Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

How Social Media is Sparking Organizational Transformation

It is with great pleasure that I share with you some exciting and hopefully helpful news. Salesforce and Altimeter Group recently collaborated on a special project to help executives understand the real impact of social media and in turn how to lead meaningful and lucrative transformation. The result is The Little Blue Book of Social Transformation, a free ebook that outlines 20 principles to lead change. It is available today as a complimentary download here.

Now, the backstory…

Executives are Less Moved by Technology and Instead Moved by Business Objectives

Here are a few questions for you to consider…

1) How specifically does social media impact your organization, by function, department, and overall?

2) How is social media affecting customer behavior?

3) How can your strategy address these answers while accelerating new and existing business priorities and objectives?

Executives for the most part don’t get social media. But it’s not their fault however. After all, many executives don’t even read their own email, so how are they expected to realize the benefits of new platforms if many don’t use them personally? But it is in the way that social is often presented from the inside the organization that doesn’t make the case.

It’s no secret. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like can contribute to the bottom line of most businesses. The challenge lies though in the ability to link business objectives, social media strategies, and results that tie to the bottom line. That’s just the beginning. Executives need to see how social fits in to the overall vision and goals of the organization in order to lead a top down charge that changes how employees and customers connect and collaborate. There must be a purpose coupled with tangible results.

To help, I recently worked with Salesforce to develop a guide to help executives understand the impact of social media and how to lead social transformation. The result is, “The Little Blue Book of Social Transformation” and it outlines 20 principles for leading change while focusing on business goals. You can get it as a free download here.

Losses are Red, Profits are Blue

The future of business has thankfully veered toward a direction that explores customer and employee centricity. Driven in part by technology combined with the thrust and centralization of digitized human expressions and expectations.

The Golden Triangle of disruptive technology formed by social, mobile, and real-time enveloped by the cloud and all it both represents and enables has ushered in an era of transformation. Executives have no choice but to take notice. As I believe it’s time to adapt or die or said another way, expand from a ritual of business management to that of business leadership. It’s a key shift in philosophy that unlocks the door to competitive advantages.

Executives are awakening to the importance of stepping outside of their comfort zones. But what they do when they step onto the stage of transformation isn’t prescriptive at all. In fact, those who can help them uncover their next steps will earn a position of recognition and trust to help steer the organization in the direction of persistent relevance.

That’s the inspiration behind the Little Blue Book. See, change is in the air and there are more questions than answers. The future of a social business however, is embodied in five key pillars that serve as the foundation for tomorrow’s infrastructure…

1. Vision and leadership
2. Engaged customers
3. Empowered employees
4. Collaborative innovation
5. Internal agility in processes, systems, and decision making

With the foray of disruptive technologies storming the halls of business, social media has been among the most aggressive. The voice of the customer wasn’t only given a platform for self-expression, networks organized customer sentiment, created active communities around interests and experiences, and optimized the web for a new era of digital influence. Indeed this genre of connected consumerism gave rise to a not so quiet consumer revolution. Perhaps more importantly, businesses were given the gift of feedback and an opportunity to listen and equally engage. Social media represents the great bridging of customer expectations and business assumptions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is no stranger to the power of social media. At Dreamforce 2012, the company’s annual conference about technology and business, Benioff shared that this “social revolution” is already giving way to a “trust revolution.” He cited IBM’s recent CEO study that shared insights from over 1,700 executive interviews from around the world. To earn trust, takes resolve inside and outside the organization. Otherwise, embracing social media isn’t very social at all if all you do is broadcast messages at people.

To that end, IBM found that CEOs are investing in the following three organizational attributes:

1. Ethics and Values = 65%
2. Collaborative Environment = 63%
3. Purpose and Mission = 58%

Equally, CEOs are pursuing an extensive evolution and overhaul in systems and processes that introduce agility into the organization and enable relevant and timely responses to markets and individuals:

Improve understanding of individual customer needs = 72%
Improve response time to market needs = 72%

Adoption of social media isn’t just important, it’s now becoming homogeneous in its incorporation into the enterprise. But, what most fail to recognize is that social media is a series of channels that facilitate a more dynamic form of person-to-person connection and discovery through a powerful undercurrent of two-way engagement. Social isn’t just technology, it must become part of the corporate DNA. In its second annual Global Student Study conducted in conjunction with its Global CEO Study, IBM surveyed 2,400 college and university students to better understand the opinions, perceptions and aspirations of tomorrow’s employees and customers.

One of the key findings in the report was the contrast in student and CEO views on customer engagement and where it does and will materialize. Only 56% of CEOs use Web sites and social media for customer relationships today compared to 70% of students who believe businesses should do so. On the bright side, students and CEOs are in agreement with its importance in three-to-five years at 84% equally. As you can see in both cases, face-to-face remains significant. The only question I have is what is the difference between Web sites and social according to IBM’s study. In the real world, it’s the difference between the static and social web. Dividing it as such could be telling and also beneficial.

GE Aviation Merges Social and Innovation

GE Aviation sought to build closer connections to customers. To do so, the company focused on first connecting sales and marketing people. Something as small as introducing an enterprise social network such as Salesforce Chatter and empowering employees to interact with one another to answer questions and solve problems streamlines customer engagement and improves relationships overall. As GE CMO Beth Comstock notes, “What might’ve taken a team—in the best case—a week, can now be done in minutes.”

GE Aviation is also looking to social media to modernize its brand image while showcasing innovation to a new connected generation of consumers. Using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, consumers are given a behind the scenes peek at innovation at work.

But to see innovation at work takes something more than mere social networking between brand and customers. GE is making its engines social too. The new GEnx jet engine—currently flying on Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner—features the ability to broadcast an activity stream providing service teams with up to date newsfeeds on their mobile devices.

“The idea of connecting a machine to a social network is really exciting,” says Comstock. “We can build a community of service professionals around a machine to help reduce maintenance costs and increase engine lifespan. Social will help us deliver a better engine than ever before.”

Blue Skies Ahead

This is more than social media marketing. Social media is impacting customer and employee behavior and it is forcing businesses to adapt. Now is the time to get serious about social and put your business fully on the path to becoming a socially connected enterprise. Get the Little Blue Book of Social Transformation today and help put your organization’s leadership on a path toward relevance. Remember, social media isn’t changing the world because it gives businesses a new way to market at or talk to people. Social media is transformative because it changes the way the world communicates and connects. You must do the same in order to not just react, but lead customer experiences and relationships in the future.

Alternate version published in Forbes

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+

The End of Business as Usual is officially here…

47 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “How Social Media is Sparking Organizational Transformation”

  1. Dave Crenshaw says:

    “Social isn’t just technology, it must become part of the corporate DNA.” Thanks for reminding us, Brian!

  2. Karin Sebelin says:

    Thank you Brian .. wonderful to read this article …thank you for the ebook … ethics and values and a good business leadership are so essential .. this had been a great insight for me from the beginning of my social media “journey” … executives often only “function” instead of really “leading” their people, their customers, their fans …. they seek personal attention instead of making an impact in people’s lives … happiness does not come from making us happy, but from making others happy …

  3. BenParis says:

    Thank you again Brian, this article adds up with your last July, speech at the Napoleon’s in Paris! I really liked your illustration on the main management issue: managers try to make it work “now”, but they don’t look at what they “should/could do”…any employee can show some leadership if she/he is given the opportunity to share.

    However, democracy might cause more trouble in a business organization. When several influential contributions are made by employees, then how can we aggregate those contributions in a positive way? What sort of oranizational structure do you think could represent a viable option?

    • briansolis says:

      Thank you for the comment. I have to say that I appreciate the approach that TaTa Group in India introduced. Innovation becomes part of an intrapreneurial movement. Everything is tied to a process. HR integrates contributions to innovation into employee reviews. Management is bound to processes to elevate and implement great ideas. Fascinating story…

  4. Dara Khajavi says:

    I can not wait to download this ebook. I definitely feel like it is a must read. Social media is a great tool for brands to really communicate and connect with its consumers in a very personal candid way. However, most brands do not know how to do this. I know that this ebook will help me improve my social media marketing.

  5. writing service says:

    Social media is becoming a mainstream communication channel for many people, often it
    is the first choice for connecting with our friends because of its flexibility. This has brought much social media use out of cyberspace and made it a real world tool that is changing the way that we relate to one another like the telephone once did. Businesses that aren’t aware of this now will come to regret it in the future.

  6. Bill Mullins says:


    Only recently encountered your work via the KC Social Media Club (nation’s greatest in 2012!!!) breakfast interview with Ben Smith of SocialIRL. I’m old enough to remember key card punching for 16k machines; but have been greatly energized since engaging with the KC SMC scene.

    As a long time management consultant working with very large high-tech enterprises (e.g. nuclear power plants) I’ve seen a lot regarding the diffusion of information, knowledge and risk insights among complex Communities of Practice with very large and diverse stakeholder populations.

    I’m asking myself regularly, what is different about social media; I’m pretty sure its a more formidable question than most yet recognize. As part of my search I hope the reactions to aspects of your Blue Book will prove useful. A useful reference that informs my perspective is Drift into Failure by Sidney Dekker.

    “Principle 6: To get a socially relevant customer view, you must consolidate, track, and manage
    social customer data in one place. Connect the social Web to your customer database
    to establish a holistic profile of your customers.”

    This struck me as an admonition to “snag that butterfly in your Big Data net.” Social is different, because it transcends Big Data – more thinking is needed on that point

    “Principle 10: At the heart of every organization is its culture. Social media can help you foster
    an effective, transparent, employee-centric culture.”

    Compliant: Cargo Cult Sociology ( – I want to suggest that thought leadership regarding the impact of Social Media cannot spring from a shallow or narrow understanding of culture – particularly that of traditional marketing. Social would appear to be about Conversation in Trade (respects to V. Maltoni) a broad and yet more integral space of exchange than doing business.

    “Chapter 4: The most successful businesses today are embracing this shift to distinguish themselves as thought leaders in their industries, earning the trust of their customers
    ahead of their competition.”

    In a more social world, trust and competition are unlikely to appear in the same sentence; creates a challenge for traditionalist views of “doing business” – but no more so than it does for those persons or groups who are emerging as thought beacons (they may or may not be leaders).

    “Principle 14: Remember, a community is not just something where people belong; a community is defined by the things that make belonging matter. Develop programs to focus community activity on collaborative missions to accomplish great things. Working together to do something great is the perfect way to foster affinity and loyalty.”

    Until we’ve had more time to observe this kind of rah-rah seems like more Cargo Cult Sociology – by many appearances, the In-Community to Connected ratio is severely adverse – I suspect the signal to noise problem in Social Media is going to get worse before it gets better. Beware of any “perfect way.”

    “Chapter 5: It’s time to get their attention and earn their support. But you won’t capture their mindshare if you treat social media like traditional broadcast channels that only offer
    one-way communication. It all starts by listening to what people are saying about your brand and understanding where your customers, partners, competitors, and prospects are spending their time.”

    “Mindshare” may be the best example I’ve seen yet of the almost over-whelming temptation to shoe-horn the massively parallel, neural-networked systems reality of human community into the old paradigm of zero-sum market share calculus. I’d encourage you to look with fresh eyes at how much of your Blue Book is in fact a message in a “traditional broadcast channel.”

    My sense is that a paradigm shift is underway from the marketing-centric to market-maker-centric Commons – one in which Conversations in Trade are a less prominent part of the messages that Socials are willing to encounter. The disruptive character of that shift is probably bigger than we’ve yet conceptualized – scary thought that!

    Best wishes

  7. Indicate Media says:

    Love the post Brian. It is spot on. Companies such as GE that are taking social media beyond its current plane and employing it as a work tool around product development and productivity will see their efficiency boom and their employee relationships positively affected.

    What are your thoughts on the differences in the level of understanding and adoption of social media by employees in a company, from CEO to line worker?

    • briansolis says:

      Hello Victoria. If it is part of the culture of the company then it’s typically introduced throughout. Often though, it’s sporadic. Charlene Li wrote a report about this…on enterprise social network adoption.

  8. Mike says:

    Many thanks for sharing this excellent e-book. It’s a book worth reading again and again to get and stay on the right track. I’m on a steep learning curve at the moment at our small voluntary organisation but this is valuable content which helps me a lot. I’ll share the love where I can!

  9. Marketing Sweet says:

    Brilliant article. Social media is really an amazing tool allowing us to think outside the box. The next decade is going to be exciting and full of surprises. Thanks again Brian.

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