For years, business leaders have heard the mantra: Your marketing department must embrace social media. Blogs, podcasts, Facebook, and Twitter are all important. But that vision of the future may actually be too narrow, says Mark Fidelman, author of Socialized!: How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social. He argues that we need to reframe the conversation because the real challenge is becoming a social business

"I don't think any one department should own the social media strategy," he says, "because social in its purest form is a new way of communicating with whether your R&D department needs data from social conversations or your sales team needs to engage prospective clients, every department and every person should be trained in social media to further the company's strategy."

Is your business truly social?

Spreading a social mindset throughout your business is particularly important for middle market leaders because it can give you a competitive advantage over larger companies that may not be as nimble. According to Fidelman, a true social business will use social media both to share and glean information, and then adapt their approach based on what they learn. In embracing a comprehensive social strategy, "companies can benefit by being more agile, responsive to trends, and swift to fill the top of the funnel with leads."

"Every organization will eventually have to become social," he says, "or their organization will not be able to properly communicate their value or have a productive conversation with suppliers, partners, and customers. Social is not new; it's a more effective way to communicate and engage with those most important to [your business]." So how do you get started on moving social out of the marketing silo and into the mainstream of your company?

A variety of online tools can help ensure your company is getting the information and structure it needs to become fully social. "I've implemented or recommended Nimble, Salesforce, SharePoint, Yammer, and Igloo as social platforms," he says, "as well as Marketo and HubSpot as marketing automation solutions, Mutual Mind as a social analytics platform, Hootsuite as a social engagement solution, and Basecamp for collaboration." (For more on HubSpot, a middle market company, see my previous NCCM post, "Can Marketing Automation Help Drive Your Sales Growth?")

But when it comes to becoming a social business, says Fidelman, leadership from the top is more important than any technology: "You need to have a culture that's ready to embark on the social business journey." That means embracing a philosophy of openness and collaboration, where sharing information and ideas is truly encouraged. (For a culture test and road map, see his free whitepaper The Rise of Enterprise Social Networks.)

Ultimately, to become a successful social business, your company needs to ask itself the following questions: 

  • Is the entire company learning from social media and social insights, or is that knowledge siloed in the marketing department? 
  • Do we have an internal online community (such as Yammer) that allows employees to share ideas with each other? 
  • Are we participating in, or have we created, an external online community so we can listen to customers and build a connection with them? (A food company could create a health and wellness community, for instance.) 

Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor and marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.