Social Business is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

July 9, 2012 Comments
Social Business is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

This is a guest post from Rachel Happe.

I talk to a lot of executives about their social business and community initiatives. Many of them don’t quite understand why the change requires so much investment in human resources as well as technology.

To me social business is as simple and as complicated as a marathon. Marathons start and end with the simplest of things, a single step. We all know how to take a step and yet, very few of us run marathons because it turns out taking millions of steps is really, really hard. Social business often starts with the simplest of communications – a tweet, a status update, a post… done well and across and organization, it creates a self-documenting, adaptive network that can better respond to a complex market. Most people don’t run marathons without some kind of coaching and to me, community managers are the social business coaching staff of an organization – knowing when and how to encourage and knowing when to step back and let things play out.

Social business is deceptively simple – if everyone in an organization used a simple status update 3-4 times a day for work related posts, the organization would be well on their way toward being more open, transparent and adaptive. However we all know that this is not so easy to achieve – for any or all of the following reasons:

  • People don’t understand the point of working out loud
  • People are anxious because public posting seems to open them up to criticism and personal risk without obvious benefit
  • People are trained to share ‘finished’ work publicly, not in-process thoughts and questions
  • People are habitualized to use email and breaking habits is extremely hard
  • Companies often ban sharing via social media initially so when they change to encouraging that behavior, people are already conditioned to be worried about what they share

Add to this that most of the public social business discussion is analogous to watching the marathon – exciting and fever pitched. Rarely do you get a view into the endless grinding training sessions. This may be why people cannot quite appreciate how complicated it is to operationalize social business. To me, social business training looks something like this:

(1) Find volunteers to join a social business interest group and have them learn how to ‘run’ together. This will include a lot of research and time for experimentation – and a lot of practice

(2) Invest in the right equipment – you should not do this too early or you risk buying the wrong things.

(3) Once a core group understands the dynamics of marathons and they are well equipped, have them work with functional teams to adapt the training to specific workflows or use cases – after all different runners approach a marathon with very different strategies depending on their strengths and weaknesses and what they want from the investment.

(4) Invest in community management to ensure that everyone is staying within the confines of the race, using the equipment correctly and adapting strategies to account for their own strengths.

(5) Invest in resource centers (content, technology, talent) and time keepers (analytics and measurement) so that the organization reaches the finish line of all the races it starts and doesn’t peter out a few miles in.

(6) Encourage a cheering section. Even people who really want to finish the race will do so faster if they get encouragement and recognition.

There is nothing wrong with a sprint but if you are sprinting in the hopes of winning a marathon, it’s time to re-evaluate your approach.

  • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

    Quite agree.  As with social media as a whole, it’s a cultural thing, a way of working rather than a set of tools you buy and expect to perform miracles for you.

    • http://twitter.com/rhappe Rachel Happe

       Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • mlcollard

    This is a really excellent post and brilliantly explained, encapsulating so many essential points in any social business and community initiative. Many thanks!

     What I always find intriguing though with “analogies” in social business is that often the analogy itself is a finite concept.  In other words a marathon (in this case) ends – it is to be won and finished.  A marathon has a pre-determined and linear form .  Social business communites do not and are (hopefully) living organisms with a unique set of dynamics and interactions that will mature (again hopefully) and continue long after the race has started and will flourish long after any finish line. There is no finish line – surely?

    So whilst I completely agree with all the processes I am always wary of analogies.

    Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

    • http://twitter.com/rhappe Rachel Happe

      Totally agree that any analogy is limiting. To me, they are most useful in the front end of the education process, with individuals who have very little exposure to a new concept. Once they have a very general frame of reference, they need to get into the specific – all of which are different for every context.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Sandy Carter, IBM

    Rachel….as always, you are right on target.  You experience in the community management world has made you an expert in Social!  Thanks for Sharing!  Sandy 

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