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Commentary on “Principles for Building a Successful Social Business Strategy”

The students at Baruch College’s Executive MBA Cohort 31 read our book, The Hyper-Social Organization, and authored a detailed blog post with 9 principles to build a successful social business ( They invited me to engage in the conversation with them, so here are some of the comments I have on their great piece.

On the first principle — Objectives Should Complement Strengths and Help Overcome Weaknesses –I would add that a social business strategy can humanize a brand and therefore make it more appealing to people. People relate better with other people than they do with organizations, which are a relatively new concept when compared to human evolution ( I wrote an article on this here: and also here in terms of how to think of social and brands –

On Point II — An Executive Sponsor (VP Social Business) Should Champion Social Business Strategy and Lead Culture Change – I agree. For many (older) companies this will mean a real change management process — and that can be painful.

But I do not agree with Point III — A Single Department Should Own Social Media. I think that when successful, social needs to become part of the fabric of the company. If you give “ownership” to a department then you will end up with one more silo. Customer support needs to embrace it, IT needs to embrace it for their knowledge management and innovation, HR needs to get on board, product development. It is not just marketing and communications. You want to be like IBM, where there is no corporate twitter feed, no corporate blog, but where the employees — all employees — are encouraged to be the face of the company. See my interview with Erin Nelson, the former CMO at Dell where she talks about that

I agree with point IV — A Social Media Policy and Process Toolkit is Necessary–, but you cannot be too rigid. Policies need to viewed as guiderails more so than as rigid “do this and DON’T DO THAT or else” type tools. Again, at IBM they developed guidelines, in partnership with the employees, which are encouraging rather than discouraging. The same happened at other companies like Xerox. Because the risks of screwing up are egalitarian (e.g., the CEO is as likely to mess up as the junior communications employee, and the personal risks are as high as the company risks), there is a great opportunity to mitigate risk through education.

On Point V — Technology Platforms and Investment Decisions Must be Identified Early –, I agree, but would caution not to start with technology. My partner, Scott Wilder, who used to run all communities at Intuit, used to say – if your community would not survive in a Yahoo! Group, it will probably not survive anywhere. Companies tend to start with the tools and technology, where they really should start with the tribes and their shared passion, pain and interest. They then need to pay attention at what the day in the life of a user would look like if this were to be successful. It is really product management 101 to determine the features and then select technology that will meet that need.

I agree on VI — A Communications Hub Should be Created by the Social Business Dept –, although many companies give in to the loudest megaphones on social platform and they fix the problems of the individual loudmouths instead of focusing on fixing the problems that affect everyone. A company that truly gets that is JetBlue.

I agree with VII — Trust, Train, and Certify –, although I would say that what you want to do is to allow employees to act as humans again in the work environment — and humans know how to behave as humans. Look at your families and circles of friends — it can get messy, and some people will screw up, but we know how to deal with that. So TRUST is maybe the most important aspect to focus on. Don’t build the system for the 1% of people who will screw up — build it for the 99% who will benefit from it.

On Point VIII — Be Human, Be Transparent – transparency is important, but the more important characteristic is fairness. Sometimes a company cannot be transparent, but as long as that is explained in a fair way, employees and customers will understand.

On Point  IX — Social Analytics Must Drive Key Strategic Decisions — I am not sure that I completely agree. Yes, social analytics are important. But more important is to measure the impact of a social program on a process the same way as you measure the impact of other programs on the process. So for example — if you leverage social programs as part of customer support, measure the impact the same way as you would measure the impact of the call center on customer support; if you use social programs for lead gen purposes, measure the impact the same way as you measure the impact of email marketing, etc.

But the point that you are making about mining the big data that comes with social and digital marketing is a great one. Companies need to stop storing, securing and serving up that data in fancy reports and instead mine it for actionable insights like pricing strategy, marketing strategy, distribution strategy and product development strategies.

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