When American humorist Arnold Glasow said, “Only a strong tree can stand alone,” it was in a world where social media did not yet exist. The social Web has changed the shape of customer relationships and social media’s power lies in its ability to create a true social enterprise that improves the performance of every customer touch point. And unlike a strong tree, the real potential of social media can never be fully realized in isolation.  

Within the social enterprise itself, there is no place for “information silos” – management systems incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. If productive and timely communication about insights drawn from the social sphere cannot occur among key stakeholders internally, there is no way to achieve the scale and velocity of social conversations that are necessary to engage a community quickly, efficiently, and with a response that builds customer satisfaction and brand affinity. 

Providing only partial answers will not suffice, either. You must be able to deliver the right message, at the right time, through the optimal channel. Therefore, if your organization resolves to become a social enterprise, you must also make some strategic organizational and structural changes that will allow you to integrate disparate data sources across every channel, departments and country. Look to any of the successful social enterprises today. They have established ways to communicate across departments, monitor social conversations efficiently, and quickly distribute insight to the right parts of the company.

Coca-Cola has been breaking down silos, too. According to recent commentary in Forrester, one catalyst that sparked recent organizational changes at the soft drink giant was the discovery that fewer than 30 million of the 150 million views the brand generated on YouTube were created by the company. While Coca-Cola’s marketing team members were ecstatic over the amount of earned media they were generating, organizational barriers prevented them from adapting the marketing plan quickly enough to capitalize on the momentum. To avoid missing out on future opportunities,  the company took action and restructured its global integrated marketing communications and capabilities organization around three principles — content, connections, and integration — rather than by media type or marketing discipline.

One of the most interesting things happening now among some of the largest and most sophisticated social companies our company is working with is that they are wondering how a truly social enterprise should be organized. No doubt, 2011 will reveal some interesting organizational changes by these and other businesses. Perhaps we will see more corporate organizational charts combining marketing and customer service into one department. Or maybe, we will see the emergence of more “flat organizations” where the customer is at the top of the pyramid and individual community managers wield a big voice for the company. Either way to truly become a social enterprise requires the integration of people, processes and data.

What is your plan? Just remember, as you start breaking down your own silos, that your followers, customers, admirers and detractors don’t really care about how your company is organized. They care about how effectively you’re able to interact with them. If marketing creates expectations about what the brand experience will be like, then social servicing teams and product marketing need to be able to deliver against the brand promise and ensure expectations are not only met, but also exceeded at every opportunity. So, whatever changes you undertake as you evolve into a social enterprise, make sure they help you meet that vision. And by committing to work together across departments you will not only improve ‘in the moment’ short-term results, you will achieve long-term results such as brand affinity and ROI.