Realizing social business: Enterprise 2.0 success stories

Social business is proving to be a strategic win inside the enterprise firewall. Dion Hinchcliffe highlights some success stories from the trenches.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

While large enterprises are often viewed as hard-to-change behemoths that can't keep up with the digital age and will therefore inevitably fail to avoid "creative destruction" via lack of adaptability, it's also now clear that some of these firms are in fact having very real and measurable success instead.

Over the last year, I've been noticing a steady stream of new case studies and reports emerging from large companies that have implemented social media within their walls to improve workforce collaboration. This itself is not new of course: Social media has blossomed in the enterprise since its inception. However, the size, scope, and sophistication of many of these efforts are particularly worthy of a closer look. Moreover, the details contained within these stories -- more than any abstract discussion or statistical survey -- clearly conveys how social business (the systematic application of social computing to improve the way we work) has now arrived at global organizations.

There was a confirmation that social media not only had staying power, but was steadily growing in all aspects of the enterprise with the release a couple of months ago of McKinsey's fifth annual Web 2.0 survey of enterprises. However this 30,000 foot view, as useful as it was for understanding the benefits and types of outcomes that companies were seeing in the large, obscured the specifics of what is actually happening organizations today as the Facebook/Twitter revolution moves into the daily work routine of our companies, large and small.

Clearly, there are results to be had if a broad swath of executives around the world are to be believed: Better productivity, lower travel and communication costs, higher customer satisfaction, more innovation, increases in both revenue and profit, faster access to knowledge, improved connection to internal experts and more. But in my discussions with organizations that have not yet made a concerted, organization-wide move to internal social media and/or a more social intranet, there is often difficulty in understanding where and how to apply social media to their business.

One of the biggest issues I'm seeing is that social media, when it becomes a company-wide topic, rather quickly draws in the involvement of HR, legal, compliance, corporate communications, IT, and at least a couple of representatives from the lines of business. This sudden "coming together" obscures the exact location of ownership of social within the enterprise. This, combined with the difficulties of coordination of cross-functional sign-off on the requisite policy, governance, technology, and process issues, can often bog down efforts before they ever really begin.

Just the SharePoint vs. (insert your favorite social business platform here) debate can take months, or even years, in large organizations. Worse, driving adoption of social business tools that are often perceived by some workers as optional, complete with side-by-side viral competition from the Yammer's and Chatter's of the industry, seems to make the way forward challenging indeed.

Finally, there's tendency for:

1) general purpose social business adoption data to be too high level to be informative to those attempting to learn from those who went before them, and

2) for internal social business efforts (aka Enterprise 2.0) to trundle along in the clutches of a well-intentioned but too-often ineffective social media committee that tries to resolve every issue before moving forward.

The result: There frequently seems to be little to learn from until after all the mistakes have been made. Consequently, I thought it would be refreshing to examine more closely some of the more strategic and intriguing success stories that I've been able to discover in the last 24 months.

Ten Enterprise 2.0 Success Stories from the Trenches

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting a new internal social business case study approximately every day. Whenever possible, I'll be pointing to the original description while summarizing the key details that set it apart.

Since technology companies tend to be much better than non-technology companies at applying and adopting new technical solutions to address their business problems, I've sought to emphasize non-tech sectors firms, since they sometimes have the largest gap to bridge and the most to offer in terms of how they changed their culture and transformed the way they work.

At the same time, while there's little question that that social media significantly impacts the way IT is applied to the workplace (the shift in emphasis from systems of record to system of engagement is just one key change), many companies relegate the overhaul of their intranets or other IT solutions to their IT departments, regardless of their abilities, experience, or skill in the discipline.

The obstacles are well known: The foreign, not-invented-here, and control shifting nature of social media, the organizational issues, and learning curve, and technology vapor lock are all too often the norm. Despite this, however, more and more companies seem to be making their way through these challenges and empowering their workforce with potent new social media capabilities that fundamentally reinvent the way work gets accomplished in new and sometime highly innovative ways. In fact, it was heartening to read some of these stories as I was writing this post series. While large enterprises are often viewed as hard-to-change behemoths that can't keep up with the digital age and will therefore inevitably fail to avoid "creative destruction" via lack of adaptability, it's also now clear that some of these firms are in fact having very real and measurable success instead.

So, beginning  tomorrow, we'll explore -- in no specific order -- the companies that I'm seeing are having major successes with social business inside the firewall. Note: If you'd like to consider adding your organization to this list, represent a Fortune 500 or Global 2000 firm, and have publicly released your data for the first time in approximately the last 24 months, please send me your information via e-mail here. We may extend the list or opt to use your story instead.

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