Build the Best Social Media Communities With “The Social Organization”

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Social Organization

Deborah Shane, author and branding strategist, once coined the phrase “raise your business metabolism.”  It refers to increasing the pulse of how a business responds to its environment.

Given the increased spending expected for social media campaigns – Forrester predicts $4.4 billion in social media interactive spending by 2016 — it should be no surprise that businesses are scrambling to raise their metabolism on social media.

One of the best books to help your team is The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees. It covers the best ideas for managing employees and customers through social media. Authors Anthony Bradley and Mark P. McDonald, group vice presidents at Gartner Research, crafted a thoughtful book. I received a review copy after reading a flier for upcoming HBR publications. My take is that small businesses reliant on digital communities, whether as a business model or to augment to an existing business, will gain new insights.

Build an Agile and Balanced Organization

This book bears some resemblance to Empowered, another great examination of how organizations can refine social media usage into a collaborative experience. But The Social Organization is focused on community roadmaps and identifying potential misuses of social media, rather than examining a specific social media platform.  If you are looking for a break from the Facebook vs. Google + debate, you are in luck.

Bradley and McDonald  go beyond slogans to elaborate how a community is best managed. Purpose is behind the best recommendations, such as this one on page 12 that I liked:

“ ‘ But,’ we often hear, ‘communities on the public Internet seem to appear and grow spontaneously to millions of participants without an obvious, explicit purpose.’ That may be the appearance, but almost all successful social Web sites started with a defined purpose and limited scope.”

The authors present balanced assessements of the difference between  a grassroots campaign that thrives and one that is launched haphazardly.  Examples exhibit how embedding communities have worked, such as SHIFT at CEMEX, the cement producer.  CEMEX management created a community of 18,000 users focused on the company’s strategic initiatives.  Other noted examples include FICO. Prohibited from advising customers directly, FICO encouraged customers to share credit-building and credit-managing techniques among themselves.

Understand What Elements Contribute to a Roadmap for Success

The book explains how six elements – social principles, social benefits, social costs, business benefits, business costs and business impact – reveal the business justification for establishing a community.  There’s also a No-Go-Grow decision model, detailing choices for community collaboration.  The authors note the purpose for a roadmap:

“Without a roadmap, you can only discuss business value in general terms – by saying, for example, that collaboration will ‘make us more productive’ or ‘improve effective communications’…  A roadmap of well-defined goals suggests specific goals that can be measured – for example, ‘use consultant networks to create more new business proposals.’ ”

Through quotes and examples, the authors take time to show how to “eat an elephant” – the authors’ metaphor for tackling a huge undertaking to transform an organization.  But in attempting a community, reminders of value and cost abound, such as the following:

“Don’t fall into this ‘It’s cheap’ trap. Launching a social media effort often has significant cost beyond the technology…. Significant success rarely, if ever, comes cheap or easy. Social media is no different.”

The Social Organization also touches upon shifting the ownership to the community itself – how to make it grow beyond the community manager into a worthwhile engagement.  The authors caution against overlooking the subtle communication signals that can stifle growth. Overauthority can result from not recognizing one’s role. There’s a note on the fundamental differences between a collaborative environment and a standard organizational structure – the de-emphasis of methodology used to accomplish a result:

“Mass collaboration is different from other ways of working. By its fundamental nature, no one can predict of prescribe the means a community will choose to accomplish its purpose–for example, around a detailed plan of action or a set of rules and procedures–because the means will emerge. Only outcomes can be managed.”

The authors’ selection of introspective questions that managers should consider as a community emerges beyond its launch is a nice addition. In fact, the chapter is useful for many small businesses that have grown beyond their initial blogging efforts and are looking for community managers.

Technical jargon is minimal, so the book maintains its manager-level tone throughout.  This makes the material accessible to small businesses that operate like a big business but are one IT person or team short.

Online communities have become powerful business models, without a doubt, as well as a functional aid to spread the word and convey information. Moreover, small businesses and customers love to share and build communities that matter. The Social Organization can help ensure your community will be well managed long after its launch.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.