The Enterprise Social Business Life Cycle

Social Business Life Cycle: StrategyWhen CSRA released the Social Network Roadmap in Q2 2008, we were a unique voice speaking at conferences about enterprise adoption. Due to my prior work helping enterprises adopt disruptive technologies like distributed computing, Web applications, service-oriented architecture and Web services, it was easy to see what enterprise adoption would look like, so I designed Social Network Roadmap several years before most of the market was ready to use it. Our client work has enabled us to test, tweak and expand the roadmap since then. As 2012 draws to a close, enterprises have experimented, adoption of social technologies (“social media”) among most stakeholders has set records, and executives wonder how they can coordinate social business across the enterprise. To realize “compounded” enterprise social business benefits it’s important to understand the social business life cycle, so here is a brief treatment.

The Social Business Life Cycle

Social Business Life Cycle

The Context: Mass Adoption of Social Technologies

Since the mid-2000s, an increasing portion of all people around the world has been experimenting with social technologies like blogs, social networks, microblogs, geosocial apps, games and others that enable groups to communicate far more easily than in human history. When people can communicate, they can collaborate and work and play together—at scale. This change is so profound that I believe it has created an entire new means of production—and a new economy, with new opportunities and risks. Because social technologies are new, people have been trying them to see in what situations they work best.

One: Feasibility

Mass adoption is beginning to happen overall, but what smart executives care more about is whether their stakeholders are adopting sufficiently to make social business worthwhile now. Since our context is a business decision, Feasibility is useful to measure the degree of adoption before committing to social business investment in strategy or execution. Keep in mind that social business champions are not only interested in the right people. In order for social business to be feasible, those people have to demonstrate the willingness to communicate about relevant topics online as well. In addition, feasibility often addresses organizational strengths and weaknesses for pursuing social business.

Two: Strategy

Feasibility has validated (or not) that social business is relevant to the enterprise, so strategy sets the course of action based on external and internal analyses. Externally, it’s necessary to audit the ecosystem in order to determine which venues are most relevant given business strategy, stakeholders and topics. Since resources are always limited, it is helpful to rank social venues in priority. The internally focused organization audit assesses the organization’s strengths and weaknesses for engaging the people and topics identified in the ecosystem audit. By determining what kind of information and interaction are easiest for the organization, the social business strategy optimizes social business interactions for what the ecosystem values most highly and what the organization can share most easily. The strategy should define a handful of pilots to test and iterate (refine) its key parts.

Three: Pilot

It is best to define several social business pilots in order to mitigate risk. Feasibility and Strategy have identified numerous opportunities and risks. Strategy has defined pilots to mitigate risks, so Pilot tests the strategy. When you conduct robust due diligence, most of your pilots will have some degree of success, but a good portion will not work as well as you wanted, or will need to be tweaked to some extent. Pilots should be short (4-12 weeks is typical) and staffed with small teams. In most cases, pilots do not require new staffing; they are staffed with existing resources. This is possible when you design several complementary roles that are chunked small, so each Contributor has a small commitment, which diminishes risk as well. Each pilot can have successive phases, but it’s best to define each discretely, which helps with resourcing, measurement and learning. Pilot charters define roles, goals and quantitative measurements. Each pilot, whether “successful” or not, builds enterprise social business skills in fast cycles. When champions manage pilots with business-relevant metrics and transparency, they increase credibility with internal stakeholders, which builds momentum for additional social business initiatives.

Four: Scale

Pilots that produce meaningful business results naturally grow into ongoing initiatives. Pilot charters become business plans with “normal” types of business goals given the business unit that is sponsoring the social business initiative. It is usually at this point when you start hiring people as well. In addition, since Scale indicates increasing enterprise investment in social business, it is appropriate to either revisit your governance findings from Feasibility or to tackle social business governance and training (if you haven’t done Feasibility). For example, how do social business teams interact with legacy public relations (assuming they aren’t the sponsor) and other organization functions such as legal and human resources? Many organizations need formal processes for managing and enforcing social business policies as well as procedures for executives across the organization to sponsor their own initiatives. Scale is also a good time to formalize a Social Business Competency Team to define and propagate social business good practices across the enterprise. Business results from Scale initiatives are often better than traditional results for that business unit.

Five: Integrate

Up to now, social business initiatives have been managed mostly as self-standing projects. Financial ROI has begun in Pilot and increased in Scale. Integrate is focused on rationalizing business processes, which means unplugging or redesigning legacy processes by replacing or integrating with social business processes. Think of it as “social business reengineering.” Integrate delivers another level of value to the organization since less efficient processes are discarded and resources redeployed. Scale has proven social business’s value and efficiency at scale.

Final Points

  • The Social Business Life Cycle is useful even when the entire cycle is not used sequentially. For example, in 2012 it would be a step up for most enterprises to only use Strategy and Pilot: most social media efforts have marketing strategies at best, not business strategies. Their projects are very tactical and do not employ relationship-centric metrics. They lack methodologies to manage social business at scale.
  • Feasibility is most useful when preparing for significant social business investment, which usually involves numerous areas of the enterprise. Its due diligence is more comprehensive than Strategy, and it significantly increases the enterprise’s adoption efficiency. Most projects involving social technologies are managed as experiments with no long-term vision for adoption. Feasibility puts a firm foundation of due diligence in place to prepare for aggressive adoption.
  • Widespread adoption of social technologies becomes easy to imagine if you believe that people like to talk and interact, and social technologies allow them to interact more. My experience with disruptive technologies, both as a consultant and line executive, suggests that firms that manage social business from the enterprise perspective will realize strong gains in productivity and profit.
  • Social business leaders who anticipate adoption levels in 2017 and manage from that perspective will create far more value than laggards, who necessarily manage more haphazardly. The Social Business Life Cycle enables leaders to manage from the standpoint of the future.
  • The Social Business Life Cycle itself is an easily recognizable pattern from past disruptive innovations—but it has yet to be applied to social technologies, which have thus far been primarily used as amateur “social media” tools focused on outbound communication. This presents leaders with a significant opportunity.
  • By managing social business initiatives within the context of their life cycle, champions can mitigate risks at the organization level, a much higher scale.

Review the Social Network Roadmap to “get under the hood” and see how each phase works, which may give you a deeper understanding.

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