We are now poised at the end of 2015, and one thing still holds true: an inescapable factor in today’s business environment is the constancy of change. Enterprises must adapt to new economic and business imperatives or wither and die; enterprises mastering the art of social business and communities can gain substantial and sustainable advantage. By introducing shareable moments into the routines of your connected customers, your social business and community efforts help them curate interesting and personalized moments, spark threads of interaction, and collaborate with your team members. When shareable experiences are designed into products and services, the stage is set for advocacy and loyalty. Brands are no longer created, they’re co-created.
Statistics and Conversations
Many statistics and surveys have been gathered and many successful use cases established in which major companies are implementing social business strategies that encompass community-focused initiatives. What is telling about these stats and surveys is that they show that significant results are possible with social business/community initiatives. The above McKinsey report graphic detailing the benefits of social business demonstrates that huge advantages are possible.
These seemingly incredible results are possible because they’re not incremental improvements but a fundamental rethinking of the way you operate your businesses, how you engage in work, and how you can create, harness, and curate shared and open business activity into actionable value.
An industry colleague and founder of Silicon Angle, John Furrier, recently made this prediction for social business in 2015 and 2016:
This is the time that:
- Data driven social is part of all marketing led investments: This is the year of social data will drive investments and results; no data no budget for social.
- Owned and earned come and work together: No more siloed content campaigns. There will be an integration between the command & control and organic content function developing new communities. This is the year where there will be a balance between command & control objectives works with open organic self-developing and governing social engagement & interactions. Earned media is the result.
- Open-source content production in the form of conversations: Conversations in the crowd become content assets where the production of the content is done in the open.
- Social business operational value chains start to appear, and it’s a federated and real-time model, not just a centralized “command center” function.
- Targeted measurable engagement will dominate in terms of value (data).
- Social sales will start seeing real data-driven solutions where the marketing and engagement cloud solutions will look like AWS for marketing and funnel activity and a unicorn (startup) will start to emerge.
One key piece to your community initiative is that it provides a place for those conversations to happen, where you can engage your customers and partners in discussions that are meaningful to them. Furrier goes on to say, “Engagement is key. Standing up engagement programs that are federated to the ‘edge’ will be a winning formula. Also, I’ll get deeper and say this is the year that the phrase ‘join the conversation’ means something. So expect to see actual conversations happening.” Engagement is absolutely critical. Providing internal transparency and engagement with not only customers, but business partners and channel partners, is what will drive results for organizations. By having corporate community sites for your products, you can create a space where, as John puts it, “collaboration with targeted individuals on topics they care about are very awesome and produce results. The issue will be people who can carry the conversation and ‘spin DJ’ in the crowd to give some ‘gravity’ to quality conversations, then having those conversations discoverable to ‘join.’ Today the words ‘join the conversation’ mean nothing because it’s all incoherent and noisy and not targeted.”
How do you filter the noise and incoherent mess? According to Fast Company, “Forrester predicts that ‘branded communities’ are going to be the next big thing in 2015, citing the fact that Sony’s GreatnessAwaits.com microsite for the PlayStation 4 attracted 4.5 million visits. If fans are looking for you, Forrester suggests, they’ll seek you out.” So imagine having a branded community site for your specific product or product lines in which the conversations and engagement can be tailored to that specific audience.
McKinsey has done an incredible job of highlighting the many benefits of using social tools and social business. Recently, McKinsey released findings from a study on transforming the business through social tools. There are a few graphics that highlight why it’s important for you to further develop the strategy for and to implement a community and social business initiative.
One of the areas where I think the use of “community” applies is in further engaging your partners, suppliers, and others. McKinsey found this as well, as seen in the graphic. Microsoft Kinect offers a great example of how to open up and engage with partners and suppliers to create new opportunities and products. In late 2010, Microsoft introduced Kinect, a motion-sensing device that enabled Xbox users to play games using gestures and speech. Within days, the platform was hacked by people who started using it in all sorts of ways that Microsoft hadn’t intended. At first, the company announced it would take legal action against anyone who tampered with its device. But hackers—excited by the opportunities presented by the first general-purpose, low-cost gestural interface—ignored the threat. Then, a few months later, Microsoft decided to take a different tack and embraced the hackers by releasing a software development kit for Kinect. They effectively turned the new platform into a huge open-source project, with the company at its center. The Kinect is an example of reciprocity-based partnering. This new type of partnership gives a partner access to your knowledge and assets now to achieve rapidly scaling future growth that you could not have pulled off on your own. At a time when disruption is the greatest threat to business, it allows your company and your partners to embrace disruption and harness it for rapid growth.
Insights for Breakthrough Concepts and Opportunities
These conversations serve another purpose besides engagement and targeted conversations with the community. They provide you with invaluable insights for innovation and competitive advantage. The combinatory power of multiple types of insights will significantly enhance your ability to develop truly breakthrough concepts and to identify and capture “white space” opportunities.
There are five types of insights that can be generated from social business/community environments like this. They are:
- Customer insight
- Market discontinuities
- Competencies and strategic assets
- Industry orthodoxies
- Seeing and mapping white space
From the “customer insight” perspective, a social business/community initiative can provide you with a fresh way of thinking, allowing you to identify unmet or unarticulated needs of your customers or their customers’ customers. There are three techniques you can employ to analyze the data in this area:
- Identifying and resolving tensions
- Customer experience mapping
- Jobs to be done
Each of these approaches will be helpful to you in reaching beyond obvious and superficial needs to achieve a deeper understanding of unmet and unarticulated needs of your customers (and noncustomers).
By engaging at deeper levels of conversation not only with your customers (and noncustomers), but also with business, channel, and technology alliance partners, you can put yourself at a crossroads, so to speak. At this crossroads, you can anticipate disruption by looking at the intersections of market, industry, regulatory, technological, demographic, and other trends. Management guru Gary Hamel frames it like this: “identifying and understanding discontinuities allow you to develop proprietary insights (that is, the discontinuity) through publicly available data. Discontinuities help point you toward the future you create, rather than the one you ‘accept’ by following others.”
The social business and community initiative is not only a great way to engage in conversations with your customers and partners, along with spotting trends and generating insights, but it’s also about the brand you want to put out there and build. As quoted in the opening paragraph, “Brands are no longer created, they’re co-created.” This is something that should drive these initiatives. Brian Solis put it very well when he stated, “value is in the eye of the beholder. No matter what we say about our company or products, it’s ultimately the customer experience and the collective customer perspective that define value and ultimately the state of the brand in the new democratized marketplaces.”
Social Business/Community Can Drive Innovation across the Organization
In order to differentiate yourself in today’s business environment, you have to think beyond products. Innovation for your company should be about more than products. Innovation can encompass new ways of doing business and making money, new systems of products and services, and even new interactions and forms of engagement between you and your customers, partners, suppliers, and others. A new discipline of innovation is emerging today because:
- Companies need new discoveries and strategies to drive growth and survival
- The pace of change requires greater flexibility and innovation effectiveness
- Efficiency is no longer enough; organic growth is critical to achieve breakthrough results
- Innovation successes are now expected (and demanded) by customers, shareholders, and analysts
A community initiative can help you innovate across the multiple types of innovation, as seen in this graphic:
It’s a matter of picking the right ones from each category to drive innovation and differentiation. People I have spoken with in other industries that have embarked upon this social business/community movement have had great success in areas of this continuum in a variety of mixes across categories. In a particular customer example, I foresaw its “community initiative” driving innovation and differentiation in the following areas:
- Product performance
- Product systems
- Customer engagement
Gartner predicts that by 2016, half of all medium to large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and that 30 percent of those will be considered as essential as email and phone. Social business has the potential to improve your organization’s communication, collaboration, productivity, and overall employee engagement. As Brian Solis stated poignantly, “adapt or die.”