The Invisible Social Enterprise

Is your company delivering a Social CRM experience to your customers…. and you don’t even know it?


It’s a CIO’s nightmare: critical corporate data flitting through the Internet without governance or even visibility to senior executives.

And yet that’s what is happening every day in the Fortune 500 – and probably your own company – with the rise in easy-to-buy and easy-to-use web-based applications like Salesforce.com and social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Your employees, especially your Gen Y staff, are blurring the line between Web 2.0 tools that they use for personal use versus corporate applications that they use for work. All it takes is a web browser and a credit card – and sometimes not even that – to circumvent your IT purchasing process and start using services like Jigsaw for contact management, Box.net for document storage, Zoho for collaboration, or Basecamp for project management.

The result: innovation, employee engagement, and socially-engaged customers.

Not what you were expecting, right?

Here are 5 tips for uncovering and leveraging the trend of employee-driven tools and how to connect them to your enterprise IT strategy.

1. Discover, don’t squelch

The natural reaction to disorder is to create order.

This has led many companies to completely shut down access to social networks from within the corporate firewall, sometimes for good reasons (e.g., compliance to financial services regulations) and sometimes for reasons that appear reactionary at best (e.g., social networks hurt productivity).

Or for IT to passively allow the use of a SaaS (software-as-a-service) application at a workgroup level, assuming – of course – that it’s all paid for by the business and not IT.

Savvy executives are taking the time to get a temperature-check on the real “adoption” of employee-provisioned, web-based applications across their enterprise. One method is to simply to look at what’s passing through the firewall to get an inventory of the browser-based destinations of your staff while working on company time. Let’s call that the “Big Brother” approach and, to be clear, it’s an effective method for getting a real picture of what’s happening, assuming that all the data is flowing through your corporate computers and networks.

But a complementary method is an anonymous survey, to ask your employees what web-based tools they are using to “augment” the corporate applications, whether approved or not. Let’s call this the “Voice of the Employee” approach. The result: engaged employees who feel like their voice is being heard and a self-reported inventory of tools being used across your enterprise.

Again, your employees are already using Web 2.0 tools in support of their day-to-day work  – the questions is whether you know it or not.

2. Create an “edge” to your IT strategy

Your employees who take the time and energy to find their own web-based tools to get their job done are also the most entrepreneurial – take advantage of that.

Some of the best ideas for innovation in your business will come from these employees, who can bubble-up ideas for new areas of product development, customer experience, and sales channels – a concept called “crowdsourcing”.

Don Tapscott says it best in his recent book MacroWikinomics (2010):

In our previous book, Wikinomics, we called this new force ‘mass collaboration’ and argued that it was reaching a tipping point where social networking was becoming a new mode of social production that would forever change the way products and services are designed, manufactured, and marketed on a global basis.”

For an IT leader, there are two challenges to crowd-sourcing: 1) how to provide tools for these employees to effectively crowd-source ideas for your business and 2) how to encourage the entrepreneurial actions of employees to find the best new tools and experiment with them.

That experimentation is key to corporate and IT strategy – fundamentally, it’s the most critical new thinking that the Web 2.0 movement can bring to the enterprise – what I call the “Google Beta” effect.

Google has a history of innovation in its product development cycles, often releasing early versions of their products and tagging them as “beta” to distinguish between “production” products that would be perceived to be complete. Google learns quickly about what works and what doesn’t with their beta products and has a rapid development cycle to incorporate new features and re-release for further testing by the public.

For the enterprise, this is the equivalent of building an “Edge” to your IT strategy – a specific part of your infrastructure that you carve-out to allow experimentation, away from your “Core” systems and processes. Where an investment in the Core is generally about driving efficiency gains (e.g lower costs), investment in the Edge is about experimentation and finding new competitive differentiation.

That Edge can be developed in two ways:  1) top-down e.g., corporate initiatives to introduce new capabilities and 2) bottoms-up e.g., from employee innovation like the use of Web 2.0 tools.

3. Introduce some “laissez-faire” to your IT strategy

In politics, laissez faire refers to a strategy of “leaving it alone” from government intervention.

Politics aside, introducing some expected freedom into your application strategy, where staff can use external web-based tools if it helps their productivity, can ground your IT strategy in the reality of the work-place and allow your teams to focus on the best initiatives that require deep IT infrastructure and support.

This is the enterprise, though, which means public companies that have to protect their intellectual property, brand, and competitive advantages in the marketplace. If employees are engaging with partners and prospects in social networks without any governance, the results can be equally disastrous.

The key here is the right level of governance, where employees understand what is acceptable if they choose their own web-based tools and what is required to protect the company.

If your company doesn’t have a social media or hosted application governance policy, build one that creates the right balance for your company. If you have a governance policy already in-place, revisit it to provide flexibility and choice by your employees to use social networks and self-funded tools to do their job.

4. Build on the foundation for a Social CRM strategy

Social CRM (along with Sales 2.0) is one of the big buzzwords in the world of sales productivity right now.

To borrow Paul Greenberg’s short definition, Social CRM is:

…. the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

And many companies are struggling to determine the best starting point for a Social CRM strategy: do we take a “horizontal” approach that builds communities, internally and externally, across the enterprise…. or a “vertical” approach to identify the best channels where social engagement with our customers has the best return?

The dirty little secret is that you already have a Social CRM process in place, with your employees engaging with partners, prospects, and customers using web-based tools and social networks on a daily basis.

So build on it!

Take the best practices where employees are already engaging with customers and develop your Social CRM strategy from those existing channels. Encourage those teams to experiment and learn what’s working (and what isn’t). Use those lessons to identify the enterprise-wide strategy that works for your company and a roadmap for introducing similar social capabilities in similar customer-facing channels of your business.

5. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to all of the above four best practices is the effective use of collaboration across your enterprise.

Collaboration is both a destination and the journey for your business – it is the means by which an IT organization can more effectively align with its internal customers (e.g., find out what Web 2.0 tools are working and incorporate those into the IT strategy) and is a core technology to weave into the fabric of your enterprise application footprint.

The technology underlining of collaboration can start anywhere in your enterprise, from document management (SharePoint), informal knowledge management (Yammer, Salesforce.com Chatter), or even communities inside or outside of your company (Jive, SocialText).

The key is to acknowledge that your employees most likely have found their own Web 2.0 tools to collaboration with each other, your partners, customers, and even prospects.

About the Author:

Mr. Branham is a collaborative selling strategist, advisor, and entrepreneur. He has held executive positions at Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), and nGenera (co-founded by Don Tapscott, author of the best-selling book Wikinomics). He has launched three companies including Opcentric, a consulting firm that was one of the first Salesforce.com partners in 2000. Mr. Branham is a Managing Director of Acumen Solutions, a global technology consulting firm, and CEO of the TRE3 Group, a Sales 2.0 advisory firm.  For more information, email Mr. Branham at ebranham@acumensolutions.com or follow @erycbranham and @tre3group on Twitter.

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