Starting the Journey to a Social Business

What benefit are companies getting from social?

A recent McKinsey survey found that use and integration of social tools have had most impact, perhaps unsurprisingly, on customer-facing activities. Based on the responses of the companies that were most committed to the use of social technology, there are also large benefits to be found in the more operational and back-office functions, but that to get there, companies “must become better at engaging more employees, customers, and external partners through social tools, then capturing new benefits and measuring them in a systematic way“.

It was noticeable across their survey that the companies which were “fully networked” saw significantly greater gains from internal and external social interactions across all processes:


What’s behind this?

Walter Adamson, writing at Kinship Enterprise commented on these McKinsey results, and his opinion, the reason fully networked companies get better ROI from social technologies is fundamentally about the way they view the world – “Companies that are using social technologies just internally have a different mindset about the value of social technologies than those using them internally and externally

As Walter says, mindset is hard to change, but by embracing communities of purpose that transcend the organisation boundary in the service of collaboration towards a shared vision, then there is possibility to co-create social good. On a more cautionary note he says that before companies can reach for that goal, they have to make sure that the processes that are built around social technologies are the way the work is done, and not something glued on the side

Dion Hinchcliffe has a not-dissimilar stance on the strategic value of social business , classifying the benefits into:

  • Tactical improvements on ways of working
  • Supporting tacit interactions
  • Re-imagining institutional practices


Looking across these ideas, there’s a common starting point, in terms of changing basic business processes to make full use of social technology – Hinchcliffe classifies the likely benefits as “finding needed information faster, lowering operational expenditures, higher customer satisfaction/retention, increased productivity, more successful innovation, and reduced travel/communications costs“.

However both Hinchcliffe and Stowe Boyd (Understanding the failed promise of ‘social collaboration’) warn that the real benefit will come from processes and tools that support “deep work” – “Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve“. It may be that this is the area where Harold Jarche‘s approach to Personal Knowledge Management has most to offer in an organisational context.

The third level of benefit, the transformation of a business into something that transcends the organisation boundary, is clearly the furthest target of all. Hinchcliffe offers some clues though – using social as the starting point for digital transformation, understanding the 22 power laws underneath social business, and letting go and letting the network do the work


Links to annotated versions of the sources via my Diigo library:

Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change