Experience Management Blog

The Operations of a Social Business

Earlier this year I explored the structural aspects of social business so we could collectively get a sense of what our organizations need to look like in order to engage effectively in social media at scale.

Overall, I was pleased that the feedback on this architectural view of social business was quite positive across the industry. We believe such models give us a valuable tools for planning and realizing the significant changes necessary to reap the strategic rewards of systematically engaging in social business. That we’ve now seen the benefits hold true across marketing, sales, customer service, product development, and operations has been gratifying.

As I pointed out at the time however, an architectural view is a valuable artifact for depicting the discrete — and essentially physical — elements of a subject with clarity. But this view doesn’t describe the dynamic aspects — or the processes we must engage in — that fully bring a new way of working to life. For this to happen here, we must delve into and understand the operations of a social business. Therefore, contained below, is our current understanding of how organizations are activating upon and becoming fundamentally social organizations over time, culled from our experiences with clients in the field, case studies, and other research sources, including the Social Business Council.

The Operations and Processes of a Social Business

Please note that while I’ve attempted to be as exhaustive as possible and covered both the main front-line activities such as the primary engagement cycle, social business functions (marketing, CRM, collaboration, etc.), and support functions, by necessity, any such view is only a guide. To make full use of this, your homework is to adapt this view to your organization’s own industry, geography, culture, and other germane requirements.

Visualizing The Dynamics of a Social Business

In general, we can break down the processes of a social business into four broad categories. The first category is the totality of an organization’s human activities including any conversations that involve it or are relevant, both inside and outside of the business. These include the day-to-day business processes that keep the organization running, the ad hoc and informal processes of knowledge workers involved in creating new information or dealing with exceptions and edge cases of operations, as well the main digital engagement cycle of the business itself as it interacts with itself and all of its many and varied stakeholders. This includes customers, the general marketplace, suppliers, and business partners. Note that each and every type of business activity is reflected in social and non-social media both, to varying degrees. Some processes will principally involve systems of engagement, others will only involve systems of record. A large and growing number of them will involve both.

The second major category are key support functions. These in general are a requirement for social business to operate successfully and include community management, social business transformation (which is almost ways is a series of loosely integrated and disparate efforts of varying size over time within the organization), as well as the definition, management, and enforcement of corporate policies related to digital engagement, especially including social media. Of all of these, social business transformation is the most fraught with unpredictability and requires a healthy dose of culture change in order to “take” within the business.

Additional Reading: Organizing for Social Business – The Issues

The third category, unlike the first two which are largely continuous and constant, is the process of deliberate and intentional enablement of social business at a functional level (as opposed to the people considerations, such as culture change.) We call this social business design. This includes strategy development for social business, designed changes to the way that business processes work to be more social, and the creation of new organizational capabilities, infrastructure, architecture to support social business. This is a much more punctuated set of processes that have high-level of activity while change is taking places, but generally settles down to a much lower level otherwise. You can read more about these activities in more detail in Social Business By Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

Finally, the aspects of social business must be administered at both a regional and enterprise-wide level. This set of processes is collectively known as governance and involves executive leadership and oversight (both of which are highly effective at accelerating results), legal and regulatory support, and partnership with human resources for developing policies, creating training programs, and acquiring and/or developing social business skills ranging from community managers to social architects. A close relationship with the IT department is also needed to create a set of social business tools and platforms that enable the community-based business processes and activities within the organization. Last, but not least, security cannot be an afterthought, nor can compliance with record keeping, industry regulations, corporate policy and so on.

The Next Step: Preparing Processes for Scale

At the leading edge of enterprise social media is the discussion about how to deal with the challenges of these processes to scale well. As companies encounter millions of their customers, all of whom want to connect with and engage with the organizations that matter to them in surprisingly new, deep, and transformative ways, organizations are scrambling to retool their digital engagement channels to deal with this. I now hear regularly from business leaders that are frustrated by how many social media customer service representatives they must hire, or employees they must train to use social channels. Industry thinkers like Jeremiah Owyang are seeing this as one if the biggest challenges as well and the new Sprinklr report explores this in detail.

The short version: Getting social business processes to work in the large today requires all new ways of organizing our workers and advocates in the processes shown here.

If there is one take away here, however, it’s that we’ve reached a place where we by-and-large know what we need to do in order to become social businesses. The process view here is relatively non-controversial and will bear reasonable resemblance to what most organizations will ultimately end up doing. What will vary greatly is how your business will get there. That process is likely to be somewhat messy, have some dead-ends, and be painful at times, but the outcome is a sustainable, resilient business that can outcompete those who haven’t made the same moves in their industry.

We’d are quite interested to hear what else you think we may have left out of this view of processes. Depending on the feedback, I reserve the right to issue an update with socially contributed additions from comments or blog responses.


At Dachis Group, we’ve made an extensive investment in strategic social business engagement capabilities so that our clients have the best tools at hand to achieve competitive advantage and realize value as rapidly as possible. To learn more about these, please consult the resources below: