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Success and the social initiative

In implementing social technologies in business, too often a project or an initiative is started without a clear understanding of what success looks like or what business goal will be pushed forward.  Business leaders might perceive a need to be up-to-date on the latest technology and applications or as social beings, might seek to be included in the networks that everyone is talking about.  Often the justification is simply an example of a competitor that is implementing something new.  On a personal level, staying current and connected can be enriching and very valuable, but in the context of the business environment it is important to have a clear definition of the outcome you are striving for as you implement new social technologies.

An example of a social network diagram.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Whether as an internal expert or an external consultant, the first thing to consider is what problem you are solving, or what specific business objectives will be achieved.  Furthermore, does everyone have the same understanding of the problem and is there consensus in the organization about the approach?  And, does solving one set of problems inadvertently create others?  Too often marketing leaders implement social networks or innovations initiatives without consideration of the implications to HR, Legal or Development.

As more and more business functions seek to implement social programs, it is essential that cross organizational collaboration and coordination be given sufficient thought.  For example, many organizations are now aggressively creating socially based employment branding programs in addition to their traditional branding efforts.  Sometimes these programs are run out of HR and sometimes out of marketing.  Some are seamless and well orchestrated, while others appear to be disconnected and out of alignment.

An excellent example of a company that is doing this right is Sodexo, whose employment branding efforts are led by a highly-skilled HR strategist that is in lock step with her marketing colleagues.  Using blogs, employee-generated content, and multiple social media platforms, they are able to communicate an authentic, cohesive and well-articulated message.  Furthermore, they have a number of metrics to demonstrate that they have not only changed attitudes towards their brand but they have significantly improved applicant flow.  By contrast, some organizations lack the metrics to assess the impact of their efforts or entrust technically savvy, but inexperienced, employees to maintain their brand on social platforms.  These individuals might not understand what the brand stands for, or might not have the business savvy to coordinate cross-functionally to solve issues that arise.

While metrics are important, is also important that initiatives be given the flexibility to evolve over time–and that metrics are not so rigid that they cannot be changed.   We have all seen examples of social networks and communities that have had unintended positive consequences and solved problems that they were not originally intended to solve.  If the metrics of success are not updated, a program of this sort might be inadvertently cancelled.   Thus, it is important that these programs are flexible enough to meet broad based and changing needs, and that leaders be made aware of what is being achieved.  The more collaboration and consensus building done when these programs are being created, the better it will be later on when decisions are being made about what to cut.

Finally, change takes time and a social initiative that is not given sufficient time may be terminated too soon.   It is important to create realistic expectations up front so that this does not occur.   On the other hand, some programs may be started without any thought to stop dates or reevaluation.  Business needs fluctuate and initiatives should not get put on auto pilot without periodic evaluation.  By knowing what success looks like, one will also learn what lack of success looks like.  And, programs that are not working either need to be fixed or discontinued…..even if they are the latest thing!!

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