Asia-Pacific companies are gradually moving beyond using social media just for engaging customers to integrating such tools and technologies within the organization, but it will take time before they understand what it means to transform holistically into social enterprises, observers noted.
Steve Hodgkinson, Asia-Pacific research director of IT at Ovum, said while companies may not set out to identify themselves as a social business, there is no question that enterprises in a wide range of sectors are making greater use of social networking tools in all aspects of their operations.
Describing social networking as the "thread" that links people together in real time, he said socially-enabled collaboration platforms are increasingly being adopted to boost interaction and information sharing within one's workplace. Likewise, these tools are also use for interacting with customers and partners, he added.
Hodgkinson noted that as social media was "born" in the cloud, becoming a social enterprise is all about understanding cloud computing trends and knowing how to benefit from the fact that more organizations are conducting business via cloud ecosystems.
Social enterprise beyond social media use
Christopher Blake, Lotus collaboration executive at IBM Asean, held a different view. He said while many Asia-Pacific organizations leverage social media to gain insights on the market, form closer relationships with consumers, and extend the reach their brands' reach, these do not yet represent being a social business.
"A social business is one that modifies and re-engineers its business processes and culture through leveraging the momentum of social media, and the inherent desire of the people to engage… and leverage that collective wisdom and expertise to attain business goals."
Several Asian clients are changing their operational processes and business methods to engage with external parties as well as re-engineering their internal collaboration and work processes--but there is still some way to go before these companies become social businesses, he noted.
Companies in the region do want to transform their businesses with social, mobile, and cloud technologies, agreed Steve McWhirter, senior vice president of enterprise sales at Salesforce.com Asia-Pacific.
"Over the last year since we introduced our social enterprise vision, I've spent a lot of time speaking with customers. There is no question that CEOs [in Asia] want this transformation [and] want to embrace this new social paradigm to start a new vision for their future," he said in an e-mail.
He cited the "Toyota Friend" project in Japan as an example of creating a social enterprise. Toyota Friend is a private social network, built on Salesforce Chatter, that connects Toyota customers with their cars, their dealership, and Toyota. This network provides a variety of product and service information and maintenance tips, creating a rich car ownership experience for customers, McWhirter stated.
IBM's Blake added that the most successful social business implementations occur when the project is driven by the relevant business units, which would have clearly defined business goals for the initiative.
He emphasized that becoming a social business is a process of "evolution, not revolution". The introduction of social collaboration tools should not be at the expense of the company's pre-existing technologies and infrastructure, he said.
The Big Blue executive also called on companies to recognize that tech is only an enabler. Changes in mindset and a paradigm shift in the organizational culture toward a more social way of working and collaborating are integral in evolving into a social enterprise, he said.
Going social, step by step
Recognizing what stage of maturity the company is in should be the first step in forming a clear social enterprise strategy, said Lyon Poh, partner of management consulting at KPMG Singapore. According to him, there are three stages to consider--listening, experimenting, and innovating.
He said a company at the initial listening stage may not be fully aware of the benefits and risks social media pose, and as a result, must seek advice on the appropriate governance and policies to implement. In the experimenting stage, the company is already familiar with social enterprise applications, and should look to better understand the synergies and risks around social media, such as using social media monitoring indicators, for example.
When the final stage of innovation is reached, the company, with its vast experience in social media use, should start finding alignments between its social strategy and overall business strategy, which calls for the need to develop business cases, supply chain assurances, and enterprise 2.0 strategies--becoming a true social enterprise, Poh explained.
Malaysia-based budget airline AirAsia, for one, is looking to be a trendsetter in the use of social technology and tools.
The company's spokesperson told ZDNet Asia that Facebook and Twitter are the "biggest platforms" in the online social world and where the crowds gather on, which is why the company has strong presence in both sites. The airline uses these channels for its marketing, branding, public relations, and recruitment purposes, he revealed.
Asked if the company has plans to increase its implementation and integration of social technologies, he replied: "Tools are always in the market. AirAsia is looking into [enhancing] the whole experience on social media with powerful integration and intelligent CRM (customer relationship management)."
Like Blake, the spokesperson also agreed that while tech is meant to support the company's business, the main driver of AirAsia's social media use is still the "passion of the team" behind the project.
"At AirAsia, the brand strives to be bold, passionate and one-of-a-kind, and the people behind social media in AirAsia share the same attributes. From managers to executives, social media is an important part in any communication, and when this is strongly championed by the top management, it further improves the social media experience for both the team and the fans," he concluded.