Perhaps it's the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, but it feels like use of the term “social business” has skyrocketed in recent months.
As someone who co-founded a company around the topic of social business (and spends his days consulting, speaking, and writing about it, too), the idea of social business is obviously a topic that I feel very close to. (Check out this podcast interview here at MarketingProfs.)
On the one hand, people discussing social business is a great thing. Improved awareness in the business community means less work for me in educating clients.
But there’s a flip side: Many posts purporting to talk about social business don't understand the essence of what social business really means. Instead, they substitute “social business” for “social media.” Rarely a day goes by when I don't tweet an obligatory statement that "Social business is not the same as social media!” That confusion, in part, is what prompted Amber Naslund and I to refine our brief "What Is Social Business?”
Last week, I was thrilled that this article on MarketingProfs ("What Exactly Is A Social Business?") contained this nugget: “… [becoming] a social business requires a fundamental culture change that spreads across the business and changes the way the business operates." The author is right. It does indeed!
Unfortunately, I didn’t agree with much more. Though that article started out as a reasonable entry into the topic of social business, it effectively became a look at generic measures of customer service and good practices in business. For example, one criterion the author suggests as a litmus test for a social business is this: "You are not a social business if you leave callers on hold for 30 minutes."
If you reverse that anti-criteria, then, does that mean that a business IS a social business if it doesn't leave callers on hold for 30 minutes? Of course not. It is simply a best practice for running a sustainable business with a high customer satisfaction rating.
The definition of a “social business" is not a "business that cares about its customers." My feeling is that type of criteria should be the table stakes for succeeding in business at all.
Rather, being a social business is about transforming an organization’s entire ecosystem of participants (customers, employees, partners, etc.) to be more effective at meeting all the business objectives. So...
- If you're a customer, that might mean better service or products.
- If you're an employee, it might mean an empowered culture that allows you to have a voice in a company, as well as a feeling of being valued for your contributions.
- If you're a partner, it might mean more effective access to materials and smoother compensation paths.
- If you're head of a department, it could mean tighter integration and collaboration with other department heads.
The result? An organization that is more responsive, more effective at leveraging intelligence and insight, more capable at adaptation and agility, and ultimately more effective.
So why “social business”? Why not “awesome business” or “excellent business” or some other superlative?
In truth, the word “social” in social business has nothing to do with “being social” (although that's obviously a result).
To best understand what social business really means, you must first realize that the primary drivers for organizational change have traditionally been from the inside out. If an organization wanted to create or change its culture, or if it wanted to improve collaboration among its workers, it did so of its own accord, for its own purposes, and on its own timeline. Often, these large-scale initiatives failed as executive sponsors move on, new priorities emerged, and so on.
Fast forward to now. The massive cultural shift in society brought about by social media has flipped this on its head. The value systems of the incoming workforce, the expectations of the customer, the transparency into organizations, and so on have now created drivers from the outside in. Organizations are no longer the sole controller and must react to these changes in an intelligent and coordinated way. Thus, the word "social" in social business refers more to a business transforming itself to take advantage of, and mitigate the risks of, the implications of social media than it does any kind of external engagement.
Perhaps I should amend my daily tweet to "Social business is not social media… and it's not just about engagement."
Matt Ridings is the co-founder of SideraWorks. Follow him on Twitter @techguerilla.
(Photo courtesy of CarbonNYC)