Companies that don’t adopt a social business strategy will be left behind

Social business is no longer a nice to have, but is now a business imperative to improve customer communication and engagement, build loyal partner networks and improve internal collaboration.

We have been blogging, tweeting, connecting and collaborating online for years, but now it’s not just for personal use. The growth in social business can be measured by the amount being spent on software solutions purchased to help enterprises meet their social business strategies. According to Gartner, spending on social software to support sales, marketing, product development and customer service will exceed $1 billion worldwide in 2013.

While social software, as a product category, is gaining market momentum—the tools that make up social software suites are well defined and understood. Blogs, wikis, profiles and friends are all commodity capabilities— table stakes if you will—available in every platform. Therefore enterprises need to look beyond the feature set and evaluate the long-term value of the solution. In that context, here are some key elements every enterprise should consider when selecting a social software platform.

Business units within enterprises all have different requirements for their Web needs. From customer communities that integrate with Twitter to show tweet streams, to product sites that post commercials and demonstrations from YouTube, websites all have specific requirements targeted to their need.

Solutions with an open architecture and open APIs provide the ability to integrate with the best of breed tools. This allows enterprises to leverage third-party systems to create a rich Web experience for their users. If integration and user experience are important to you, extensibility should be examined closely in your evaluation of social business software solutions.

The range in cost for social business software is wide. But keep in mind, paying a high cost does not ensure value in the solution, nor does it buy you success Keeping the cost of the technology in check with the total cost of your social business program—including training, staff and marketing costs—is critical to ensure you have enough budget to successfully support your social business software solution.

Enterprises need to focus on their business challenges and problems at hand, not on the product road map for the technology they are using to help achieve their business goals. Additionally, speed of innovation is critical to ensure you stay up to date with the latest capabilities of the market. Social features evolve fast. Selecting a solution that has a large community of contributors, such as an open source solution, drives product innovation that traditional in-house or proprietary development teams just can’t match.

If you’ve ever purchased a technology solution to support a key business objective, you’re probably familiar with vendor lock-in and a loss in control. Traditional vendors lock in your data and your money, so you are not left with many choices. Loss of control in the brand and user experience are common as well.

Enterprises nowadays need to reduce their dependency on vendors and find solutions that provide them greatest control. It’s your brand and your data, it should be treated that way. Open source solutions allow vendors to not only modify the code as needed to ensure consistency with brand guidelines, but provide the freedom to take the code and data and grow their project as their requirements change.

When considering usability, it’s essential to evaluate technology on the end-user experience and the site manager experience. The end user needs a familiar and simple way to interact with the solution to ensure participation. The easier it is for the end user to participate, the more successful the community will be. Site managers need to be able to add and manage content quickly and easily. If they want to add a poll, it should not take two weeks and hand-coding.

Site managers need the ability to assemble content in their community site as the need arises and how they see fit, without going back to the vendor for updates. Companies that don’t adopt a social business strategy will be left behind.

Each organisation has its own business requirements and needs when evaluating technology for its online communities. Incorporating each of these considerations in your evaluation process will help ensure you are implementing the right technology that will not only address your needs today, but will be flexible enough to grow with your community through the future.

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Jim Shaw is General Manager for Europe. He joined Acquia from Software AG where he was responsible for Telco, Media, Energy & Utilities industries in the UK and Ireland. Prior to Software AG, Jim held senior roles at Progress Software and webMethods. Jim can discuss how decision-makers can deliver unrivalled web experiences through Drupal’s publishing system, the benefits of a fully managed cloud hosting platform and the huge savings it can deliver.

  • I agree that social business is going beyond a nice to have scenario and becoming essential, particularly in the larger enterprises. Social technologies allow us to build better and more integrated relationships enabling access to both the tacit and explicit knowledge that previously was near impossible to tap in to.

    However, many companies will go down a technology road and forget that actually social media is really about people. If companies do not address the cultural change associated with social business then true adoption will never happen. The result could see a lot of money, time and resources implementing social solutions that users just don’t use.

    Great post Jim…..thanks for your insight.

  • I completely agree that it is now imperative for businesses to get social with their customers, but in my opinion choosing the right technology is just part of securing a substantial return on social media investment.

    To see a true ROI businesses must harness the real-time capabilities of social networks to create an on-going and relevant dialogue with customers on their terms.

    In fact, our recent research of more than 6,000 UK consumers found that more than half (53%) feel that their service providers know nothing about them from the quality of communications they receive. Further still, 61% admitted that their perception of their provider would improve if they showed a personal touch in its correspondence.

    This proves that it’s not just how, but what you communicate to your customers that will help drive better engagement and experiences for each individual customer.