defining social business

I have been working on a post to define social business for a few weeks now. It's why you haven't seen as many posts from me lately as each evening I sit down to finish this one and I keep going round and round in my head. Each night I do a bit more research, give it some more thought and by the time an hour or so passes my mind is once again beat from the day and the deep thought that I call it a night on the blog post and move on to more easy to conquer initiatives.

However, this one is bugging me like being stuck with a spoon and a plate of pasta. I honestly didn't think it would be so hard to put my arms around the term social business.

What is a social business, really?
As we spend time with businesses large and small, there is one common theme. They all know they want the the social spaghetti. The advanced businesses know they need to use a fork versus the spoon.  However, when it comes to the art of what to do when and how much they struggle.

What is a social business really?  Can we point to even one business, any business and state “yes, that organization is the perfect example of a social business!”?

How can we define something that we don't have a template for? How can we truly define something that keeps moving. Just as we get our finger on a part of it, the game changes.

Yes, there are common foundation considerations for becoming a social business.  However, the truth is the transformation to a social business is different for every business. The frameworks for how to become a social business are being worked real time in an ecosystem that is moving faster than we can keep up with.

social business definitionIt really is about the people.
With social media we are dealing with people. People that have opinions, moods, likes and dislikes. They have voices, sometimes loud voices that will say things we love and say things we hate. When we do right we hope they will tell a few people about it. When we do wrong we know they will tell many people about it. One tweet can reach millions.

Your audience, partners, clients, and communities of people are different than my people. My people are different than my neighbors people, and your people are different than your competitors people. People are attracted to our brands and businessess for different reasons. They are going to engage with each of us differently. Our internal teams are going to engage with them, service them and communicate with them different.  It's the reason why you can't use my exact template for social business success and I can't use yours. It's also the reason why I can't give you the same template my other customers are using as there is no cookie cutter for becoming a social business.

Becoming a social business is about your people engaging, communicating, sharing with and helping the people in a way brings value to the people and supports your brand promise. 

social business readinessDo you have the right mindset?
So what is the business leader, business owner, social strategist, CEO, CFO, community manager to do? How do you define what type of social business you want to be when you grow up? What templates are you going to use? How do you know how much pasta to put on your fork and when?

Are you hoping that I will provide you the answers to these questions somewhere in this blog post? If you do, well then you are using the wrong utensil. The blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, webinars, training seminars are the fork and the spoon. They are a utensil, nothing more. What you need is your own plan. You need to know how big your budget is, how ready your staff is to embrace social. Do you have the right mindset? Do you have the stakeholder and executive buy-in that you need to succeed? Do you have business and marketing goals? Do you know enough about social media to know how to align social to the business objectives where social can have the greatest impact?

Is your business ready?
The first step is assessing the readiness of your business. How much pasta should you put on your fork? How big of a bite are you prepared to take and swallow?

If you don't have business goals or objectives and can't tell me your top three market segments without having to think really hard about it, then chances are you are not ready to embrace social in a big way.

Social media is not a band-aid for a broken business. Even one million Facebook likes are not going to magically energize your lazy sales team. A boat load of Twitter followers is not going to stop your customer service team from being rude on the phone to your clients. Even a rockin' and integrated blog, custom Facebook page and a growing community is not going to change the mindset of the executive stakeholder who is out to stomp your social media efforts in 2012 because you are moving his cheese.

Social business doesn't start on Facebook.
The truth is social business starts in the inside. It doesn't start on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Pinterest, or even your blog. It starts on the inside of your walls. It starts in the hearts and minds of the people within your organization. Of course the social networks, tools and ecosystem as a whole must be understood. My point is that you can learn the tools and technology. The most important thing is that you understand the integrated art and science of becoming a social business.  It takes both as you must bring together the people with the technologies and social networks.

Think integration, not silos.
social business integration Stop looking at social as a separate effort. Social business must start deep within your process, teams and communication. Chances are your business is not easily divided up into nice little squares that look like ravioli. You can't separate your products and services from the billing systems, marketing, sales team, and customer service.  Often times when you make one change to any one of these teams, processes or systems it has an impact on the others. This is why an inside out approach is the only option, period.

If you don't think integration, when you move from inside to outside, the lack of integration will become very apparent to the people we discussed above.

Inside out social business success.
There are far more businesses who are not ready to embrace and leverage social than that are. If you are one that is not ready, don't give up. You are not alone, I promise. The things that you need to do to integrate and leverage social are many of the same things you should be doing as priorities in your business anyway. It is business and marketing 101 to know your audience, set goals and objectives, build processes and infrastructure to support objectives and deliver what you promise. It's not rocket science.

social business successHowever, at some point you must get outside the walls of your business. Becoming a social business enables you to leverage the power of social media, open communication, easier access to the people in a way that brings value to your clients, partners and communities. If done right the benefits will help you build better relationships with those that matter most to your business both inside and out.  Within the organization the benefits will include improved communication, more efficient processes, quicker and deeper insights into the mind of the customer that can be leveraged for product development and increased customer satisfaction.

The first step of becoming a social business is defining what it means to your business.

Social business definition can't be put in a box. There are many who are currently trying to define what a social business is. We aren't there yet. However, we are making progress.  We are starting to know the traits, the benefits, the tools, the art and science of what it takes to become a social business.  However, I don't think we are ready to put it in a box yet. I don't think it will ever be put in a box as by the time we got it there it will be different.

Social business defined…

I am not going to officially place a stamp of approval on a definition of social business at this point. I am still “noodling” on it.  However, below is the best succinct summary I can offer of what becoming a social business is.

“Becoming a social business transforms the organization from the inside out, connecting the internal with the external in a way that enhances relationships and creates shared value for the people, the business and ecosystem as a whole.”


Your Turn

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  How do you define social business? I will include some of the answers and proposed definitions in the next blog post on this topic. Our minds are greater together on this topic than we are as silos.


35 Social Media Truths

This post is part of a series on social business I am working on “35 Social Media Truths” inspired by keynote presentation I gave at Rochester Institute of  Technology. If you want to hear more, sign up for the 35 Social Media Truths Newsletter and you will receive all 35 of them over a period of time. Included will be different mediums such as free webinars, video, blog posts and more.

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The Only Way to Become a Social Business in 2012

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Walgreens Case Study: Humanizing Social Business

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 46 Tips to Show Up at the Right Field in the Social Business Game

 CEO Wants Klout: Days of Our Social Business (includes video)

41 Signs You are Not a Social Business  

 Are You Ready to be a Social Business? 10 Tips for a Zoom Start

Social Trust Factor: 10 Tips to Establish Credibility