Social Media Offers Opportunities and Challenges

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Social media has emerged as a core component of the enterprise. It presents businesses with huge opportunities and significant IT challenges.

Moving Beyond 'Like'

As organizations adopt social media tools and add advanced capabilities such big data analytics, the challenges grow. Determining how a brand is trending or what products are most appealing doesn't happen without robust and well-designed systems.

One of the problems, Forrester’s Richardson says, is that different software platforms and tools use different methods to control conversations and capture data. Consequently, it's critical to ensure that all the data is accessible and compatible. "Otherwise, you wind up with 'social ghettos,' and your analytics program is only tapping into bits and slices of the overall data picture," he notes.

Success requires a focus on strategy, along with a heavy emphasis on finding the right methodologies and tools. "An organization must normalize the data—usually through a master data management platform," Richardson notes.

PwC's Shelton says that social is intricately tied to three other key technologies: mobile, cloud and big data. An enterprise must interconnect these data sources in order to achieve the full potential of the technology—namely, a persistent connection to social data.

A Swedish appliance manufacturing giant is among the companies leveraging social media to spur innovation. Electrolux, which is more than 90 years old, uses IBM's Social Business to facilitate communication across 60 countries and to spur product development, as well as an array of other operational tasks.

Ralf Larsson, director of online engagement, says that the current social media initiative grew out of an intranet that dates back more than a decade. "We are constantly looking for ways to improve the business relevance of data," he says.

Using a social dashboard, employees are able to form connections instantly and on an ad hoc basis. This makes it far easier to solve problems and share knowledge across the enterprise. Electrolux is currently extending the platform to mobile devices, including iPads.

"If there's a technical question, employees can upload it and share documents and find the right person to provide an answer,” Larsson explains. “We want a team to be able to reach the right person, regardless of where they are located."

In some cases, issues that previously took days or weeks to address are now tackled in minutes or hours. In addition, Electrolux recently held its first Innovation Jam, inviting the entire company to a three-day crowdsourcing activity. More than 7,000 employees generated more than 3,500 ideas for new products and services.

PwC's Shelton says that businesses must view social media as more than a necessity and a cost center. "It's important to think about the technology as a strategic tool that allows an organization to transform itself and outperform the competition," he explains.

However, in order to realize actual ROI, an enterprise must recognize that social technology fundamentally changes organizational structures and decision-making processes. "You cannot apply social to old business models,” Shelton warns. “It requires different thinking and behavior. Organizations that switch it on one day and send out an email announcing a new social network are bound for failure."

Business and IT leaders must examine the business and look for places in the organization that can derive the biggest benefit from social media. They must also design workflows and checkpoints into the software and systems to ensure that the right people are engaged, and that thought leaders are easily flagged and tagged.

Finally, Shelton says, "It's vital to put a change management program in place to train employees and give them the incentives and motivation to be able to transform the way they work." Ultimately, there must be recognition that the social media initiative provides a high level of value and clear business results.

Forrester's Richardson says that as organizations tie together social media and other business platforms—including BPM, ERP, BI and enterprise project management—they're able to design and build a platform that's built for digital age communication, collaboration and insight. What's more, as social technology gets smarter and incorporates roles and behavior, the capabilities continue to grow.

"When social media is used effectively it transforms passive information into active knowledge," Richardson concludes. "It creates a more dynamic and agile relationship to information.”

This article was originally published on 2013-02-27
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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