Back to Reality…

The last few blogs have been looking at the theory of social media in business, much has question-mark-1026526_960_720been covered and then applied to larger companies, often these companies have considerable budgets allocated to specialised departments who are dedicated to  the implementation and the continuation of the social business strategy. What I am interested to know is how do all these models effect the social business strategies of small companies? Do small businesses even have social business strategies? and, do any of these models apply to small businesses?


Selection time…

I was flicking randomly through my Facebook news feed and saw an interesting post on the local  community page of which I am member of.  An individual was sharing his business page with the local community ( and it was getting alot of interest I might add!) The business name is Harvest2Home , it is a family run business who buys fresh, pesticide free produce from local farmers and then delivers it free of charge. This business originated some time ago and relied solely on word of mouth marketing to ensure further orders, this continued up until about 12 months ago, when they decided to take the plunge and enter into the world of online communications, they had a website created and more recently have progressed to having social presence on Facebook.


Simply by choosing the most appropriate way for them to communicate with the online community is part of implementing a Social Media Strategy and now concentrating on achieving an effective Social Business Strategy,  determining how they will incorporate their Social media strategy with their overall business goals and values.  According to Li & Solis (2013) the Altimeters Group identified 6 stages which a business goes through when creating and implementing their Social Business Strategy, each business may take different amounts of time throughout the stages, but nevertheless, all of them will progressively go through every stage.


Altimeters 6 stages

graph-1019845_960_720Stage One: Planning: Although Harvest2Home launched their Facebook page it remained dormant for a number of months as they listened and took note of the conversations which were taking place online about healthy eating and the types of products they were to offer.

Stage Two: Presence: Harvest2Home owner posted on local pages as an individual sharing his business page….this created alot of attention and people started to like his page as well as place orders.

Stage Three: Engagement: From what I witnessed, the conversations grew, more people began talking about clean eating and were keen to learn more, this enabled interaction between Harvest2Home and the online community.

Following Altimeters model, Harvest2Home are still at stage three, however, as the online engagement grows this will take the business to the next stage : Fomalised.



friends-1027840__180The term Community of Practice (CoP) is one that very much applies to Harvest2Home. Defined by Wenger (2006)

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

I can not think of a better way to describe this family business, every day is different and they are actively learning, supporting and sharing information on how best to approach various situations.

The Community of Practice consists of 3 components:

Domain: The family members take on a variety of roles to make the business a success. From packers through to buyers.

Community:Every member gets involved and supports the others in the different roles.

Practice: Sharing the resources. An instance arose after a week of expanding their reach to another geographical location, Harvest2Home had such an overwhelming response that the logistics of the operation proved to be somewhat difficult!  Some of the other members of the team assisted in dispatch and after the event it was decided to extend their human resource pool and employ another driver.


Cisco’s S.O.C.I.A.L Model

Ciscos SOCIAL policy is based around a framework of 5 components;

Enablement is really about empowering the employees, at Harvest2Home, although it is mainly one person who is responsible for the interaction on social media the other members are encouraged to write interesting posts and engage where necessary.

Intelligence: Harvest2Home do not have the luxury of a dedicated team who listen carefully to the activity online, however, they are still able to respond quickly. They also use a selection method to determine whether to use the private message facility to respond to a consumer, taking the story offline, or replying on the page for all to see.

Engagement:As it is mainly the responsibility of one of the team to post regularly it is relatively well controlled. Generally with just one person posting to one main platform, the tone is consistent and ensuring unique, interesting posts are being regularly placed, is easy to track.

Measurement: The reach and volume are very easily recognisable with this business type as the geographical location of the individual is usually accessible on Facebook, this is also controlled to an extent as the owner can target new markets by posting in specific geographical locations to develop new interest.

Advocacy: Whatever comment is left on Facebook the owner will acknowledge it regardless of its content. These comments help the owner to identify advocates and engage with them accordingly.

In their social media playbook, Cisco’s claims to be great listeners as this assists in the identification of emerging trends, sales leads, competitive insights and so on, this is relatively simple for a company who is able to dedicate professional analysts to this. Harvest2Home are also still able to be great listeners and have proven to react person-ably to their consumers comments.


Final thoughts…

It would be interesting to revisit Harvest2Home in 12 months to review their Social Business Strategy, I suspect additions in human resources will be inevitable which may have some or maybe even great impact on the Community of Practice.

Overall I am actually quite amazed at how these models can be applied to such a variety of tomatoes-1002158_960_720companies.  If I had taken a guess at the start of my research, I may have decided the odd model or some of their components may apply, but we actually see there is a definite structure to successful social communications within every business regardless of size or nature. The most common theme which was highlighted in the models was the importance of listening carefully and over long periods, as it can provide invaluable assistance in growth and development of the business.



 Cisco social media playbook 

Li, C. & Solis, B. (2013). The evolution of social business: Six stages of social business transformation. Altimeter Group. 

Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. 








Help, Learn, Share, Grow…

I remember going to my first ever company conference, I had been working for a year or so in my new position as store manager for a family owned opticians which was made up of about 14 stores.  We were all sat at tables with people from other stores who we had not help-731870_960_720.jpgmet before so the room hummed quietly as people introduced themselves. The CEO made his entrance looking very smart as usual, he stood on stage and stripped down to a pair of shorts!!! After picking myself up off the floor, along with a number of other employees, he began to say… “we as a company must change and change starts here right now with each and everyone of us”.  He proceeded to tell us of his vision of staff who were empowered to make decisions, a variety of teams which consisted of optometrists, store managers, receptionists etc should be meeting regularly to brain storm on how we as a company could not only work better but smarter, gone are the days of hierarchical structure and rigidity, we were all one team working together to achieve success. This conference was several years ago but what Mike was actually trying to create back then was a ‘Community of Practice’.


The Theory behind it……

Theorist Etienne Wenger describes Community of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. This is very different to communities where individuals communicate and interact with one another without having any particular commitment to the group for any length of time. Wenger describes the Community of practice as being made up of three essential parts;

  • The Domain: membership and commitment: receptionist, Optometrist, Dispenser, Manager all interested in smooth successful operations within the store.
  • The Community: relationships and interaction: the different staff members interact together regardless of job description and discuss, help and learn from one another.
  • The Practice: members and sharing resources: Experiences endured which are shared and the sharing of problem solving techniques, such as; dealing with customer orders which are delayed, Optometrist absenteeism and the effects on the clinic, the best allocation of people and resources to deal with these and other situations.

By developing a Community of Practice the business gains from a overall feeling of friends-1027840__180belonging, team spirit, collaboration, and unity. Gaining this feel within the business leads to greater efficiency and effectiveness ultimately focused on the business strategy, it allows for as well as encouraging the sharing of tacit knowledge and the growth of individuals along with the team.

As businesses are fast paced entities it is imperative to ensure not to become stagnant, the Community of Practice is very much about the members of the team/organisation sharing and learning from one another to develop better systems, procedures, ideas etc… This community drives the business.


In Conclusion…

To me it all seems like a win win but everything has 2 sides! The Community of Practice can be highly successful in the right structure but this model is a total fail if the organisation is one of strong hierarchical nature. Members must be able to contribute freely to the community regardless of organisational status. From the description above it is clear this model is not something that can be implemented over night by the CEO, all members have to buy into it, understand and believe in the company strategy and want to drive the business for the gain of all the members. This takes time, commitment and lots of listening.

My experience of belonging to a Community of Practice was one of excitement, friends-1015312__180empowerment, ownership, passion and growth, both as a manager of the business and as an individual. For example, monthly meetings would take place in conference centres where a member of each store would attend and share information, best practice, problems and issues.  Lots of brain storming would take place and the members would take back ideas plentiful to the stores where some of the ideas would be implemented. Due to these sessions barriers were broken down and members of the company began to be more integrated, which enabled one to call another to ask how to deal with an issue, fix a broken part etc without feeling intimidated or isolated.

Of course many businesses operate solely online and may have members scattered around the world, not just throughout the country. Again this causes problems with individuals building the Community; developing relationships, sense of belonging  and trust, and actively helping one another. Although the internet provides a great tool for communication via text, web cam, conference calls, social media etc, sometimes the personal touch can be lost or take longer to develop. The development of an online community is one which would be much easier to emulate, we can see this by Facebook groups.


Thinking about it, I would say that most modern companies, as opposed to the more traditional run company, strives to achieve a Community of Practice whether they are fully aware of the concept or not. I know from my experience it definitely made for a happier work place.