The Problem with the “6 Stages of Social Business Transformation”


I was excited to dig into the results of the recent study of 700 executive and social strategists on social strategy development by Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis and Charlene Li.

After six years of having the word “social” in my job title, I wasn’t surprised to see that, of those surveyed, “28% felt that they had a holistic approach to social media,” or that “a mere 12% were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year,” or that “only one half of companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.” Social has been a slow burn on the uptake – for businesses, not for users.

Solis and Li go on to pretty much nail the ideal development process for a social business with their “6 Stages of Social Business Transformation.” I agree with the definition of every stage; although, unfortunately, it’s rare to see them actually develop in this order. For example, Stage 1: Planning – “Listen to Learn,” almost never happens first. Social tends to start with marketing tactics or product integrations and expand from there vs. starting with a real strategy. Regardless, I do think the stages represent the ideal roadmap to social business success.

The biggest problem I found isn’t actually with the stages themselves, it’s in the fact that too many companies are all too happy to skip right over the most important step, Stage 3: Engagement – “Dialog Deepens Relationships.” This stage is described as:

When organizations move into this stage, they make a commitment where social media is no longer a “nice to “have” but instead, is seen as a critical element in relationship building. Key tenets of this stage include participating in conversations to build communities; using engagement and influence to speed path to purchase efficiently; providing support through direct engagement, as well as between people; establishing a risk management and training discipline to shift mindsets; and fostering employee engagement through enterprise social networks.

Please, notice the sentence: participating in conversations to build communities.I would go, as far as to say, this is the single most important value of social media. And as someone who has been in hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations about social, to know – this is where things really go off the rails.

Not only do many companies skip deepening the dialogue with their customers, the issue cuts further than that. The truth is, once you get to this step, you come to find out, many companies really, truly don’t care about their customers at all.

It is hard for me (and most consumers) to understand this mentality, but I run into it more than one might hope. I once had a Sr. Executive at a company tell me, "I don't care about our thousands of current customers! I care about the millions we don't have!" As I picked my jaw up off the floor, my brain processed the gravity of this statement. How did he expect to have a good product if he didn't value his current users and therefore their feedback? How was he going to retain his current users and get any word of mouth if he didn't care enough to invest in those relationships? How was he going to attract new users if the current ones spread word of not being taken care of in a timely, courteous manner? What world does he in that the real users are useless but the potential users would be valuable?

As a consumer advocate, I was astonished. As an employee, I knew I better start thinking about a new job. I might have been early in my career, but even then, I knew this business would fail. And it did. Unfortunately, since then, I have run into this type of thinking at some level at almost every organization.

To be clear, not only should a business care about its consumers, it should LOVE them. It should invest in them. One of my favorite marketing thought leaders is Joseph Jaffe whose book, Flip the Funnel, focuses on this subject. Jaffe’s book details how off the mark most marketers are -- spending the majority of their money attempting to acquire brand new, unqualified customers instead of investing in creating evangelists out of the ones they do have. Show me a company that focuses on their current consumers/readers/fans, and I'll show you a company with a perfect foundation for a social business.

This isn't rocket science and so I'm not sure why it escapes well-educated and experienced executives but here it is:

Have a great product/service that solves a need. Take care of the people who like to use your product. Listen to the feedback from these people -- every day. Engage back with them in real, authentic dialogue -- every day. Make your product and service better based on their feedback. Rinse and repeat.

Once consumers are a priority, then social can deliver word-of-mouth on steroids. But companies that choose to skip this step and go straight to Stage 4: Formalized – “Organize for Scale,” are setting themselves up for disaster. This is when you hear of companies having an issue and then lashing out at users in a panic or covering mistakes up with fake accounts.

Social Business is the future of business, and no companies can get through these 6 Stages if they don’t begin with caring about their customers. This is what people mean when they reference the democratization of the web. People's voices matter. The smartest businesses are figuring out how to harness this power by listening, engaging and giving the people what they ask for, in other words -- building a social business.

What do you think is the best example of a company embracing deep engagement.

By Gretchen Fox, Social Architect at grtchnfx


Posted on March 29, 2013 .