Friday 30 September 2016

Friday Five: How to Find the Social Business Software Solution Your Firm Needs

Why It Matters by Kirsten Miller

In the increasingly complex digital-social world we all live and work in, organizations are looking for effective platforms they can use to integrate and streamline their business, communications and other efforts. There’s no shortage of possible “social business solutions” from which to choose, but pick the wrong one and it can be an expensive headache.

Consider these five points when trying to determine what tool is right for your company:

1. Know your jargon

“Social business solutions” are sometimes called any number of things, including: “social business software,” “social business suite,” “knowledge-sharing tools,” “collaboration hubs,” “customer relationship management,” “engagement platforms” and so on. No matter the name, they are all tools that can help your business become more social. Each type of tool is different, even though they often have overlapping capabilities. At this stage, it’s important to focus on a tool’s core competency so you can identify what it should do best for your business’ needs.

2. Clearly spell out your objective(s)

What does your organization seek to do, and how can such a tool help you do that? These two questions are key, and must be answered carefully and honestly. Your objective can be something like the following examples, which should ladder up to broader business goals:

  • Streamline engagement/community management activities
  • Effectively share knowledge among staff/other stakeholders
  • Encourage a culture to actively create and/or consume knowledge
  • Communicate with and track customer touch points
3. Determine what features you need

Once you know what you want to do, you need to decide what features are important to getting the job done. This is the fun part. Pick a couple of team members who are aligned on the approach and brainstorm what’s needed. Make a list of things that are needed to support your objective. Then rank them based on order of importance. Examples of features might be:

  • Integrate with current information systems (e.g., email system)
  • Community pages
  • Message capabilities
  • File-sharing
  • Tiered access
  • Article/news sharing
  • Mobile-friendly
4. Compare, compare, compare

What a vendor says its tool can do, and what the tool actually does are often two different things. Compare vendor capabilities against what features you need to meet your objectives; this will help you better understand if a tool will meet your needs. Remember to think about how the tool can scale for future needs; if you want to implement a Learning Management System in the future, for example, it would be helpful to plan for that growth from the beginning. An Excel grid is very helpful at this stage! Also note that, sometimes, implementation costs can be a multiple of the software costs, so make sure any integrators are managed carefully if ever they are involved.

5. Try before you buy

Use a comparison grid to narrow your choices down to two or three possible solutions. Vendors will often offer a free trial period, which is a great way to further determine how a tool will work with your existing information systems and company culture. If your needs are more complex than a vendor’s out-of-the-box solution, they may be able to create a sandbox version of a white label offering for you to test. After testing with key users for a couple of weeks, you should know whether that vendor will work for your organization.

Following these steps will help ensure you don’t over- or under-buy for your needs, so you can focus on meeting your business objectives.

Examples and case studies of how HootSuite has been used as a social business platform for various customers are available here. What advice do you have for selecting a “social business solution”? What would you do differently if you had to select a tool all over again?

*HootSuite is an Edelman client

Image courtesy of BigStock.

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