04:20 PM
Connect Directly

7 Lessons From Social Business Leaders

Companies can learn from these leaders in the use of social networking technology for business.

How can you maximize the use of social media and social software with employees, customers, and partners? Our digital publication The BrainYard ( decided to seek out and highlight companies that are well on the road to becoming truly social businesses.

Ford is getting there. The automaker has embraced social media for marketing and customer support and encourages employees to share company content in social media--not as official spokespeople, but as proud employees. Ford is only at the beginning of bringing these things together in a true social business strategy, says Scott Monty, global director of social media. "A lot of people are talking about social business transformation, but to actually execute it at the enterprise level is really, really hard," Monty says.

Scott Monty, Ford
"I don't think anybody's really figured it out completely yet. A lot of people are talking about social business transformation, but to actually execute it at the enterprise level is really, really hard." -- Scott Monty, Ford

One milestone: When Ford introduced a redesigned edition of the Ford Explorer in 2010, it skipped the conventional auto show unveiling to auto journalists in favor of simultaneous announcements in eight cities--and on Facebook. The Facebook campaign, created using tools from Buddy Media (now part of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud), featured videos about the vehicle from the product managers and engineers. The Explorer "reveal" campaign attracted 99 million social media impressions and became the No. 1 trending term and the No. 2 search term for the day on Google.

"We took that as an indicator we could be successful in social at the scale we were used to in traditional media," Monty says.

Some companies point to a hard return on investment on social collaboration--building materials manufacturer Cemex, for example, says it's saving between $500,000 and $1 million a year through reduced travel and phone expense--but often the returns are softer. The Red Robin restaurant chain's CIO looks for the true ROI from the business initiatives themselves with social collaboration as an accelerator.

Part of the reason Red Robin adopted social collaboration software Yammer was it needed a tool that will let it "get out a message and get feedback immediately if assumptions aren't playing out right, and we need to make modifications," says Chris Laping, CIO and senior VP of business transformation. Yammer has been an important tool in assessing product introductions (see "Red Robin CIO Named Social Business Technology Leader").

The BrainYard chose seven companies as examples of social business leaders:

>> Bonobos

>> Cemex

>> Ford

>> McKesson

>> Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

>> TD Bank

>> Unisys.

Here are seven lessons that emerged from these companies' experiences.

1. Let Business Drive Technology, Not The Other Way Around

At Ford, social technology is helping accelerate the One Ford strategy aimed at breaking down organizational silos, a policy that CEO Alan Mulally established when he became CEO in 2006. Mulally wasn't thinking in terms of social technologies when he first articulated that vision, but social tools present "just an amazing opportunity to start bridging these gaps," Monty says.

chart: Social's low on the list

In addition to using social media in marketing, Ford established an enterprise social networking initiative using Yammer (although that may not be the final choice), to help employees make more spontaneous connections. To wit: When Monty was planning what became the Summer of Taurus campaign in 2009 to unveil the 2010 model of that car, he wrote a rough outline of what he wanted and posted it to Yammer. Within a week, a person from an IT group that normally didn't work with marketing was able to show Monty a prototype he had built in his spare time, which evolved into a mashup with Bing Maps. In addition to connecting people who might not have otherwise, the social conversation substantially shortened what could have been a months-long process of gathering requirements for a traditional IT project. It also eliminated the need for hiring expensive outside developers.

2. Use Metrics To Measure Progress

McKesson sees specific gains as a result of making purposeful use of social networking technologies and measuring the impact. The pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information technology company is using social business technology to unify support for its software products in the electronic medical record and practice management markets. McKesson's Physicians Practice Solutions had acquired several products in recent years and needed to consolidate support, services, documentation, account management, product development, and product management.

McKesson is using SocialText's social intranet platform to enable communication among employees in its various channels, including those dealing directly with customers or with value-added resellers and those providing policy and product content. McKesson measures the success of its social initiatives using key performance indicators. For example, since implementing social products and practices, the average speed to answer customer calls has decreased 66% and same-day resolution of customer concerns has improved by 12%, says Timothy Kelly, executive director of customer support.

Measuring the performance of social initiatives against quantifiable metrics lets companies see what's working and what needs to be fixed. Hard numbers can also be useful in terms of getting people--internally and externally--to buy into the use of social tools. It's one thing to say that employees should use social technology because it will improve collaboration; it's more powerful to tell, say, customer support representatives that the technology has been proven to reduce the amount of time they will spend on each call.

3. Identify New Opportunities

While companies that have had success with social media started with specific uses in mind, they stayed open minded to new areas to apply social technology and the social model itself.

Men's online fashion retailer Bonobos found that using Twitter and Facebook has led to interaction with customers with whom it has never had an email exchange or call. Once they engage on social media, however, they'll not only interact but also bring friends into product discussions. "Turns out there are a lot of people for whom the bar to engagement is pretty low for social media," says John Rote, VP of customer service for Bonobos. "They're really happy to become excited brand advocates. You just have to meet them on their own terms--which, for a lot of people, are Twitter and Facebook."

People who interact with customer service using Facebook and Twitter also are more open to social promotions and marketing, Bonobos finds.

"The more engagement we had from a service point of view, the more participation we had from a promotions and marketing point of view, and it was just this reinforcing kind of cycle where we have people come in and do referrals over social media," Rote says.

The company is now looking for new product insights from social networks. Bonobos representatives, for example, are active on the retailer's Facebook page, inviting voting on Bonobos' signature commemorative clothing and comment on preferred fabrics.

Bonobos uses online software from (which is owned by to route service inquiries and customer cases to make sure they get addressed by the right people at the company, says Rote. Bonobos also created a Twitter handle for service inquiries: @bonobosninjas.

Cemex is blending new social communication with existing tools. Cemex plans to extend its IBM Connections social platform by integrating email with it, so that employees can get Web-based email through the same portal they use for social communication. Cemex innovation director Gilberto Garcia says email is "less important now internally, but more important externally," and the company will leverage the new integration capabilities of Connections to make it easier to use the two together (see "Social Business Leader Cemex Keeps Ideas Flowing").

Wendy Arnott, TD Bank
"We realized that social was going to be a game changer for the organization, especially after a number of large acquisitions with many employees spanning vast geographies." -- Wendy Arnott, TD Bank

TD Bank did an early experiment to gauge employee interest in social interaction. It used simple tools to let employees comment on internal newsletter articles, and the results showed people would take the time to share their ideas about improving the business. For example, an article asking about bank workers' biggest frustrations prompted one teller to suggest that a paper-based enrollment process could be handled much more efficiently online. Hundreds of other employees quickly voiced agreement and added ideas about how it should be done.

"The idea had come up before, but until social [networking] amplified it, it was not a priority," says Wendy Arnott, TD Bank's VP of social media and digital communications. The company also had done a number of acquisitions, and realized internal social networks were going to be a "game changer" for spanning these geographies, she says, and TD Bank subsequently implemented IBM Connections. For example, TD Bank provides wikis on which branch managers share ideas for better customer service.

TD Bank also now has 20 social customer service representatives divided equally between Toronto and New Jersey who use Radian6 (part of Salesforce's marketing cloud suite) to monitor social media and respond. Its TD Money Lounge Facebook page for Canada has about 150,000 fans. On LinkedIn, TD has a Canadian Business Community group that lets it host conversations about small business. And, the bank recently introduced TD Helps, a community section of its website where customers can ask questions and get answers. TD Helps launched in June, and as of October the staff had answered more than 14,000 questions.

The bottom line is that social technology's multifaceted nature--from monitoring social networks for product comments, to interacting with customers, to internal networks for employee collaboration--can present a challenge in terms of nailing down what you actually do with it, but it's also an opportunity because it can be applied so many ways.

4. Show Employees How Social Is Relevant To Their Jobs

Gloria Burke, director of knowledge and collaboration strategy and governance at Unisys, wishes she had started earlier to tailor training to different types of jobs. Focused training works, as does encouraging employees to share lessons about how social tools work or don't in a particular job. "Nothing drives the adoption of something new more than a colleague telling you it works for them," Burke says.

Unisys's social business initiative has succeeded partly because of a top-down push from executives who recognize its importance, Burke says, and because of the groundwork laid by prior knowledge management initiatives over the past decade. The IT services company uses NewsGator's Social Sites for SharePoint as its company-wide enterprise social networking platform. Sales and marketing teams also use Salesforce's Chatter collaboration software.

Gloria Burke, Unisys
"Nothing drives the adoption of something new more than a colleague telling you it works for them." -- Gloria Burke, Unisys

John Knab, director of IT applications, doesn't worry about the overlap because the trend is "everybody is going to have some social component to their platform." Chatter may be the better tool for some sales-specific conversations, but salespeople also need access to NewsGator when they need to reach the broader organization.

What's most important is helping people in sales roles achieve the goal of "market agility," says Burke. One example is using a mobile device to post a customer's question to colleagues during a client meeting. Using a search of employee social profiles can find an expert in order to "get the answer before they even leave the office," says Burke. "That's impressive to the client." In a case like that, the tool of choice would be NewsGator because it reaches more people, across different areas of expertise.

5. Overcome Cultural Challenges

Not everyone uses social networking outside work, some don't like it, and there are a lot of fears and inhibitions about using the technology. Companies need to recognize this reality and not just foist social software upon employees unsupported and expect results.

At Cemex, the support for and use of social media by the company's top executives helped to increase trust in the community. To overcome resistance and fear of social media, Cemex went as far as creating 12 profiles of people who would use its internal social network--based on factors such as job, experience, and age--and tailored training and communications to each profile. "We did an analysis of different profiles within the company, and did a map to get to the hearts and minds of the people in the company," says Cemex's Garcia.

Those who successfully implement social software and practices have learned the importance of thoughtful rollout and ongoing support.

6. Don't Hamstring Use

At the same time companies must win over employees who resist social networking, they also need to tap into the knowledge and energy of those that have been using Facebook and Twitter for years and are the true experts.

Restaurant operator Red Robin made a conscious decision to implement its Yammer collaboration network without a lot of rules around how to use it, other than basic acceptable use policies. Restaurant workers adapted pretty readily to social media interaction because Yammer looked and functioned a lot like Facebook, which "they use in their daily lives," says CIO Laping.

7. IT And Business Unit Leaders Must Work Together

Just because cloud-based social networking technology such as Yammer and Chatter can be put into place without the IT department doesn't mean that should happen.

At Red Robin, Laping also holds the title of senior VP of business transformation, meaning that in addition to IT he oversees training and the operations support team responsible for implementing new processes, like the actual kitchen and server routines for cooking a new burger properly and presenting it to the customer.

When Laping joined Red Robin in 2007, he saw that IT needed to get beyond systems maintenance activities by working more closely with business units. If IT isn't in step with what groups such as marketing and operations need from technology, "it's because we ourselves are holding us back, not because 'the man' is holding us down," he says.

Red Robin's Laping warns against too many rules
Red Robin's Laping warns against too many rules

Laping has leaned on this "trust relationship" between marketing and IT to become actively involved in setting social media marketing strategy, as well as work on programs such as the restaurant's loyalty programs, where the participation of IT and marketing is required. Red Robin also has partnered with Plink, a social rewards program that doles out points as Facebook credits that customers can use to make purchases in online games such as FarmVille.

Indeed, more companies are embedding IT talent directly into departments such as marketing, something that should improve the use of social technology. This connection makes it more likely that companies will deploy social tools quickly as the business decides it needs them, but within a framework that considers data security, privacy policies, and integration with existing applications. The job of a social business leader is to find the right balance.

Continue to the sidebars:
Red Robin CIO Named Social Business Technology Leader
Social Business Leader Cemex Keeps Ideas Flowing
Unisys Lets Employees Drive Face Of Social Business
Ford Seeks Social Business Strategy

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Email This  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Copyright © 2020 UBM Electronics, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service