11/05/2012 04:04 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Finally an Enterprise Roadmap for Capturing the Full Power of Social

Lady Gaga's Little Monsters online community, designed by Backplane, quickly attracted a million unique visitors soon after launching in July 2012. Without relying on Facebook, Lady Gaga is able to host a specific interest, purpose-driven global community where fans and other stakeholders could exchange ideas, co-create adventures and otherwise bond in ways that boost participation in all her profit centers. Further, interaction on the online community and at concerts -- and mobile conversations with each other at both--leads to real time insights for what most matters to her fans, and ways to rapidly involve them in the activities that most fuel Lady Gaga's brand and financial growth.

Thus, in launching this community a popular celebrity exponentially leverages the value and visibility of her brand for herself and her stakeholders. Translation: More profits and staying power.

Not only is this a model for other entertainment brands but also for any business that wants to fuel growth by hosting the most popular online community in its market, a place where all stakeholders benefit from sharing, collaborating and recruiting new members. And diverse organizations, from IBM to MITRE, are also jumping on the online community bandwagon.

The avid and rapidly growing TEDx communities provide another compelling example of combining online and in-person communities and taking their clout a step farther, by enabling the leaders of such communities to meet and share ways to make their events more valuable to all players, from the speakers to the sponsors and attendees.

That's one of my many takeaways from Mark Fidelman's new book Socialized. where he wrote that, "as Backplane has discovered, the communities people associate themselves with become parts of their identity... People want to join purpose-driven communities that reflect their values and beliefs."

Yet one of the scariest things for companies in our increasingly connected world is how competition can hit faster and from more places - in large part because of social technology and customer-centric partnerships. That dangerous capacity holds within it the flip side, what may be the biggest opportunity for companies to out-innovate current and future competition. Many can stand out in their market and invade new markets. What they need to do is deceptively simple yet still radically new and most companies won't adopt this approach until a competitor has and then they will do a "me too."

What we're talking about is restructuring your whole company to enable people inside and outside its walls to use their best talents together to leverage the differentiating value of the firm. If an organization like MITRE, that does complex consulting, often for highly secret government projects, can structure an ecosystem that supports such collaborative consulting then surely most any kind of organization can thrive by creating the social structure that benefits all stakeholders, including their customers, employees, vendors and the media that covers their sector.

Fidelman gives you a road map for creating the systems that can leverage faster response -- and apt rewards for participation, using social software, the cloud, analytics and mobile technologies.

Some consumer brands can use social structures to serve prospective customers' desire to customize what they want to buy, a trend popularized by Stan Davis and B. Joseph Pine as mass customization. One wildly successful example is Gemvara where Matt Lauzon realized he did not need to keep precious stones in inventory but, instead, to show extremely realistic and tantalizing gem settings, with the software support that enables customers to design their jewelry.

Plus their analytics-supported approach also enabled Gemvara to track design favorites and buying patterns to keep honing what it offers and how, thus growing their customer base and per-customer sales while honing customer service, based on the knowledge of how customers want to be served. In keeping with the notion of using the right social tools for your kind of market, Gemvara also uses community-building visual tools such as Pinterest.

Hint: host the most popular place for your kind of customers, employees and other key stakeholders to meet. As Eric Openshaw suggested in Talent-Enabled Ecosystems, firms that host communities support and reward people who collaborate inside and outside the walls of the firm can tap more talent without increasing head count.

That approach enables their key stakeholders to engage in meaningful work or other activities that mattered to them on teams, often in teams and in online communities that become increasingly close-knit. As individuals get to use their best talents together their sense of tribe grows and their identity is increasingly tied to that affiliation. That sense of tribal affiliation has many benefits for the organization that hosts the most popular community.

In real time the company can sense shifts in the needs and desires of their customers and recognize vendors, customers and others who can best co-create the products, delivery systems and other elements that respond to those findings

As well, as new players begin participating in the community they can see opportunities to create new products or enter new niche markets, sometimes with partners where greater mutual accountability and mutual benefit is now possible because of social tools. We are only on the early side of such marketing-dominating partnerships.

Consider this scenario, for example, that is more likely to happen because of the growing capacity of social technologies: What if a hospital chain, a food service company, and an analytics and social software firm joined forces to co-create a system that enabled hospital patients to chose meals and delivery times from customized menu offerings, based on their medical condition? What if their choices were analyzed for diverse purposes, from forecasting food purchasing needs to ascertaining if any eating patterns coincided with changes in patient health? Of course, the most obvious first benefit is that patients, who usually have few choices when in the hospital, can actually make some decisions about what they eat and when.

In Socialized, Fidelman describes how to make the business case for your firm to go social. He then provides very concrete steps and describes the kinds of players (from the Quant to the Devil's Advocate) who need to be involved to make the transformation to a social organization, with a company wide strategy for harnessing the power of data analytics, cloud, mobile and social software. At each step he reiterates the specific benefits your organization can reap. That way you avoid one of the biggest pitfalls companies are making in going social: doing it piecemeal.

In other words, a firm doesn't necessarily benefit by using social tools, even if they are quite popular, unless their use fits within a firm's growth strategy. John Hagel and John Seely Brown, co-chairs of Center for the Edge, suggest that one of the best ways to pull the C-suite into exploring the use of social software is to point out how it can find and fix expensive operating problems.

Another is to suggest a way it can create a differentiating value, compared to competitors.

In making the case for going social by researching over 100 companies, Fidelman found that executives cited six benefits for social engagement, with the first two as most valuable:

• Improved marketing/sales effectiveness
• Increased sales and market share
• Decreased cost
• Improved speed to market/innovation
• Improved talent retention
• Improved product/service quality
• Improved brand or stock value
• Improved collaboration with partners

To nudge your company to go social, share the five competitive advantages revealed by both MIT/Capgemini's research and Fidelman's first hand experience in building social businesses:

• The company's innovation culture went from weak to strong
• They are building a vibrant community of customers
• They are increasing customer engagement through mobile devices
• They gain global synergies while remaining locally responsive by integrating digital information
• Social businesses usually have a social platform to support a common view of customers and products

One of my favorite parts of the book, because it is an enormous credibility-booster for going social is Darwin's Funnel for measuring ROI. That is, according to Fidelman, "a sales and marketing funnel with a social wrapper that enables people to measure the performance of marketing initiative to speed up lead nurturing and dramatically improve their ability to convert leads into sales."