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There is No Social Business is there?

Posted by on February 11, 2011

I had a great chat with friend and advisor Gil Yehuda on the topic of social business prior to my presentation at the American Marketing Association. The topic of “what makes a business social” came up during which Gil imparted his usual bit of wisdom with the following quote:

All businesses have always been social; what’s new is the set of observable behaviors and available technologies that enable businesses to leverage these to solve business problems.”

Really, what we are seeing with anything and everything “social” can be broken down to two things: changes in culture and changes in technology.  That’s it.  Businesses have always had customer communities, employee communities, and partner/supplier communities.  Social business is often talked about as a new entity that’s going to emerge from the smoke and rubble as a new supreme organization with a flat structure, but is that really going to happen?  It’s hard to say I think but let’s be honest, that’s definitely a stretch (Gil thinks this isn’t going to happen).

Social Business isn’t a state, it’s the acknowledgement that culture and technology has changed, and that organizations can leverage these changes to solve the same business problems that they have always had and will always have.

  • Jon Kraft

    Rising from smoke and rubble–wonderful imagery here. You are a good writer Jacob….

    I wonder–how important is it that we can put the concept “social business” in a clearly defined category before companies start changing the way they do business.

    • Jon, you’re awful pretty for a guy

      • Landau Blake

        Thank you Mike–glad to see you commenting again

        • Where’d you get your surgery done? That was FAST! 🙂

  • Gary Fox – TribalCafe

    If culture and tecvhnological have changed – what have they changed from and to. Organizations have political and cultural contexts in which the social elements are often played out. Behaviours are the foundation of competencies and motivational leadership so if these have changed then surely there is a new state of the business. We often have benchmarked moral, communication and knowledge accessibility and things dfo change from and to a state – normally through planning. The same business problems are not the same as 5 years ago – not from any business I know; the form of their problems might be operational, strategy, management but the issues underlying these headings are quite different today.
    What is of interest is how hierachical chains of command cannot react quickly enough compare to how some external communications and markets are evolving. The challenge here is to devolve and empower decision making to a ‘flatter’ structure. The main change that many management practices (often bad ones) are facing is the need to lead rather than management by power and position. Now employees openly communicate with others and some businesses are losing out on recruiting top talent. We can play with semantics over what is a social business, but you cannot deny the change in knowledge management, internal and external communications and their impact on culture, organizational behaviour and therefore the business itself.

  • Landau Blake

    Rising from smoke and rubble–wonderful imagery here. You are a good writer Jacob….I wonder–how important is it that we can put the concept “social business” in a clearly defined category before companies start changing the way they do business.

  • Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no such thing as society.” Being social means to communicate in some way, shape or form. Social business is nothing more than being forced to embrace the new forms of communication which are created by new technologies, and that in turn changes the culture. We have no choice but to go with the flow.

    • Hi Dmitri,

      I always just describe business as the acknowledgement by organizations that culture and technology is changing how companies need to solve business problems today. Social business isn’t really an end-game or state. (IMHO)

  • Great post, however… experience has been that not all businesses have always been social.
    One of my clients,. a public service company in the Midwest has direct clients that are the local utilities, but their end-customers are the local public. In spite of being the source of rate hikes, my client have never cared about communicating about it with the public. They are now considering this new step with great fear. Another client is a municipal government in the Southeast. The city has had minimal communication with its constituents. They got a Tweeter account a few months ago, and are posting there only official notices. They are terrified at the idea of starting a blog. Are these behaviors of a “social” business? not at all in my view. They are the first ones to acknowledge that they have not been “social” and follow with both awe and apprehension organizations like them that are trying to go social. I have actually been in meetings with these business where they initially made conscious decisions to not have a social relationship (i.e 2 way communication with engagement) with the community. Of course, culture and technology have to change, but being social is about practices, whcih are an emanation of culture, mindset and also strategic decisions. For some organizations Ive met in recent years, going social would put them in a spot where they would need to answer questions that they dont want to address. And thats a lot more than culture and technology. In conclusion, a good percentage of businesses have never been social and it has been their conscious choice to do so…

    • Hi Jean,

      While I understand what you are saying, what you have described is simply the willingness of the company to try out new tools, which in my opinion doesn’t signify a “social business.” Organizations are solving problems with new tools, but the problems are the same. I have never heard of a single organization that doesn’t listen to customers, interact with customers, or employees. I challenge you to find me one. Practices and strategic decisions are important but again they revolved around the culture and technological change we are seeing. I still stand by and agree that culture and technology are the two things that we have seen change, everything else is changing as a result of these two.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • I agree that all the businesses are social, without the social aspect the businesses wouldnt survive. its just that there are more , better and easier ways to get you brand/product get noticed.

  • Very interesting information! Thank you!

  • Very interesting information! Thank you!

  • I tend to agree with your friend Gil. I believe most businesses (not all) if they had a good product there was a social aspect to it. I don’t believe the company had anything to do with it but rather the fans of the product. They met in person or on IRC or chat rooms. Now that the technology is advancing, so are the meeting rooms. With the ease of joining a group over the internet rather than driving into town, membership has risen which is causing companies to take notice.

    That being said, I also believe that companies now have to have a “social” part to their business to meet the customers where they are and engage them there. “Social” is a new tool to increase customer satisfaction and a new way to create fans.