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The boring yet most important attribute of social business – process design

A year ago I did a presentation and talked about the importance of documenting process for social media. Someone in the audience tweeted that this was old-fashioned or obsolete, and given it was my first negative tweet during a session I thought a lot about it and wondered if they were right and I was off my rocker.

I have since come to the conclusion that I was right – mapping out key processes is imperative to managing social media activities effectively.

What is a process and what are the benefits of designing processes for social business?

A short definition is that a process is a series of related activities that result in a particular output (service, product, goal). The benefit for any social business is consistency across job functions (support, marketing, sales) and geographies. And, it allows for speed and efficiency – which is imperative with today’s real time web and the growing influence of the social customer.

Whether your customers are internal or external a business process can add value for the customer by eliminating extra steps and ensuring service, product or response is as it is expected to be….every time. For the company a well defined process can streamline workflow across departments and teams, and provide direction for a variety of situations quickly and with fewer resources involved.

An example

A customer purchases a stove from a retail store. When the appliance is delivered the customer realizes that they didn’t receive the promotional cookie sheet that was supposed to come with it and the delivery person has no clue about the promotion. The customer tweets to the retailer’s twitter account which is managed out of their head office to ask how they go about getting their cookie sheet.

The customer should be able to expect if they receive a response that it will give them clear direction on receiving their cookie sheet. However, as you can imagine within the company it isn’t as simple as that. The retail locations all have different monthly local promotions that aren’t managed out of the head-office. Without preparing for these situations undoubtedly the social team is sending numerous emails back and forth attempting to find contact information for the local retailer, and then perhaps calling them to determine what to tell the customer. This takes time, effort and distracts the team from other important work.

A team that has already mapped processes for common situations like this would have all retail locations send them information on their monthly promotions and would be able to respond quickly to the customer as to how to get their cookie sheet.

Making process work for you

Imagine now a customer has told you your website is down? Or your service isn’t working? Or a product recall has occurred? What will your team do? These are not circumstances where you have a lot of time to determine the course of action. You need to act immediately. You need to contact the right departments. You need to respond. Predefined process makes this action and response efficient and consistent.

Certainly we can’t prepare for every possible situation but as we use social channels for our business we will recognize frequent questions, problems, and activities our teams are focused on. All of these are candidates for process documentation. Document for your team, either using process mapping software or in a step-by-step format what to look for, and what to do when you find it, and ultimately what the outcome is. Even if you ARE the team, process can help ensure that when you leave or are out of the office that someone can easily pick up where you left off.

This post was first written for Social Business News in 2013 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.