Is digital experience management the new social business?

As companies seek a sustainable grasp on digital engagement, the focus on holistic experience management is treading a lot of the same ground as an earlier related concept, social business. Will organizations ever have one model for online engagement?
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

The last half-decade has largely been a drawn out struggle for organizations as they attempt to find their way towards a pragmatic and workable management model for digital engagement with their stakeholders. At issue, among other top factors, is a blistering rate of digital evolution, rampant technological complexity, and ongoing mass behavior change in the market.

In response, simplicity is in vogue, and organizations would like something, anything, to make dealing with their stakeholders in digital channels easier and more straightforward.

Organizations don't want much: Just a long-term viable model that lets them reason about and sustainably organize the digital technology they use to connect with their stakeholders. They seek a framework that can successfully account for and copes with today's high rates of technology change, digital channel proliferation, helps realize a consistent cross-channel user experience, provides timely data-driven insight, and satisfies the desire for the market to have more intimate, useful, conversational relationships with the businesses and institutions they work with.

The rise of engagement via social channels: Social business

Five years ago, the mantra of social business was emerging on the digital scene in a significant way to help with a large part of this story, urging organizations to establish long term digital connections with stakeholders, and then engage with them in a more sustained way to create shared value in online communities. Less a technology revolution, and more a business evolution, social business delivered the news that companies often weren't ready for, but badly needed to hear: Being digitally connected in participative channels -- and using those connections in highly productive ways -- had become a strategic imperative.

Comparing Top-Level Digital Constructs: The Overlap of Digital Experience and Social Business

Today, we can now see that the most connected companies tend to be market leaders. Highly respected organizations like Coca-Cola, American Express, GE, Nordstrom, Disney, and Burberry are all examples of companies that are capable social businesses which are highly engaged with their customers in social channels to extensively co-create together. Even non-consumer facing B2B companies like Maersk, SAP, and Salesforce have managed to create vibrant social business ecosystems of their customers and partners around them. These are just some top examples, many organizations have had solid traction with social business.

However, at the same time, the industry has realized that social media -- even though social channels are some of the most vital and important -- is not the only game in digital. Far from it. All of the old digital channels are still being used by our various stakeholders and new non-social channels continue to emerge all the time, including the connected possibilities of Internet of Things, wearables, and virtual/augmented reality, to name a few of the more significant.

Experience management emerges to account for all of digital

This has given rise to the emerging practice and cottage industry of digital experience management, which attempts to provide a framework -- along with supporting processes and platforms -- that allows us to better and more systematically organize and manage all of these touchpoints. A subset of digital experience, customer experience management (CEM), is getting most of the focus today since the customer audience is both the largest and most significant in terms of generating revenue for businesses, consequently getting the most attention and priority.

The result has been two dominant top level constructs for digital experience and engagement that are not well reconciled, that are operating -- often side-by-side -- in many of our marketing, sales, operations, customer care, and other departments, and in my analysis, actually overlap fairly extensively.

We're fortunate to have enough experience now with both approaches to see they offer measurable value to companies that practice them. Social business on average gives organizations that have extensively adopted a 25% lift in outcomes enterprise-wide. Leaders in digital experience, especially on the customer side, has shown that they significantly outperform the market across a variety of studies. We must do both, as these improvements of this size have real competitive implications.

Yet social business and digital/customer experience are almost certainly not complete or entirely effective without each other.

As my ZDNet colleague, top CRM expert, and friend Paul Greenberg noted in his column recently, "there is no customer experience without customer engagement." Meaning digital experience methods must be fundamentally two way to create value and be fully relevant in today's marketplace. Conversely, social business focuses mostly on collaborative conversations at scale, aimed at business outcomes, but does not really take into account the entire digital universe in which it is situated and must work effectively within.

In the visual above, I've mapped out both digital experience and social business to a reasonable level of completeness on top of the engagement cycle (engage, then understand, analyze, plan, strategize, respond.) Using a blended box when social business and digital experience both have a lot to say about a topic, we can see there is considerable overlap, even though social business today speaks a lot more to the full stakeholder spectrum that most digital experience frameworks do currently.

Social Business Industry Larger That  Customer Experience Management, For Now

Why reconcile social business and digital experience

Probably the key question to ask at this point is do these two overarching digital frameworks play well side-by-side or do they need to be integrated for companies to get the fullest benefits of both? Digital/customer experience is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of realized products and services to support it, so until recently it's been hard to say.

But with the maturity of both approaches, I'm now beginning to see digital engagement practitioners have to routinely deal with both frameworks. The result? They find in general that CEM platforms tend to underserve social business needs, while social business frameworks and products often neglect many key aspects of digital experience. This lack of integration leads to more work, lower impact, and a fragmented approach to digital, which is what we were trying to resolve in the first place.

So, it now appears that organizations that want to be digital leaders will need to sort out both methods of managing digital experience/engagement. We've seen the start of this conversation already in places, but it's still nascent and not yet an imperative. Yet an imperative it will likely become has digital is becoming a large enough part of the corporate budget that most organizations cannot afford to do big things twice, and then try to fit what was designed separately, together.

We did this in the early days of social business, conducting social marketing, social customer care, and social collaboration in functional silos, investing in and then building up duplicate teams, processes, policies, guidelines, and platforms until they were forced to confront each other. It didn't go well then, and it won't go well now.

Thus the leanest, smartest, and most successful companies will likely map out the full universe of digital possibilities, enlist decentralized communities of change agents to help attack the full scale of the challenge, and continuously adapt to and deliver on digital experience and engagement as efficiently as possible. Many traditional organizations will struggle with this. Digital natives will have fewer issues.

What will we call the combination of these two practices? We don't have a term yet, but hopefully it will be simple and meaningful that includes both online experience and participation, such as Digital Experience and Engagement Management. Your thoughts on all of this are welcome in comments below.

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