“The Business of Social Business – what works and how it’s done” is IBM Global Business Service’s latest survey of more than 1,100 businesses around the world and extensive interviews with more than two dozen widely recognized leaders in social business. It shows that while 46 per cent of the organizations increased their social technologies investments in 2012, only 22 per cent believed that managers are prepared to incorporate social tools into their daily practices. In addition, two-thirds of respondents were not sure they sufficiently understood the impact that social technologies would have on their organizations over the next three years.

The report defines social business as embedding social tools, media, and practices into the ongoing activities of the organization. Social business enables individuals to connect and share information and insights more effectively with others, both inside and outside the organization. Social business tools facilitate engagement in extensive discussions with employees, customers, business partners and other stakeholders and allow sharing of resources, skills and knowledge to drive business. However, despite the intention to rapidly ramp up their social business efforts, many companies recognize the potential challenges of such a transformation. Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents reported they were underprepared for the required cultural changes.

The report also highlights that social business represents a significant transformational opportunity for organizations. Many companies, after initial forays into external social media, are now realizing the value of applying social approaches, internally as well as externally.

It clearly recognizes that social business can create valued customer experiences, increase workforce productivity and effectiveness in addition to accelerating innovation. It also reveals how organizations can use social approaches to create meaningful business value, nevertheless, many companies still wrestle with the organizational and cultural challenges posed by these new ways of work.

Two-thirds were not sure they sufficiently understood the impact social business would have on their organizations over the next three years. Executives are concerned because social business represents a different way of thinking about employees, customers and how work is accomplished, as well as the potential risks of increased organizational openness and transparency.

Social business is moving beyond basic promotional activities to encompass the entire customer lifecycle, including lead generation, sales and post-sales service. No wonder we are seeing the emergence of specialist consulting firms offering social business expertise to the those of us, and a large percentage of those interviewed, that are finding it all a little daunting.

As the scope of activity broadens, so too does the number of touch points with the organization, necessitating a consistent set of customer experiences. Social business practices will need to be more closely embedded into traditional marketing and sales processes, with loosely coupled marketing and advertising campaigns giving way to tightly linked lead generation and sales efforts. Further, providing customer support through social channels will become a more prominent focus, with organizations incorporating social platforms into their larger customer relationship management strategies.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 20 November, 2012