Killer Apps for a Social Business

Posted on February 27, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I recently had a meeting with one of my clients, who is thinking deeply about internal collaboration using social tools.  She works for a large global manufacturing company who has implemented SharePoint to facilitate collaboration between engineers in the corporation.  They now want to know the value SharePoint is providing.  The question on the table goes something like this “How do we know that using social tools like SharePoint are any better than any other way we have to collaborate?”

Initially, they have been using the tool for information sharing.  Groups can use the features much like any groupware, and have been sharing documents, reaching team members, etc. using the tool.  They have gobs of usage statistics to show that the tool is used.  In fact, at one point, they documented over 2000 unique users accessing the site.  But does this show business value?

To answer that question, we have to take a look at the business objectives.  What is the ‘business reason’ for using social tools?  Once we know the objective, we can devise metrics to see if we are achieving value.  In discussions with the client, we came up with a very simple, but incredibly useful, way to think about how companies get value from social business.  We came up with three main objectives that are facilitated or made more effective with social tools:  Collaboration, Engagement and Innovation (See the figure).  We found these to be a simplified way to look at a social business, and we call these the ‘killer apps’ for a social business.

Collaboration is loosely defined as the information sharing.  Experts can be located, documents found through tags and other social implements,  and conversations documented and made searchable with social networks.  Internally, this may amount to social networking.   Externally, this extends to customers and ‘super users’ in the community who share and collaborate with the company and with each other.  The value is in the efficiencies and increased productivity gained when expertise and support can be located when it’s needed.

Engagement is the interaction members of the community have with each other, with the product, brand, process and company itself.  Engagement is one of those terms that are difficult to define, but easy to identify.  Employees and clients who participate in the social community become more committed, more supportive and possibly an evangelist for the community.  We have heard stories about how engagement leads to more satisfied customers and, inside an organization, better strategies and a more committed workforce .  Engagement may be the holy grail for companies trying to calculate ROI of their social business investment; they may be able to show that those who are more engaged are better customers, refer more often, and make more purchases.  Employee engagement may lead to better productivity, less turnover, and more efficiencies.

Innovation is the generation of actionable and potentially profitable ideas for an enterprise.  Social business tools have created a way for organizations to generate ideas, debate the relative importance of the idea, prioritize the list of ideas, and communicate with the ecosystem about the intentions of implementing the ideas.  We’ve seen this story in many environments, including Best Buy, Dell Computers, and Starbucks.  These new innovation processes create great value for their host organizations by harnessing the wisdom of the crowd and turning it into actionable, prioritized ideas for the company.

Where is the ROI from the investment in social technologies?  If your organization finds value in collaboration, engagement and innovation, the initial ROI is found in these applications.  But the real value is the intangible,  hard to measure, ‘magic’ that happens when individuals are able to connect and interact with others.  The serendipitous connections that result from the loose connections, the strength of weak ties, are priceless.

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3 Responses to “Killer Apps for a Social Business”

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This reminds me of the age old question about the value of education. The quote goes, “If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance!”

What does it cost a company to have limited collaboration, limited information sharing and limited innovation? It can cost it its very existence!

However, I don’t believe that the softness of the ROI on these things should be an excuse for not being explicit about the business outcomes that are intended, and how the collaboration platform and tools are going to enable those outcomes. That kind of analysis can be very illuminating and provide an implementation roadmap, with key indicators as to how well the strategic intents are being realized.

[…] a new, and increasingly critical way to collaborate, engage and innovate with customers (see my earlier blog about this).  Increasingly, social IT and the platforms they create are the primary way and, dare […]

[…] a new, and increasingly critical way to collaborate, engage and innovate with customers (see my earlier blog about this).  Increasingly, social IT and the platforms they create are the primary way and, dare […]


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