Principles of a Social Business Strategist

Over the past 4 years, I’ve seen some incredible successes implementing social business solutions both personally and from my peers. As I look for my next opportunity to drive social business inside of organizations, I wanted to build and share a list of principles that I believe are critical for the success of any social business strategy.

  • Focus on others’ success, not your own – This isn’t about you. Your key objective should be to make the people who can benefit from social successful. You can do this by offering possible solutions to their business challenges without being preachy. Establish a good reputation inside the company as a person who will help you be successful. One way to facilitate this would be to share your goals & objectives publicly so that others can see what your motivations are. (see:  Radical Transarency: Sharing Objectives and Goals in your organization)
  • People will act in self-interest – Despite what may be good for the company, people have repeatedly shown that they will do things that are in their own best interest, even if it negatively impacts others (or the company). This is mainly due to “uninternalized externalities” (Meaning we don’t feel the pain that our actions cause others.) This is usually because we are incented to be successful as an individual for a raise or promotion. Working to help define objectives that promote cooperation and collaboration is a way to shift what a person’s self-interest is to reflect company success over the individual’s.
  • Make it easy for people to do the right thing – If the process for doing something is complicated and has a lot of steps, chances are people will shortcut the system. Really understand that most people want to do the right thing. The challenge is of course to make the right thing the easiest thing to do.
  • Think holistic, not top-down or bottom-up – Since the beginning, many strategists thought that you needed to be bottoms up (Groundswell) and then to get Executive buy-in. While this can be successful, you will not get a lot of support from middle management if they don’t see how they can leverage social for success. This is because their role changes the most in the social enterprise. (see:
  • Business users have too many tools – The average business user is laden with many tools, and social can just be seen as another one, two or many. Finding a solution that reduces the tools that the average business user needs can be seen by many as the single biggest benefit to social. Enterprise Social tools need to be a place where people get work done, not simply another destination that people have to go to every day.
  • There will always be new users – In companies, you will always have new users. Even if your company is downsizing, there will be attrition and hopefully new hires. Keep in mind that the fundamentals of a social network change as it grows & matures. You want to create an environment where new people can feel comfortable and get up to speed without being overwhelmed regardless of the maturity of your network (see:  On-boarding, your one chance to make a good first impression)
  • Trust is an imperative – Sharing requires trust. If people feel that their words will be used against them (either now or in the future), they will not participate. You need to create an environment of trust to help everyone feel comfortable sharing things that might show weakness, ignorance or unpopular information.
  • More doesn’t always equal better – It’s not imperative to have 100% of a company collaborating to be social. Each new participant in a social network adds to the noise. It’s really important to help people understand how to reduce the noise and use social for areas where there’s success. I’ve often taken the approach that if 2 people collaborate and generate $1m in value that it’s better than having 100 people collaborate to generate $1k in value.
  • Align to business strategy – Enterprise social enables you to solve many issues inside a company, but the best chance of success is to align your solution to the company’s challenges that really matter. This alone is not enough. You need to do this while making peoples’ jobs easier or helping get it done faster then they can do it using traditional tools.
  • E-mail is not the enemy – Lots of social vendors have painted e-mail as the enemy and something that needs to be eradicated from our lives, but the truth is that e-mail is a very valuable system for most of us. The trick is to remove the stuff that doesn’t belong in e-mail, such as non-private conversations, or conversations with many participants so that we can consider our time spent in e-mail to be valuable.
  • Employees should be good collaborators before exposing customers, partners or suppliers – Part of any good social strategy is to be collaborative not just behind the firewall, but outside the company as well. By first implementing social inside the company allows you to make mistakes and mitigate your weaknesses without looking stupid to your customers. (see: Ford’s SocialCRM – Follow up to Sync issues)
  • Social Doesn’t solve everything – You lose credibility inside of organizations when you “evangelize” anything, social is no different. There are legitimate reasons why people don’t use social and there are some problems that social can’t solve. By listening, you will get more support than if you are preaching. It’s OK to say that something isn’t a good fit for social business.

This list is far from exhaustive but captures what I believe to be the most important principles to practice when dealing with change inside organizations. I’d love to make this comprehensive and encourage you to share any principles that you believe are needed to drive success in social business.