Social business comes of age

social business comes of ageIt seems that social media management is finally coming of age in the business world. No more the gawky teenager, its operation and measurement is increasingly sophisticated. What’s more, it is starting to generate real value for the businesses that use it effectively.

The source of this insight is the 2014 MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte global survey of business executives, managers and analysts from organisations around the world. The 2014 report, the third since 2011, includes data from over 4,000 respondents across more than 100 countries and 26 industries.

Social business value is a function of maturity

Respondents were asked how mature their organisation was in its use of social media, comparing its use of social media tools with the ‘ideal’ organisation. The key finding was that social maturity—that is, being able to use social media in mature and sophisticated ways, and also measure its impact—went hand in hand with generating business value from social activity. Those who reported their organisation as being more socially mature also said that social media activity was generating real value for them.

It seems that effective social media activity needs deep roots to survive and thrive. Social business is, it seems, rather like plants: it needs to be nurtured and takes time to grow. It makes sense that success doesn’t happen overnight. But it also means that social business needs to be considered as important both now and in the future. Almost 90% of respondents recognised its importance on a three-year timescale, though only three-quarters thought it was important to their organisation right now.

More than half of socially-immature companies were not measuring their social activity. However, 90% of socially-mature businesses were doing so. Respondents reported using both operational and financial measures to assess the impact of social media activity on business outcomes. Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t just ‘hard’ data that were included: many companies drew heavily on anecdotal evidence in their assessments.

Historically, social media has often been seen as more of an issue for B2C companies. However, this year’s report shows that social media is equally important in B2B. Similar percentages of companies in both sectors agreed that it was generating value for them too: around 60% in B2B, and 68% in B2C.

It may also be significant that in both sectors, employees of all ages agree that social media sophistication is a factor in their employment decisions. To attract and keep the best employees, businesses need to be sophisticated in their use of social media, because employees want to work for the best.

Moving towards maturity

Since maturity seems to be the key issue in generating value, the report suggests that companies can become more mature by focusing on three main areas.

  • Social business data should be used directly to support decision-making

Mature and maturing businesses do not just embark on social activity without considering its effect. Around 80% of them analyse their social data, and two thirds of them integrate it into decision-making systems and processes.

  • The company’s leadership needs to believe that social activity can improve the business

It seems that leadership committed to social activity is essential, much as you would expect. More than 90% of respondents from maturing organisations said that their leaders believed that social media activity can create long-lasting and positive change.

  • Social media activity should go beyond marketing

Companies that are more mature in their use of social media activity have integrated it far beyond a simple marketing function. Two thirds integrated it into operations; 87% reported having used it to increase innovation and 83% to improve leadership and support talent management.

One simple message: integration is all

These three areas can probably be summed up in one simple message: to get full advantage from social media activity, it must be integrated into the whole organisation. Unsophisticated companies use social media as a way to get marketing messages out there. But increased maturity in social activity, and alongside it generation of better value, have to come from a recognition that it’s a whole company activity.

To generate real value for any organisation, social media activity must be part of everyone’s job, from the top down. It must be seen as a way of working, and not an add-on. It is a vital way to draw in information from customers, to improve what the company does, and to make decisions. Maturity, and value, come from seeing it that way, and not as a threat to be managed, or simply another channel for broadcasting.

Image credit: Martin LaBar

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