A Social Enterprise Business Plan

Many companies are discovering they need to create or update a social enterprise business plan to boost their corporate culture, employee engagement and customer experience. Here's why.

The sky rocketing rise of social media has created a digital divide whereby most customers and employees are social, but most businesses are not. The days of sales prospects engaging vendors to get the information needed for purchase consideration are behind us. Customers now complete about two-thirds of their purchase cycles online and before speaking to a salesperson. During this investigation they ask their online circles for recommendations. They consume unsolicited customer opinions of potential suppliers. They read independent product reviews and customer complaints. Each of these explorations factor into the buyers decision of whether any particular vendor will make their short list.

A company's existing customers are talking with and about the company far more on social networks than on any communication or support channel managed by the company.

Social media isn't just for customers. Your recruits and employees use it daily. Attracting and retaining the best talent requires a culture of communication, collaboration and transparency. Companies that fail this mandate are simply less appealing to the best and brightest.

Companies that wish to meet prospects, customers, recruits and employees where they gather, and better engage those constituencies must themselves become more social. To this end many are making the move for strategic reasons and benefits which include measurable financial outcomes.

A social company is simply an enterprise that leverages social media for communication and collaboration. But even with such a simple description, the journey is often difficult and prone to error.

For example, many companies view social media as just another communication channel to broadcast promotions or ads which most recipients really don't want to receive. Sending unwanted content is spam, and pretty much the opposite of being social.

Remember, social media is about evolving from one-way push-based monologue broadcasts to two-way dialogues and conversations. If your strategy is not designed to generate engagement, feedback and conversation, it's not going to work.

Many company leaders struggle at the start of a social enterprise business plan. They have a difficult time justifying the investments with an ROI. A common problem is that they try to calculate an all-encompassing "social business ROI." That's difficult and unwise. Instead, a smarter approach is to identify the business processes that most benefit from social facilitation and calculate the improved ROI for these use cases.

A social enterprise business plan shouldn't propose a big bang or watershed event. Instead, it will pursue a series of individual use cases driven by people who know how to use these technologies and apply engagement strategies for mutual benefits.

Social Business

A Social Enterprise Business Plan Implementation

When you recognize your prospects, customers, recruits and employees are communicating on social channels, but you are not part of the conversation, it's time to get social. Here's a four-step plan to leverage online engagement for improved business.


Start with Staff

First, get social with your recruits and employees. To better engage recruits, your first move is to step up the company blog. An effective blog personalizes the company, highlights the company culture, democratizes participation to anybody that's willing to share their thoughts and makes the company more transparent to recruits. These are all factors that collectively impress recruits. From there, meet them where they gather online, be it networks such as Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, or following them on X.

To engage  staff, use tools that facilitate your existing business or communication processes in social ways. Create an internal forum to communicate, collaborate and connect staff with the best information and experts in the company. There are many tools for this purpose including standalone product's such as Microsoft Teams, Jive and Podio as well as business application-integrated tools such as Salesforce.com Chatter or Slack. When reviewing these apps, consider the push-based technologies that offer subscription management for participants, inline approval processing to decrease cycle times, APIs for tighter integration with legacy systems and simple search capabilities. Make sure they integrate with other communication apps to prevent creating more islands of disparate data.


Advance to Prospects and Customers

Now engage prospects and customers. Consider social listening tools to discover where your customers congregate online. Listen first, learn each group's norms, and then engage in a way that contributes to the conversation. When contributing to online conversations about your company or products, disclose that you work for the company and don't come across as salesy or defensive.

Append your existing CRM, ERP and/or MDM customer records with your customers online profiles and attributes. This will allow you to leverage their online personas, identify their interests, understand their personal motivations and learn what it takes to engage and delight them.

Don’t just create links from the customer record to their social profile. Instead, integrate the customer record to filter and retrieve select online data. This will keep your customer record current and deliver user-defined triggering events that create contextual outreach opportunities.


Consider Partner Engagement

Once engaged with the prior two constituents, you may find it makes sense to get social with your suppliers and supply chain vendors. This can improve the movement of materials and goods.


Your Products Can Be Social

The most innovative companies are making their products social. Is there a benefit to employees, customers or vendors if your products deliver performance updates, maintenance messages, renewals or other status updates over social networks?

Toyota produced its Cloud Car, also called the Toyota Friend. It uses the Salesforce Chatter network to deliver car maintenance and other updates to its owner's dashboard or mobile device.

Enterasys makes a switch which similarly sends performance and maintenance updates to  administrators and other designated users on online portals.

Coke machines use mobile geo data to engage with proximate consumers and their cell phones over social networks. Each of these social products is delivering competitive differentiation and substantive financial benefits to the company.

The Social Business Upside

Any social enterprise business plan should be backed with measurable objectives and progress based milestones. When properly designed, the company will achieve  many strategic benefits, including the following:

  • Improve sales — many sales professionals routinely use social listening tools to discover new sales leads or opportunities as well as unhappy customers of competitors who are candidates for conversion.
  • Improve brand recognition — online engagement gives you the power to influence how your brand is discussed and perceived among a very large audience. It also allows you to respond timely to misinformation or events related to your company reputation.
  • Reduce marketing costs — social marketing can be very cost effective and yield high conversions when properly designed to deliver personal, relevant and contextual communications to specific target audiences.
  • Improve customer share and retention – customers prefer their social networks over your company channels. Delivering customer service on them and communicating with customers on their turf is proven to improve the Customer Experience, increase customer share and lower customer churn.
  • Faster time to market – Focus groups are falling by the wayside in favor of self-identified target audiences, crowdsourcing, virtual ideation methods and other customer polling which can be achieved with near infinite customer segmentation and in a fraction of the time.

Customers are increasingly connected and informed. It's a trend that shows no signs of abating. Companies that become social companies and meet customers in their preferred channels will clearly increase their customer engagement and achieve both customer and company objectives.

Companies that sit the sidelines and render social media as something for Gen X or Y will lessen engagement with all their customers. They will also lose market share to their competitors that engage and convert those customers on social channels.