the sheer volume of possibilities for collaboration between functions and audiences in the business. But that scale is also what makes it so transformational. Leadership needs to make careful decisions about where to apply social collaboration initially and how to progress over time. You can’t do it all at once. The evolution towards a social organization must be planned strategically.

Small businesses sometimes think that social collaboration doesn’t apply to them because they don’t have a lot of employees. However, with social media, some small businesses are amplifying their presence and impact in the market. By engaging external communities in mutually beneficial ways to achieve a clear and focused goal, they emerge as much larger organizations.

What are the ways to bring customers, partners, etc. to participate in your online community?

The most important model of success we have discovered is an initial focus on the goal. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the goal. The goal is the cause around which a community will rally. This is what motivates them to contribute. And that’s the source of business value. It’s almost as simple as these aimless initiatives will fail. Those with a very compelling and meaningful goal will find a way to be successful. This is your challenge as a leader. Find the right goals.

Examine your most important business goals, the business activities that give you a competitive advantage, or your most pressing collaboration challenges for the applicability of mass collaboration. Then dive deeper and explore who is involved and what they need. If channel expansion is your goal, then connect with your potential partners’ issues, for example, and come up with compelling goals. It’s about people and building communities around their needs.

Across all business functions, organizations find useful goal sources, such as community-centric customer support, market-driven product design, product quality collaboration, business process improvement. social enterprise, resolving sales objections and spreading the brand. There are far too many of them to list. There are also some great techniques for engaging people, such as social incentives, gamification, piggybacking on real-world events, and more. But if the goal is missing, they won’t really matter.

What is the most important principle that managers must master to create communities of value?

The most important principle that managers need to internalize is that success with social media is first and foremost a leadership and business management challenge, not a technology issue. It requires a new set of leadership and management skills. The most important new skill is the ability to recognize and nurture a good goal. As a manager, would you know a good goal for mass collaboration if you heard one? Most managers may know how to make themselves, their staff, and their organizations productive. But how many know how to make a community productive? How many know how to identify, catalyze, mobilize and achieve business value in a community? Not a lot. Not yet. But we are seeing constant change.

Dan Schawbel, recognized as a “personal branding guru” by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency. Dan is the author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, the founder of the Personal Branding Blog and the publisher of the Personal Branding Magazine. He has worked with companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, IBM, EMC, and CitiGroup.

Joel C. Hicks