What is the common thread in the following statistics: thirty-six percent increase in brand awareness, 66 percent less time to bring products to market, 20 percent improvement in customer conversions, and 15 percent increase in successful innovations and new ideas? 

Answer: These are some of the quantitative results attributed to becoming a social business. With dramatic benefits like these, why aren’t all businesses social by now? The fact is, becoming a social business is difficult and requires a well thought out plan. The concept introduces elements of threat, loss of control, and risk. Fully embracing social business often means moving outside one’s comfort zone.

Here’s a seven-step checklist to get there:

1. Define a meaningful purpose

Start by understanding where you want to go. Make sure everyone’s goals are aligned. Your company culture will play an enormous role, so take the time to understand and it in the right direction. Make sure everyone sees the benefits: less email, fewer interruptions, less guesswork, fewer meetings, but not more work. It will make business life more innovative and more fun.

2. Simplify the user experience

Make sure the social tools are easy, fun, and integrate well into the daily routine. We use Salesforce.com, and most employees keep it open on their desktops. Encourage the use of online and mobile tools such as Evernote, wikis, and blogs for taking meeting notes. That way the notes can be posted, shared, and even edited immediately.

3. Designate a “social executive sponsor”

Gartner estimates that 80 percent of social business projects will not achieve their intended benefits due to inadequate leadership. In some companies, the CMO might be the executive sponsor. Or it might be the VP of services or the chief customer officer. In a small startup, it might even be the CEO. The key is to find the most likeable, collaborative individual who has a large-scale influence.

4. Trust your people!

You have hired only trustworthy people, so trust them. Avoid constraining social business interactions, but make sure everyone understands the concepts of digital citizenship. There is some risk to eliminating filters, but the benefits of open collaboration outweigh these risks.

5. Drive engagement with social tools

Make social adoption a team sport. Try gamification techniques. Rethink your processes to include social tools. Our COO, Chris Crowell, decided that the most important thing he could do to advocate collaboration was to share sales wins via Salesforce Chatter. Chris would specifically name the salesperson and the customer for our sales victories. The entire company knew when we won, and the sense of pride and unity instilled a positive attitude.

6. Measure adoption and recognize achievements

As Peter Drucker said, “What’s measured improves.” During our implementation, we measured adoption in order to promote the early adopters. It was important for us to set the tone through positive intervention. Here is an example of the Chatter reporting dashboard.

When an employee chats about something noteworthy, our executive team makes an effort to comment on it. It is so simple, and it’s seen instantly by the social media mavens in our organization.

7. Passionately embrace change, and have fun

The return on investment from social collaboration is enormous. Enthusiasm is a key element in embracing the shift to social, and it’s contagious. Consider a different ROI: Return on interest. How much more productive and satisfied are your employees when you express interest in them and make sure they operate in their smart state?

Always remember to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you need to reevaluate your approach.

Published on: Jan 17, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.