Originally posted on the Harvard Business Review.
Recently, the CEO of Edelman wrote a blog post celebrating a company milestone. In it, he referenced our efforts in the non-analog world as “social digital.” To most, this may seem insignificant because the word “social” is often overused in professional circles. But the addition of “social” to the “digital” is immensely significant because it symbolizes that the current revolution is not only digital, but codependent on social behaviors and interactions from human beings. If the digital revolution was about computers being connected (the internet) then the social-digital revolution is about people being connected (the social web).
Though social and digital share similar attributes, they are not the same thing. Many organizations learn this lesson the hard way when they set up a “digital embassy” on a social network like Facebook, only to find out that fans can be unpredictable, vocal, and even antagonistic. Digital is the infrastructure, the plumbing and wiring, but social is the behavior and quite possibly the glue.
We are the sum of our connections in this social-digital revolution and doing business in the social-digital era means being connected. A site called the Social Business Index underscores this point, at least in theory. It uses an undisclosed algorithm to provide a real-time assessment and ranking of how social (or connected) a company is. The site looks something like a stock exchange of businesses ranked by how “social digital” they are at the moment, likely related to the size and activity of their networks. The first few companies to appear on the list are what you might expect; Facebook and Google retain top spots. But the rankings get more interesting as you see companies such as Coca-Cola, Burberry, and Time Warner in good standing. The index sparks an interesting question. Will companies who embrace “social digital” perform better than those who don’t? To participate in the social-digital revolution, brands, businesses, and organizations need to take the following actions:
Add a social layer across all business functions. Most organizations have “legacy” systems in place which have yet to integrate a social layer. For example, Facebook pages are often receptacles for customer complaints, yet this feedback does not get funneled into the same databases that compile information from areas such as call centers. Being “social” in a digital age means integrating social data and interactions across all of your business units and pulling in data from traditional, digital, and social sources.
Pursue a policy of integration and specialization. Organizations must adopt a social-digital mindset if they wish to capture value in this area. This means evolving the culture and skillsets of your workforce. Being able to engage productively and appropriately in public-digital spaces may become as necessary as being proficient in private-digital communication such as e-mail. However, integration across complex organizations takes time and so specialization may be needed in order to develop social-digital capabilities. Last year, I asked if we should fire marketing managers and hire community managers. While marketing managers still play a critical role — today it’s common for a business to hire or contract community managers to run their social properties at scale.
Build, activate, and maintain a vibrant social graph. Being “social digital” means being able to build and sustain a “social graph” with those who are critical to your business eco-system. In simpler terms, this means having the ability to build and sustain a human network which can potentially make your business smarter, better, and more inclined to adapt. Today, most businesses wishing to take advantage of the social-digital revolution are in the “crawling-walking” phase of their transformation; they are focused on building numbers measured by likes, followers, and the amplification of their messages. Tomorrow, many companies will be in the “running-flying” stages of social digital; they will connect effortlessly with multiple stakeholders who make their businesses smarter and better positioned for the future. Tomorrow’s metrics will be new efficiencies, ideas, products, and services as well as better business intelligence.
When Lego was in the process of reinventing their company in the 1990s, they reached out to the most connected Lego enthusiasts around the world to serve as a virtual R&D lab and ambassador network. In essence, this was an early example of leveraging a social graph for business. A social graph is not only about what you know, it’s about who you know. In the social-digital revolution, being digital won’t be enough — organizations will have to learn to connect with individuals, groups, and digital tribes on human terms in order to be not only digital, but social. These organizations may be the ones who come out on top after the social-digital revolutionary dust settles.