This is a guest post by author and media strategist Brian Solis

In business, social media is becoming a lot like email: every company has it. But, unlike email, organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively communicate through the likes of Facebook or the tweets of Twitter.

Over the last several years, businesses have increased the pace of adopting social media strategies for use in marketing, service, and other related capacities.

What’s becoming very clear however is that adopting social media and understanding its impact on customer and employee relationships — and, also the bottom line — are not always linked. This disconnect between social media strategies and business value is forcing many executives to rethink their overall approach, and the infrastructure they built to support it. The result of this reflective process is motivating organizations to transform everyday social media initiatives into deeper social business strategies.

Altimeter Group cofounder Charlene Li and I spent the better of the last year studying how organizations approach social media and how planning, processes, and outcomes mature over time. Our findings are included in our newly released report, “The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Media Transformation.”

In the report, readers will find common guiding success factors for organizations achieving success in each social business maturity stage, as well as prescriptive recommendations and checklists to grow to the next level of maturity.

Social media vs. social business strategy

The results of our work were surprising, to say the least. We uncovered a notable gap between organizations that execute social media programs and campaigns and those that specifically invest in social business strategies. Altimeter defines the evolution to a Social Business as the deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

On one side of the chasm, there are businesses (or departments) that are actively investing in social media without intentions or outcomes being tied to business goals. On the other side are organizations that are deeply integrating social media and social methodologies throughout the company to drive tangible business impact.

In a survey of nearly 700 executives and social strategists in late 2012, we found that only 34 percent of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and just 28 percent felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12 percent were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year.

And, perhaps most astonishing, only half of all companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

But, there’s hope. We learned that the two most important criteria for a successful social business strategy are:

  • Alignment with strategic business goals of an organization;
  • Organizational alignment and support that enables execution of that strategy.

What separates the two are six distinct stages that we believe most organizations have or will traverse as they mature. The six stages are as follows (for a deeper dive into each, please download the report):

Stage 1: Planning – “Listen to Learn”

The goal of this first stage is to ensure that there is a strong foundation for strategy development, organizational alignment, resource development, and execution.

Stage 2: Presence – “Stake Our Claim”

Staking a claim represents a natural evolution from planning to action. As you move along the journey, your experience establishes a formal and informed presence in social media.

Stage 3: Engagement – “Dialog Deepens Relationships”

When organizations move into this stage, they make a commitment where social media is no longer a “nice to “have” but instead, is seen as a critical element in relationship building.

Stage 4: Formalized – “Organize for Scale”

The risk of uncoordinated social initiatives is the main driver moving organizations into Stage 4, where a formalized approach focuses on three key activities: establishing an executive sponsor; creating a hub, a.k.a. a Center of Excellence (CoE); and establishing organization-wide governance. Organizations should plan for a potential CoE pitfall, however, as creating one may lead to scaling problems in the long-term.

Stage 5: Strategic – “Becoming a Social Business”

As organizations migrate along the maturity model, the social media initiatives gain greater visibility as they begin to have real business impact. This captures the attention of C-level executives and department heads who see the potential of social.

Stage 6: Converged – “Business is Social”

As a result of the cross-functional and executive support, social business strategies start to weave into the fabric of an evolving organization.

We hope this research will help you. In the end, wherever you are in the six stages will be defined by your vision, courage, and tenacity. This really comes down to business transformation and it takes a change agent to guide development in a way that delivers value to stakeholders (customers, employees, and so on) as well as shareholders.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

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