Travelling from London to San Francisco, I had a lot of time to catch up on my reading.

I spent a good hour somewhere over the Atlantic reviewing an excellent new report from Altimeter group by Charlene Li and Brian Solis titled “The Evolution of Social Business”.


It is such a good report, and I believe will be the start of serious discussions at the board level that I have decided to provide a comprehensive review over the next few posts.

The report was prepared with the assistance of 26 executives and social strategists at 15 companies about the development and success of their social strategies, as well as a quantitative study of 698 executives and social strategists about their social media efforts.

Of these respondents, 130 were at companies with more than 1,000 employees. The survey was conducted online during Q4 2012 by Altimeter Group.

As such, I believe it provides one of the most comprehensive views of social business maturity among medium to large firms I have seen.

So what exactly is social business?

One thing that Charlene and Brian are great at is providing a concise handle on what it is that we’re all talking about.

They have defined social business as

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

This definition I believe is a strong one, and it also helps differentiate social business from social media, and helps drive the discussion towards business impact and away from social as just another PR, customer service or marketing channel.

As the report has asked a cross-section of companies currently deeply engaged with social, the first part of the report is interesting in that it looks at where these companies think they are at the moment, and where the gaps are.

Figure 1 below from the report (click all images to enlarge) shows that most companies feel they have a fairly coherent social strategy.


Understandably, the areas that companies feel they have covered are:

Risk: 65% believe that risk management is understood by the business

Goals: 61% believe that their social strategy is connected to business goals & outcomes

Roles: 60% believe that roles & responsibilities around social are well defined

Engaged execs: 52% believe top execs are informed, engaged & aligned with social strategy

Roadmap: 52% believe the social strategy includes a roadmap for the next 1+ years

Customers: 48% believe they have a long term vision for how social media will improve customer relationships

Where the numbers start to fall off sharply are in the areas of metrics and training:

only 34% believe that there are clear metrics linking social activities with business outcomes

only 27% believe employees at all levels are aware and trained on how to/not to use social in their jobs as well as their personal lives.

The Altimeter report highlights that while the figures presented look promising, only 34% of companies surveyed felt their social strategy was connected to business outcomes.

This means that two-thirds of the companies surveyed were active in social with no real link to business goals.

My view is that social strategies need to think beyond just the number of likes they can generate and instead how they can deliver on the business goals of the company. Only then will their social efforts be taken seriously by senior management and the funds and attention will flow from the c-suite.

One of the reasons why many boards and executive groups are not properly investing in social to become a social business is because they can’t see the link between their current social activities and real revenue and benefits to the business.

The report highlighted 3 main areas driving this disconnect:

1. Unaligned executives. Only 52% of companies surveyed agreed with the statement, “Top executives are informed, engaged, and aligned with our social strategy.” Despite the initial funding that created their positions, many social strategists we interviewed felt that without deep executive support, they didn’t have the validation, direction, and resources to move beyond tactical efforts.

The real reason I believe for the disconnect is that the executives who hold the purse strings don’t use let alone understand social media.

One social strategist surveyed shared, “Many of our board members and executive leaders aren’t even on Facebook, so social media is foreign to them.” We found that in organizations where executives do not use social technologies, social media as a business tool is often limited in reach and understanding within the organization unless a business case is made.

To get social, you need to be social. We can’t force executives to all of a sudden change their personality and jump on twitter.  Instead, executives need to understand the potential business benefits and then surround themselves with those that do get social, and can “translate” this into a business benefit.

2. Disparate, uncoordinated efforts. As the report points out, the allure of social media can spread quickly through an organization, with many different departments — and goals — competing for the attention of the same social customers.

Figure 2 below from the report shows that while most social media teams reside in Marketing or Corporate Communications, many of those organizations have at least one FTE in another department.

Organizationally, most companies have some sort of hub or “center of excellence” coordinating efforts, but 46.5% are still either highly centralized.


3. Incremental funding. One key finding in the report was that budget and resources impact the ability to experiment, learn, and adapt. As one executive commented, “There’s a lot of interest in social at [our company], but it’s still not a primary driver of business, and its budget is much lower than traditional channels.”

Figure 3 below shows that the full-time equivalent (FTE) staff numbers for social in the firms surveyed is still quite low, pointing to the fact that because of unaligned executives, real funding has not been released to really grow social inside many of these companies.


I think you will age that this report is very comprehensive and thought-provoking, and we’re only up to page 5 of the 23-page report.

In my next post, I will be looking at Altimeter’s recommendations for defining a social business strategy.