Sunday, 16 March 2014

A taste of social business

If you were looking for an essential guide on social business, The Social Business Cookbook by Peter Furtado and Lawrence Clarke may be the tasty answer. 
 
Thinking of social business like cooking up a meal may not be the very first thing that comes to mind. However, in The Social Business Cookbook, Peter Furtado and Lawrence Clarke use just this analogy to describe the key aspects of making social business work: you need an appropriate kitchen, the right ingredients, recipes, methods, and tools. They are not the only authors to come up with this analogy. Last week, Thomas Asger Hansen, Head of Global Working Culture and Social Business at Grundfos published the Social Business Cookbook for the Danish manufacturing company’s employees and partners. But this one is aimed at a more general audience and is also worth perusing.

Onions and social business layers 

“A social business has an integrated presence in different layers, to give its audience a unified experience of your business” – Furtado and Clarke 

Like an onion, a key ingredient of many recipes, a social media space is made of multiple layers. The authors describe each of them:

The surface is the whole external social media where people might be discussing about your company. Although you have no control, you can monitor and participate in the discussions.

The next layer is the external social media of your company, such us your Facebook page or Twitter account. You are more in control of the conversation and can send messages out. “But it’s hard to get closer to your audience here, and you don’ control the data,” emphasise Furtado and Clarke.

Underneath, is your customer community where you engage in conversations and offer content that is valuable to your customers. This precedes the supplier/ partner community “probably a private space for developing your offering.”

Finally, at the heart of the onion, is your internal community where your employees communicate inside the enterprise. “Because an organisation’s internal communications lies at the heart of the onion, they affect everything else the business is trying to achieve,” write the authors.


Networks and communities

When introducing the concept of social business, the distinction between networks and communities is one of the first to embrace. While social networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) are self-organising and have no central control, a community is structured around a topic, and requires “proactive management in structuring the site, stimulating activity and supporting members.”

Mind your kitchen’s culture

“Your business culture – the attitude the management takes towards its staff – can be measured on a gauge on a pressure cooker” 

The way you run the kitchen has a direct effect on the quality of your dishes. The same can be said for business. If you have the tools but not the right culture your social initiative will fail. An honest assessment on where you are on the ‘gauge’ – Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, or Empower – will help you to work on the cultural change needed to become a social business.


Getting the ingredients and recipes right

So what are the basic ingredients of social business? Are they the platforms? The widgets? The Blogs? None of them, apparently.

According to the authors, the main ingredient - and where you should start planning your social business - is “the motivation of your audience.” Four sets of motivation in particular – completing a task, connecting emotionally, fulfilling a need, and sharing a passion - “can produce use cases that form the basis of community platforms.”

Community of Purpose: this can be for example your social intranet where employees come together to do a job.

Community of Circumstance: it might be built around a specific event or a course, letting users to connect beforehand and continue their interactions afterward.

Community Practice: this is the space for practitioners to share knowledge and develop a professional practice.

Community of Interest: here is where people come together to share and discuss, an interest, as well as learn from others.

However, like a recipe is not made just by one ingredient, the same applies to online communities. They are made out of a planned mix of primary and secondary motivations. Look for example at TES, the world’s largest community of practising teachers. Their primary motivation is improving knowledge (Practice): hundreds of groups and online discussions are around practical issues in the classroom. Nevertheless, TES is also a place for teacher to find a job (Purpose), and have social discussions on certain topics (Interest). It is also a platform for promoting conferences and events on education (Circumstance).


Choosing the right tools

To make an excellent dish you need the right tools. Rather than purchasing every gadget available, you want to buy the most appropriate based on your kitchen, recipe and ingredients. In a similar way, to help select your tool set, Furtado and Clarke suggest thinking of the different motivations of your audience. These give rise to different communications needs that your choice of functionality needs to meet.

There is a host of tools available nowadays. Each of the four types of communities identified earlier requires a different suite of tools. However, ‘structured groups’, ‘profiles’, and ‘#hashtags’ are almost certainly valuable for all the types of audiences.

Methods of cooking

To turn dough into bread you will bake it (boiling is not suggested!). In the context of social business the methods you use “are the strategies, policies and plans you put in place to make your audience feel they can converse comfortably, safely and usefully.” The authors identify four fundamental strategies, which link back to the goals of your audience. For each strategy there are a number of plans and policies to implement.

Business strategy relates to the identification of opportunities “for raising revenue through transactions or collaboration engendered by social activity; and with setting targets and ensuring that these are met.”

Support strategy is concerned with supporting your audience in reaching their goals within your social space, and “to establishing a space in which people feel is well-managed and welcoming, where they can safely meet one another (network) and open themselves up to learn from one another.” Here is emphasised the role of the Community Manager. “This is the pivotal role for running your social space – and may well evolve into a pivotal role in the entire organisation. Resource it well.”

Content strategy. The uniqueness, quality and relevance of the content found on your social space plays a critical role in attracting community members and allowing them “to learn about your specialist topic and to succeed in their endeavours.” To ensure the on-going flow of this type of content a strategy is required.

Sustainability strategy keeps your social space alive by ensuring that members come back and are engaged. Worth of note is the idea of ‘social learning’. While education on social communications and behaviours is highly recommended, the traditional type of training may dissipate. In fact, a platform allows members to collaborate and explore opportunities together: “rather than training, this is ‘social learning’ where people learn and create, together, the things your social business needs to succeed.”

Finally, when it comes to governance, it is vital to be clear on who is responsible for what. In a social and collaborative environment this can be easily confused, and should not be overlooked. Identify the key roles, their major responsibilities and reporting lines can help.

How good is your dish?

To access how well you are doing, and whether you have to adjust your way of cooking, going back to the original audience motivations is once again key.

Furtado and Clarke suggest five stages to ‘taste test’ your platform to see if you are getting results.

Drawing a ‘shareholder value map’ and success criteria that shows the business benefits from the community. Benefits can be at individual level (e.g. recognition), team level (e.g. problems solved quickly), operational level (e.g. completed projects) and bottom line (e.g. reduced costs).

Gathering metrics including platform analytics, management reports, and polls in the community with feedback from members.

Documenting past actions to understand the progress made against the success criteria.
Scoring your community on each of the four strategy dimensions (business, support, content, sustainability).

Crafting an action plan to identify specific actions to take for each dimension or those of highest priority.

Taste tasting allows you to find the areas where performance should be improved. It also helps to establish future targets and responsibilities. Finally, it gives you the necessary information to understand if you have to extend or refocus your community (new topics, new activities, new functionalities or less areas to cover).

Conclusions

The Social Business Cookbook is a concise guide on the key elements of a social business. Complemented by summaries, tables and graphs it might be the essential and helpful resource to keep on your desk. Enjoy your meal!

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate