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How Fully-networked Companies get better ROI from Social Technologies

Recently McKinsey stated that fully-networked organisations achieve greater benefits from their deployment of social technology, and it happens in part in unexpected places. McKinsey noted new product development and demand planning as two "unexpected places". What is it about fully-networked organisations that allows them to gain greater benefits from their social technology investments?

Two key opportunities for greater gain from social

McKinsey reports that despite the growing investments in social technologies by companies, and the increasingly favourable view of executives of the worth of these investments, that there are significant gains still to be made.

We would categorise the significant potential gains as being of two types:

  1. Firstly, those that come from a holistic view of social technologies as part of a wider business ecosystem.  
  2. Secondly, those that come from social technologies being more deeply integrated into day-to-day tasks and processes, to actually help change the way people work (future of work).

We think that these are the two fundamental areas on which businesses should focus in order to transform through social and to gain the best ROI.

Ecosystem is bigger than just "internal and external"

McKinsey uses the term "fully-networked organisation" for those organisations that use social technologies internally and externally. This is a good start, however just "using" social technologies internally and externally doesn't expose the real reason that "fully-networked" organisations achieve greater benefits from their use of social technologies.

Mindset and collaborationThe reason is mindset

Companies that are using social technologies just internally have a different mindset about the value of social technologies than those using them internally and externally. The mindset gap is even wider if you consider that most internally-focused companies are using social technologies only in their sales and marketing processes while in contrast many of those using it internally and externally are doing it in an integrated way. That is,  the latter have processes which link external and internal communities using social technologies in a way which is aligned with business objectives and how they go about their everyday business.

If you think about this you can see that there is a massive difference in how these organisations view the world. The internal-only group may well see better sales and marketing, and by extending social into the enterprise may see better internal decision-making and cooperation. But crucially they are lacking a way to connect the world to their organisation and how it goes about its normal business.

The mindset of the fully-networked organisation seeks to connect the outside world to the organisation and has started the move towards building communities of purpose which incorporate employees, customers, business partners, suppliers, independent experts, and other stakeholders from inside and outside the organisation.  In this scenario social technologies not only enable collaboration and communication but support the development of a shared vision or purpose or beliefs of a group who are drawn to collaborate at scale to co-create social good (which includes "business good").

This mindset sees social technologies as not only generating new information and insight, but also enabling people to do something they've done since the beginning of time - talk to one another and collaborate for social good but also to experience being part of a deeper, connected community doing life together. They see how abundance can be created by connecting the outside to the inside, and vice versa - an abundance mindset. 

Integration into changing how work is done is crucial

It is our experience, beyond the mindset discussed above, that the strongest predictor of positive payback from investments in social technology is how deeply those technologies are embedded into how people work. Put simply, if the social technologies are just another system that people "have to deal with" and don't support their connection with work or how they work then the ROI will be poor.

That's not to say that social technologies have to fit the way people work today, but that modified workflow and processes which incorporate the social technologies must become the new way of how work is done, and not have the social on the side.

Executives also report that in the processes where social tools are used most often, tools tend to be integrated more deeply into day-to-day tasks—suggesting that companies must adjust the way they work to get the full value from these technologies. McKinsey.

This is why KINSHIP believes in focusing in detail and on specific vertical use cases in assessing the potential benefit of social technologies, whereas many enterprise social technologies have been installed on the broad promise of simply better collaboration, or decision-making or information-sharing. The latter approach is rarely successful, in our experience.

The new challenge, when embracing the fully-networked model, is how to engage customers and other stakeholders in a way which supports their workflow and processes.

Mental model of "fully networked" is vital to overall outcome

The two reasons above are both crucial to get right in order to get the best return from social technologies. However mindset is harder to change than workflow and processes. Therefore we believe that the reason fully-networked companies are gaining greater benefits than internal-only social technology users is that the former have embraced the bigger picture of communities of purpose with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders. It is also through this expanded mindset that new opportunities are more likely to surface - hence the opportunities to use social technologies in "unexpected places".

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Walter Adamson 

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