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When Crafting Corporate Strategy, Should Social Business be Bolted On or Baked In?

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Many companies recognize that social business offers new tools and rules for competing in the marketplace. But should social strategy be integrated into the overall corporate strategy? Or should it stand alone?

Social media has amplified customer and employee voices to levels that companies can ill afford to ignore. Today, leading companies are not just listening, but responding – fast. So what’s next? Incremental improvements may not be enough to sustain your market leadership – it may be necessary to embrace the fundamental shift brought about by social business to "change the game" in your industry.

To this end, some enterprises are positioning social business as a stand-alone discipline that informs their corporate strategy. Others see social business as possessing the power to transform business and disrupt industries – and they are diffusing social business throughout their overall strategy. Which approach should you take to put this trend to work for your organization?

Here’s the debate:

Bolt it on.
Social business can more effectively serve the enterprise as a stand-alone discipline, employing sophisticated tools and dedicated resources. Until it is a more mature discipline, social business deserves a page in the corporate strategy book, but shouldn’t replace it.
Bake it in.
Social business possesses transformational powers that could disrupt entire industries. Considering people, process, technology - and their convergence – from the start can allow strategists to plan smarter.
Leadership’s not convinced.
Executive management is not willing to bet the farm on social – and who can blame them? A smarter approach tests social initiatives in isolated areas and builds from there. If the value is there, you can eventually build a business case that can get leadership’s attention.
How much proof do they need?
In many organizations, sales and marketing are already believers in the power of social initiatives, with human resources, recruiting and product development following close behind. But these strategies in isolation are not as powerful as they are together and not likely to generate the potential synergies of a broad strategy.
Social business supports small steps.
Sure, social business can improve collaboration and productivity. These incremental improvements are worthwhile pursuits, but they are not going to revolutionize our business.
Social business supports big leaps.
Social conversations can trigger expansive, new ways to think about your business and enable innovation. There can be value in serendipity. Breakthrough ideas often come from unexpected places.
Why take on a transformation project when a social networking page will do?
It's the domain of marketing and public relations today and they have it handled with our social networking pages and social media accounts.
That’s postponing the inevitable.
Even on a small scale, you’ll need people to manage systems and interactions – not to mention security and integration issues that are likely to occur. Plan to disrupt or risk being disrupted.

My take

Chris HeuerChris Heuer, Specialist Leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Can social business deliver more potential value when it’s baked into a company's strategy, or when it stands alone? The answer varies from industry to industry, but if you want to increase the chance to win, bake it in and enjoy the sweetness of a warm chocolate chip cookie. Consider changing your thinking and then changing your strategy, to meet the changing dynamics of the market. Make big bets – but make them smart bets – to out-compete others in your marketplace.

For example, the risks and rewards for consumer-facing companies are often clear, so their social initiatives tend to be more far reaching than those of business-to-business companies. And, regardless of industry, collaborative cultures are more likely to create greater value, improve performance and enable you to retain talent.

You can start from where ever you are. If your organization has leadership support and a track record of effective bottom-up social initiatives, think big. How could your core processes and capabilities be reinvented to create more value, more quickly, in a society that’s interconnected by expanding social networks?

But if your organization is not ready to incorporate social business strategy across the enterprise, start small. Focus on building a solid business case based on results that are measurable and attributable. Stand-alone initiatives – with the big picture in mind – can be used to introduce a social mindset to leaders and employees that supports enterprise-wide collaboration and idea sharing, paving the way for more broad social strategies.

Sometimes it’s important to do something first, but often it’s more important to do it well. Companies that do social business well – building corporate strategies that align the passions of their people with the needs of their customers – hold the potential to not only capture their market, but to create passionate, loyal customers AND engaged employees.

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