How Social Media Can Spur Organizational Transformation

This post was originally published on Forbes.com.

Burberry at DreamforceExecutives for the most part don’t get social media. But it’s not their fault. After all, many corporate execs don’t even read their own email –  how are they expected to realize the benefits of new platforms if many don’t use them personally? But the bigger roadblock to social media adoption in the enterprise is that the way social is presented inside the organization that doesn’t make the case.

FacebookTwitterPinterest and the like can contribute to the bottom line of most businesses. The challenge is the ability to link business objectives, social media strategies and the bottom line. Executives need to see how social fits in to the overall vision and goals of the organization in order to lead a top down charge that changes how employees and customers connect and collaborate. There must be a purpose coupled with tangible results.

I recently worked with salesforce.com to develop a guide to help executives understand the impact of social media and how to lead social transformation. The result is, “The Little Blue Book of Social Transformation,” which outlines 20 principles for leading change while focusing on business goals.

Losses are Red, Profits are Blue

The future of business has veered in a direction that explores customer and employee centricity, driven in part by technology, combined with the  centralization of digitized human expressions and expectations.

The Golden Triangle of disruptive technology was formed by the social, mobile and real-time trends, enveloped by the cloud. Executives have no choice but to take notice. It’s time to adapt or die, to expand from a ritual of business management to that of business leadership. It’s a shift in philosophy that unlocks the door to competitive advantages.

Executives are awakening to the importance of stepping outside their comfort zones. But what they do when they step onto the stage of transformation isn’t prescriptive at all. In fact, those who can help them uncover their next steps will earn recognition and trust to help steer the organization in the direction of persistent relevance.

That’s the inspiration behind the Little Blue Book. Change is in the air and there are more questions than answers. The future of a social business however, is embodied in five key pillars that serve as the foundation for tomorrow’s infrastructure:

1. Vision and leadership
2. Engaged customers
3. Empowered employees
4. Collaborative innovation
5. Internal agility in processes, systems, and decision making

Disruptive technologies are storming the halls of business, with social media among the most aggressive. Customers gain a platform for self-expression; networks organized customer sentiment and created active communities around interests and experiences. This genre of connected consumerism has given rise to a not so quiet consumer revolution. Perhaps more importantly, businesses were given the gift of feedback and an opportunity to listen and equally engage. Social media represents the great bridging of customer expectations and business assumptions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is no stranger to the power of social media. At Dreamforce 2012, his company’s annual user conference, Benioff said that this “social revolution” is already giving way to a “trust revolution.” He cited a recent IBM’s survey of CEOs that found that in order to earn trust, it takes resolve inside and outside the organization. Social media isn’t very social at all if all you do is broadcast messages at people.

To that end, IBM found that CEOs are investing in the following three organizational attributes:

  • Ethics and Values = 65%
  • Collaborative Environment = 63%
  • Purpose and Mission = 58%

CEOs are pursuing an extensive evolution and overhaul in systems and processes that introduce agility into the organization and enable relevant and timely responses to markets and individuals.

Adoption of social media isn’t just important, it’s now becoming homogeneous in its incorporation into the enterprise. What most fail to recognize is that social media is a series of channels that facilitate a more dynamic form of person-to-person connection and discovery through a powerful undercurrent of two-way engagement. Social isn’t just technology, it must become part of the corporate DNA.

In its second annual Global Student Study conducted in conjunction with its Global CEO Study, IBM surveyed 2,400 college and university students to better understand the opinions, perceptions and aspirations of tomorrow’s employees and customers. One of the key findings was the contrast in student and CEO views on customer engagement. Only 56% of CEOs use Web sites and social media for customer relationships today compared to 70% of students who believe businesses should do so.

GE Aviation Merges Social and Innovation

GE Aviation sought to build closer connections to customers. To do so, the company focused on first connecting sales and marketing people. Something as small as introducing an enterprise social network such as Salesforce Chatter and empowering employees to interact with one another to answer questions and solve problems streamlines customer engagement and improves relationships overall. As GE CMO Beth Comstock notes, “What might’ve taken a team – in the best case – a week, can now be done in minutes.”

GE Aviation is also looking to social media to modernize its brand image while showcasing innovation to a new connected generation of consumers. Using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, consumers are given a behind the scenes peek at innovation at work.

But to see innovation at work takes something more than mere social networking between brand and customers. GE is making its engines social too. The new GEnx jet engine – currently flying on Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner – features the ability to broadcast an activity stream providing service teams with up to date newsfeeds on their mobile devices.

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. 

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