Culture, measurement and managed expectations critical for social business success

Summary:* Jennifer Leggio is at RSA ConferenceGuest editorial by Peter KimLeading up to SXSW and Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last month, I thought a lot about the latest thinking in social media to prepare for panels at both events.

* Jennifer Leggio is at RSA Conference

Guest editorial by Peter Kim

Leading up to SXSW and Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last month, I thought a lot about the latest thinking in social media to prepare for panels at both events. We discussed the issues that most companies are asking about lately - and concluded that it's still early for most businesses.

Most of today's thinking on social media comes from either a marketing or IT viewpoint. And both of those perspectives suffer from bias that narrows focus and diverts attention from the larger opportunity at hand. IT pros are intrigued by "enterprise 2.0" and how it may be able to rescue the expensive acronym graveyard (e.g. KM, CRM, ERP) in their data center. Marketers obsess with "social media marketing" and how to improve campaign reach and frequency at lower costs. Both approaches are limited and fail to embrace the full potential of social technologies.

What's limiting success today? A few key factors; let's start with culture. It's an issue that comes up quite a bit in conversation, but rarely addressed with solutions. To paraphrase Charlton Heston, "social media is people!" At SXSW and Web 2.0 Expo, I sat through multiple sessions led by enterprise gurus that acknowledged the "people problem" in opening, only to focus the entire discussion on technology. Making social media work requires user adoption, not just capital expenditure and policy mandate. Unfortunately, no simple solution exists for solving the people problem - it takes top down, bottom up, and middle management efforts. We've seen a handful of companies address this from the top: Cisco, Intuit, Zappos. Others activate people in the middle to catalyze change: Dell, Ford, Pepsi. And some have started educating from the bottom up: Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble. But even these cultures recognize that they have a long way to go.

Measurement also puts a crowbar to the kneecaps of the prophesied social media revolution. To paraphrase Lord Kelvin: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Models calculating return on investment are laden with assumptions and estimates that muddle accurate pictures of performance. Businesses must expand their approach to account for fuzzy units of conversations, signals, and connections and at the end of the day, these must be tied back to seeing-is-believing results. Remember: just because it appears in a spreadsheet doesn't mean it's the truth.

Perhaps the most difficult, if not impossible, current barrier to adoption is the expectation established by public social media sites. With a $15 billion valuation (2007) and a user base of 200 million (2009), Facebook looks a harbinger of 21st century blue chip businesses. Twitter seems to help individuals derail institutions daily, helping people get out of jail, jostling Fortune 50 brands, and breaking news faster than established media outlets. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "everything in moderation." Let's look back at the rise of e-commerce as an analogue here: lots of overhyped business models that failed, some that succeeded, and lots of lessons to learn in between that took years to emerge.

Businesses - not just IT, marketing, HR, or product departments - can make social media work by taking a holistic approach to emerging technologies. With social business design, a company can plan culture and process change, measurement to establish baselines and change, and technology architecture that supports these efforts at today's early stage and scales to support broad adoption.

Peter Kim is building an enterprise social technology startup that will change the world of work, with fellow principals Jeffrey DachisKate Niederhoffer, and David Armano. The company is funded by Austin Ventures and operating in stealth mode.He was previously an analyst with Forrester Research in Boston, focusing on the intersection of social technology and marketing strategy.

Topics: Social Enterprise

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