August 07, 2013

How To Identify A Social Business

“Over the next five years, most industries are going to be rethought and designed around people”. – Mark Zuckerberg

Say you are evaluating a company. Maybe it is a job opportunity or a vendor evaluation, or even an M&A deal. You know how critical it is in today’s competitive, fast-moving environment that the business be social, but how can you get below the surface and determine whether a company really is a social business? When you need to a contractor to build a new deck, you can check references and online sources, but in the absence of an Angie’s list of social businesses, here are some thoughts for evaluating whether or not a company is social.

The first issue to dispense with is that the use of social tools and software by itself does not make a business social. Just as you wouldn’t hire a carpenter simply by looking in their tool shed; a company is not social just because they use social media software. Granted, the right tools in the hands of a talented craftsman can make beautiful furniture; so too a social business can work wonders with the right social tools.

What should you look for in a company to verify that they are a social business? The most important requirement is that they have an open culture that embraces social collaboration.  Culture starts at the top, so begin your examination there. You can learn a lot from the blogs, tweets, and other social postings that emanate from the C-suite. Are the tweets genuine, engaged, often personal? Do their tweets tend more toward Niccolò Machiavelli or Karl Marx? Whom do they follow? Do they engage with employees, customers, and suppliers? Is the CEO a contender for the Top 50 Social Chief Executive Officers?

What about the rest of the company? Does customer support interact with their customers via social media? Does the company recruit via Twitter? You can learn a great deal about a company’s beliefs and culture through their employee tweets and blogs.

Be cautious with companies that are only partially social. Some, having discovered the importance of social media to college students, have adopted twitter, but exclusively for recruiting purposes as flagged by their sole twitter handle, @OurCompanyCareers. Social companies have multiple social touchpoints, sometimes implemented with multiple handles, like @CompanySupport, @CompanyCommunityRelations, @CompanyCEO, @CompanySandbox.

Avoid businesses that believe social media is for broadcasting, rather than interacting and collaborating. Notice I haven’t talked about Kred or Klout. While each of these metrics has specific strengths and drawbacks, their intent is to measure social influence, rather than social collaboration, so they are indicative of only one aspect of a social business.

Finally, find out if the company policies are social-friendly. Social businesses tend to have flexible policies that include concepts like telecommuting, flextime, comp time off, and even on-site medical care. Their organizations are flat, rather than hierarchical. Projects tend to progress in quick and agile iterations. Experimentation is condoned. The environment is open; goals are aligned, roles are clear, and ideas flow freely without fences. Employees respect, but do not fear mistakes. As a result employee retention is stronger.

Here is some advice tweeted on the topic from Jenny Sussin, Gartner #scrm analyst, “They [social businesses] don’t need to talk about it, they just conduct themselves in a social way. They need to be accessible. Social organizations tend to be flat.”

Do you know a company striving to become a social business? They can get started by following this seven-step checklist — a checklist that has worked well for us at Enterasys.

About The Contributor:
Bob NilssonDirector of Vertical Solutions Marketing

Bob Nilsson is the director of vertical solutions marketing at Extreme Networks. In this role, Mr. Nilsson leads the Extreme Networks strategy and programs for vertical markets including Healthcare, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Federal Government, and Hospitality. He has over 30 years of experience in marketing IT systems to Global 1000 companies worldwide. Before joining Extreme Networks Bob was VP Marketing at Clear Methods. Prior to that Bob held senior marketing positions at Digital Equipment and HP. Bob holds an SB degree in EE from MIT and MBA from Columbia Business School.

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