Introducing “Social Maturity”: How Social Media Transforms Companies

We've been working on a major piece of research to answer a fundamental question now affecting our clients: “How do companies change as they adopt social technologies?” Today, we’ve published the report: Accelerating Your Social Maturity: How To Move From Social Experimentation To Business Transformation, which you can also find as a new chapter in the newly updated paperback version of the Groundswell book. Staying true to the nature of the research, this was a collaborative effort involving analysts from all nineteen of the roles Forrester serves across Marketing & Strategy, IT, and the Technology Industry, but it was ultimately written to interactive marketers like you who are often on the front lines of social media for their organization.

So what did we learn? The biggest insight that came from this research is that, no matter what industry your company is in, what geographies you reside in, or what audience you’re targeting, large organizations tend to go through common stages of change as they adopt and use social technologies for business. We call this process of change “social maturity,” and we've outlined the steps to accelerate from one stage to the next. In fact, combining survey data of 95 respondents involved in social media at companies with more than 1,000 employees, interviews with more than 30 companies at all stages of maturity, and a wide range of existing research, we were able to plot each stage onto the following bell curve that reads right to left (you may recognize this model from the Diffusion Of Innovations theory):

Ultimately, we found that most companies fall within five stages:

  • Laggards: the dormant stage. Forrester estimates that one in five companies is currently not using any social media. These companies tend to be highly conservative, heavily regulated, or just not interested (yes they exist; think non-tech B2B). To get beyond this stage, we recommend that interactive marketers help garner “small victories” – focusing on the best opportunities that can be used as case studies within the organization to get the ball rolling.
  • Late majority: the testing stage. While most companies are using social media, it tends to start organically in pockets. This stage can be described as “distributed chaos,” and to move beyond it, we recommend that a senior interactive marketer step up to play the role of “shepherd” to help coordinate efforts across the organization. (It’s important to note that this role is sometimes manifested in a “social media strategist” or similar, but it is not required, as many companies mature successfully through existing interactive marketing teams).
  • Early majority: the coordinating stage. At this point, management recognizes the risks and rewards of social media and begins to put the resources and governance in place to create consistency across the organization, from “distributed chaos” to a more centralized approach. To move beyond this stage, we recommend that interactive marketers work with a steering committee made up of key stakeholders to develop a foundation of shared resources, policies, processes, and budget in place for the long term so the focus can shift to optimizing results.
  • Early adopters: the scaling and optimizing stage. These leaders (think Starbucks, Best Buy, and Coca Cola) have already coordinated their social organization and are now focusing on optimizing their social media activities – from improved processes to more advanced metrics to integration with other marketing activity. The next big step for this group is to determine who within the organization is best suited for using social applications to solve customer problems (their HEROes) and for the shepherd to help lead the creation of a plan for empowering all relevant employees with social media.
  • Innovators: empowering their employees. At this stage, all relevant employees have been trained and empowered to use social media – essentially “organized distribution” – though centers of excellence are still needed. Only a few companies have even just entered this stage (think but we expect many more to follow over the course of the next year.

So what does this all mean? Much of the hype around social media makes it sound as if you open a Facebook page or Twitter account and then you can shut down your advertising, turn off your company email, your customers and employees will then swoon, and marshmallows will fall from the sky. In reality, social media is still very nascent and it is a lot of work. But there is good news: Now you can identify your company’s current position on the bell curve and then build a plan for accelerating your company’s social maturity.



Response to Blog Post

I really liked your blog post and I agree with your statement saying that we must position our social media efforts in a way that aligns with our community so that we can find a SM curve that will work for our employees. I recently wrote two blog posts which I feel correlate with what you are speaking about in relation to creating a corporate culture that relates to all generations of employees:

What types of companies were you interviewing for this research? Do you find that a lot of large corporations are hesitant about allowing major social media sites (twitter, facebook) available to their full time employees?

Thanks for the great post!


I'm also interested in the

I'm also interested in the types of companies interviewed and if large corporations are hesitant.

I enjoyed the bell curve because it very easily presents a known adaption process to something so many companies are struggling with. I was in a meeting this morning and a lot of it revolved around whether to adapt, who should have access, security issues, etc.

For those companies who are nearly or over one hundred years old, what were the findings? what about by industry... how has the commercial construction industry been falling on the curve?

Thanks for the great information and the easy to understand next steps based on where we fall on the curve.

Relationship between culture & social media tools

From my experience, social intranets and social media provide the greatest value in companies with cultures that are trusting and embrace open communication and dialogue. Our recent case study of MEC dramatically highlights the role of culture in internal social media success:

Companies that don't have this sort of culture and don't have collaborative executive teams will struggle to get real value from social intranets.

Does this report offer strategies for shifting corporate culture, for helping the C-Suite become better listeners and more open to dialogue and collaboration?

Trusted Culture and Social Media

Without trust, it will be difficult for companies to consistently deliver efficient and effective social interactions with customers/clients and all stakeholders.

It will be the organizations with very mature cultures of honesty, accountability, responsibility, respect, support, emotional boundaries, and trustworthiness that will lead in the early adoption and success in leveraging social networking & social media.

This must start at the top with the senior executives of the organization who lead by example through consistent interactions and kept-commitments that grows Relationship Capital (RC).

Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly

I like your model and how you incorporated the Model of Diffusion - and classified corporations based on their use.

I've been working a maturity of practice model for nonprofits - and use "Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly." It is slightly different because nonprofits typically run the range from very small, grassroots to larger institutions -- and my application is for training assessments and coaching - helping nonprofits put a strategy into practice.

I've outlined it in this post:

and here:

Thanks for the comments

The companies we interviewed were all large corporations - typically $1B+ in revenue and 1,000+ employees. The respondents came from a wide range of departments such as marketing, PR, IT, and even legal (they were all involved in social media at their company). We also interviewed about 30 companies including leaders like Dell, Starbucks and Best Buy. However, we made it a point to interview companies from all aspects of maturity, so we included companies like Penske Trucks and BB&T Bank as well as regulated companies from the pharma, finance, and alcoholic beverage industries. Overall most large companies are now at least interested in social media if not embracing it. There are two types of companies that are hesitant: those from regulated industries (though many moving forward) and non-tech B2B companies whose customers just don't use much social media (e.g. energy or construction industries).

It was ultimately seo

It was ultimately seo sunshine coast written to interactive marketers like you who are often on the front lines of social media. Overall most large companies are now at least interested in social media if not embracing it.

Sean: Workforce ran a post


Workforce ran a post recently (by James Walsh) that focused on two firms that I suspect you would have in the "Innovators" category (IBM and Pepsico). The post was called "Companies Look to Capitalize on Viral Voices' and can be found at

Very useful

I like this model, and as soon as it was released I used it to assess my company's Social Media maturity. Highly recommended