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How to achieve social business success by IBM

05.22.2013
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Social business has massive potential to change how your organisation operates.  As with many social based work however, the failure rate remains unduly high.  IBM have released a new report that aims to change that by sharing some of the things that the best organisations do.

The document is concise at only 12 pages, but provides a nice introduction to social business.  It says how many organisations are using social tools and philosophies to improve their customer service, product development and HR functions, not to mention of course the more traditional sales and marketing.

Where the report comes into its own however is in explaining how these improvements have been made.  IBM introduce the concept of social business patterns.  These are akin to business process flows, and IBM discovered several key patterns in successful organisations.

  • Finding expertise
  • Gaining external customer insights
  • Increasining knowledge sharing
  • Improving recruiting and on-boarding
  • Managing mergers and acquisitions
  • Enabling and improving workplace sanity

Lets look at each in turn.

Finding expertise

Old school knowledge management has been a core component of its modern incarnation of social business.  With KM being a mature field, the report has a good back catalogue of issues that need to be overcome, but also some good strategies for overcoming them if you want to achieve the outcomes IBM believe are possible in this area.

  • quickly locate the right people, or published content containing, the expertise needed to solve a problem
  • connect the best possible resources to effectively respond to customer needs
  • document and share reusable solutions to common issues
  • create highly-engaged and productive employees

Gaining external customer insights

To many organisations persist in being ‘make and sell’ types, where little customer feedback is sought.  For them, social media is merely another tool by which to flog their wares.  Social business tools allow you not only to listen to what customers are openly saying about you online however, but also to invite them into your own communities to share their feelings.

  • quickly learn customers’ opinions and preferences related to existing and potential products and services
  • identify and connect with key customer influencers to aid marketing efforts

Increasing knowledge sharing

This pattern is very similar to pattern #1 in that both very much fall under the knowledge management umbrella.  Whilst IBM do state some benefits from this, such as fewer meetings and higher employee engagement, it would have been nice had they shared some more tangible successes from knowledge sharing, such as whether it helped produce more new products or better processes.

  • more efficiently and effectively capture, share and access knowledge
  • increase innovation through wider reach of ideas
  • reduce excessive, unproductive time spent searching and exchanging information

Improving recruiting and on-boarding

Getting the best talent into your organisation is as much of a no brainer as ensuring that talent is then utilised effectively.  Sadly of course, a great many companies screw up their recruitment, and as with dating, the first weeks are crucial.  Research earlier this year revealed that organisations with low employee turnover scored around 4x as much profit as those with high turnover.

  • collaboratively find and connect the right candidate to the right position
  • streamline assessment and hiring processes
  • better connect, engage and retain new hires
  • contextually recommend expertise to increase new hires’ productivity

Managing mergers and acquisitions

This is another knowledge management pattern in that you’re both looking to improve the transfer of experiences learned from past mergers to current staff, whilst also helping to better communicate the shared values and cultures expected of the newly merged group.  With the track record of successful mergers being pretty poor, this is clearly an area that is very difficult to concquer.

  • increase overall success rate of merger and acquisition activities
  • raise effectiveness of vision setting and communication before, during and after merger or acquisition
  • accelerate creation of “one company” community and culture

Enabling and improving workplace safety

An interesting final area the report explores is in improving health and safety.  It’s an area that isn’t often covered or trumpeted as a social business success.  Nevertheless, IBM believe that social tools can help spread both the explicit and tacit understanding of health and safety procedures and behaviours.

  • speed communication of new or changed safety regulations, policies and procedures
  • minimize or eliminate project execution delays arising from actual or potential safety issues
  • improve innovation in safety procedures by increasing dialog between safety experts and workers

As mentioned at the start, it is only a short report, with content amounting to 10 pages at most.  As such the limitations are plain.  It won’t be something that provides all the answers to your social business questions, nor indeed does it cover all of the things that social business can achieve.  It is a very IBM-centric publication, in that it focuses very much on the things IBM can help you with.  There is no mention for instance of crowdfunding or strategy formulation and dissemination.  If you’re new to the field though it provides a good introduction to the kind of things social business can do, whilst also providing some potential metrics to measure success.