Social Business Transformation: Q&A with Amber Naslund

This post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Amber NaslundAmber Naslund (@AmberCadabra) is the co-founder and president of SideraWorks, a social business consultancy that helps companies adapt to the complex business implications of the social web. Prior to launching her own firm, she was the vice president of social strategy at Radian6.

In 2011, Amber co-authored The NOW Revolution with Jay Baer (@jaybaer). The book dives into the impact of social media and technology on business. She’s also an active speaker on the convergence of social media and business strategy.

As a well respected thought leader on the topic, Amber shares her perspectives on social business below. Enjoy!

Q&A with Amber Naslund

MAI: What are the origins of SideraWorks? What inspired you to launch a management consultancy?

Amber: The really short story: My friend Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) and I had done some work together when I was with Radian6 as their VP Social Strategy. We were digging deep into the issues that companies were facing with adoption of social practices, and realized that while there were lots of agencies out there focused on social marketing initiatives, no one was really helping organizations tackle the *internal* change that needed to happen in order to support all these new ideas. That meant everything from culture change to operational and process shifts to hiring and training people on what social business is and why they should care about it.

So, we set out to do just that.

MAI: Much of your agency’s work is centered on helping companies become social businesses. How do you define “social business,” and what are the driving factors behind this organizational shift?

Amber: The easiest answer is over here in our brief about just that. But for those not inclined to do some reading, the best way to describe it is the active state of building an adaptive organization.

Social business isn’t just “doing social media” inside a company. It’s fundamentally looking at the organization from the ground up and looking for ways to make it more agile, to make communication more fluid, to create a culture of innovation and openness, and to use technology and data in smart, focused ways that actually improve decision making. 

“Social” as we know it is really the catalyst for new expectations. It means everyone demands new ways of working with companies, whether they’re your customers or your partners or your employees. Social business is about believing in that shift, and being willing to make the cultural and operational investments to realize it.

MAI: How can marketing agencies and their clients benefit from becoming social businesses?

Amber: It’s imperative for agencies to understand the shifts that their clients are going through, whether eagerly or reluctantly. You can’t serve a client with a sound marketing strategy if it’s not rooted in business objectives, and you can’t know that unless you dig in and figure out what those are. It’s about being a partner at a business level, not just a shop that turns out campaigns detached from what the rest of the company is doing.

Social business is somewhat of an inevitability, not really an option. It’s just the way work is moving. But the companies that are making the shift are realizing all kinds of benefits, from cost savings in marketing to increased revenue to happier, more collaborative employees. There are a few legit stats over here in this deck we did on Selling Social to the C-Suite.

MAI: What tips do you have for agencies looking to transform either themselves or their clients into social businesses?

Amber: Get dirty. Roll your sleeves up and get in the trenches, and never be afraid of the hard work. 

The real change and progress happens messily. It’s not always in a beautifully architected campaign. Sometimes, it’s in tackling a particularly messy process problem that you might not even know how to solve right away. The most valuable agency partners for businesses in this new era will make an investment in the guts of an organization and never be afraid to sit down with a client and say “This is a tough problem, but we’re going to figure out the answer.”

You can imagine how that changes the dynamic for things like hourly rate billing. Those partnerships become about outcomes and results, which makes for stronger and more lasting relationships anyway. 

Notice nothing above has anything to do with tweeting, or blogging, or being on Facebook. It’s about upholding all the tenets of a social business we talked about above.

MAI: What are some of the biggest challenges organizations face in becoming truly social? How can agencies like yours help overcome these hurdles?

Amber: Two big things usually emerge when we’re working with companies to become social businesses.

One, they want to know what they need to do to be “ready” for social business. In other words, where are we now, and where do we need to go? So, one of the first things we do is a really thorough social business audit. It’s unique because it doesn’t just look at programs and activities. It’s not an inventory of social assets or content. It’s a deep look at the cultural profile of an organization, how they work, where their opportunities are to leverage social business, and what their challenges are likely to be.

Two, once we lay some of that out, the next questions are usually about how to make that leap. It starts with a lot of fear sometimes: what are the risks, the challenges, the things that can go wrong? To address that, we use a toolbox we’ve developed around risk assessment we call Social Scenario Modeling(™). It helps tackle a lot of the scary “what if ” situations that social business transition can bring about. 

Then we teach. A lot. We do MasterClasses, workshops, design education programs, and build infrastructure frameworks that help centralize social business while keeping its ownership flexible and adaptable to the organization’s needs. It’s all about putting some order to what feels like chaos at the start, but always keeping organizational culture and great change management at the heart of what we do.

MAI: What opportunities do you see for marketing agencies in the area of social business consulting?

Amber: Think partnerships.

There are lots of organizations out there that have deep expertise in change management or talent development or leadership. Social business is a holistic endeavor; it takes every area of the business to succeed, which means bringing in expertise that understands the broad implications while delivering on a key area of focus that adds to the whole.

We partner with agencies all the time because we’re not marketers. We don’t build social presences or do community engagement. But we help companies deal with what happens when they do those things, so it’s a great way to leverage our expertise and deepen the relationships we have with both the agencies and our clients. 

You don’t have to do it all. You have to do something really well and then team up with others that have the strengths and capabilities you don’t. When you can go to a client and show them how that partnership is a benefit to everyone involved, light bulbs go on and the enthusiasm starts to flow. It’s pretty cool.

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