The Definition of Social Business?

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.

Related Articles: 

The Only Way to Become a Social Business in 2012

Social Business, It's Not About The Next Big Thing 

Walgreens Case Study: Humanizing Social Business

Slow Down to Speed Up  

People Don't Buy Things, They Join Things

 Be Your Own Social Duck by Implementing with Results

 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 


About the Author:

CEO / Founder Marketing Nutz, full service social media, digital marketing, experiential brand, conversion optimization agency. Ranked by Forbes as Top 10 Social Media Women and 10 Social Media Power Influencer. Keynote speaker, author, strategist, consultant, coach, & trainer. Helps businesses of all sizes integrate social media into the DNA of their business, connect with target audiences to nurture authentic customer relationships. 15+ years experience working with Fortune 500, Franchised corporations with 4000+ local franchises to entrepreneurs and startups.


  1. lucaleonardini January 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I think social media is the most powerful tool companies have ever had to reinvent themselves, to build a new business environment, to adapt to a profound global cultural change, to redesign the path for a new age of meaningful human prosperity.

    • PamMktgNut January 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      @lucaleonardini I agree. It provides an opportunity for a complete transformation which many biz’s need. I like your use of the word “meaningful” as that is I think at the core of the companies that will succeed. It truly is about providing value and not just focusing on self. Thanks for the comment and bookmark!! Enjoy the rest of your wknd!

  2. lucaleonardini January 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    … I forgot to mention that I saved your great post to my stack of “Best Posts” on Delicious. 😉


  3. RobertDempsey January 14, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I think small businesses have always been social, so for them it’s more about the learning curve of the tools. For “brands” it’s another issue entirely as they haven’t been set up to be truly “social” in the sense of one-on-one relationships, it’s more “many-to-one” with the one being the brand, which is a representation rather than a person.

    What this may require is an entire redefinition of business and what it means to have a brand.

    I like to say that small business have a personality not a brand. It’s a very different paradigm.

    • PamMktgNut January 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      @RobertDempsey Yes, I love the word personality. I agree. When I state brand I am always referencing all encompassing. It’s the soul and being of the organization from the person who answers the phone, sends the tweet to the product or service they receive.

      It is definitely a change for many companies who have not been “social” per se as a brand but have done most communication from behind a logo, billboard or direct mail ad. Social media is much more exposing which provides risk and scares many biz’s. Yet, there is so much opportunities for those willing to come out and let their real personality shine from the inside out. I am not sure I agree with you though on the reference to small biz’s always being social. I know many small biz owners who are far from social. They are most afraid and they also don’t have the budgets. I think it is their lack of budget and adversity to risk that holds them back. I hope over the coming next 1-2 years we will see more small biz’s step up to social with more than a standard Facebook page. Thanks for the insightful comments.

  4. keepupweb January 15, 2012 at 11:29 am


    I think the term “social business” has gained popularity recently but I believe it’s always existed on a much smaller scale. There have always been businesses that we have connected to on a personal level. Think of the small mom and pop store that we patronize even if it means going out of our way or paying a little more. Somehow, we’ve connected with them.

    This holds true for large corporations and big box stores. We avoid some and are loyal to others. Why? I believe it’s based again on that human connection. Experiences that we remember are almost always based on the way we were treated. Did we wait in line too long? Was the salesperson rude?

    What we’re dealing with online is magnified to such a degree that there’s a bigger impact. One unhappy customer can create a video and post it on YouTube and the next thing, we’re faced with a PR nightmare. I believe that the “transformation” that you’re referring to in your definition is no different from the transformation that successful businesses have always understood and embraced. We need to treat our clients customers online the same as we would in person. We just need to keep in mind that it’s more important now than ever before.

    • PamMktgNut January 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      @keepupweb Thanks for your comment. I agree with you and disagree with you 😉 I do not agree it is the same transformation biz’s have went thru in the past. Social media amplifies the voice, the time to spread viral exponentially. For a small biz owner social media can have far greater impact at a much smaller cost than they would be able to do the same offline. With it of course come risks. If you are a good biz, well that is great. If you are a bad biz, well then not only will your small town of 1000 know it but China, Japan and Australia could also read about it.

      So yes, I agree being “social” has obviously always been a way of life and biz. It is human nature to connect as humans.

      I know many small biz owners who want to be leverage social media and are starting to see the opportunity. The challenge is they do not have the budget to pay someone to do it properly and they don’t have any idea where to start. They are taking baby steps. I think we’ll see more and more of them come onto social and be able to learn from the big and small biz’s who have done it good and bad. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Good insight!! 🙂

  5. Wittlake January 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Are you doing business, in all aspects of your business, person-to-person? Or as a big company serving a big group?

    I like the small business comment from @RobertDempsey because many of these businesses develop loyalty because they develop relationships with their customers and local community and listen to them in order to meet their needs. As customers, we feel as if we benefit their business and they treat us like we benefit it (in contrast to a company like WalMart, who doesn’t need any one individual’s business).

    Augie Ray had an eye opening post to me on social business and how it might evolve, definitely worth a read:

    Great stuff, keep it up!

    — Eric

    • RobertDempsey January 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      @Wittlake That’s what I was getting at in my comment Eric – that small businesses have always had the more personal touch.

      Being social is not the same thing as using the tools of social media such as Twitter, blogs, etc. So I don’t call a business “social” merely because they are using the tools. You can use the tools and not actually be having a conversation with your customers. We see that all the time, along with a metric ton of abandoned accounts and profiles.

      Small business has always relied more on personal relationships between people as opposed to someone’s relationship with a brand. I love Apple but I don’t have a relationship with anyone there. However I do know the web developers, consultant and other contractors I work with personally. When I worked for an IT consultancy many years ago (with around 10 employees or so) our clients knew us all personally and asked for us by name.

      That’s the big difference and what large companies have issues with. They put their brand first. Small businesses put their people first. It’s a huge difference and something that “brands” might not be able to overcome.

      I found it interesting that on the chat Pam did with the Walgreens people everyone wanted to know who was behind the account. But how many consumers do that? All they know is it’s Walgreens talking.

      • PamMktgNut February 8, 2012 at 8:45 am

        @[email protected] I agree with you Robert. However, I think some of this exists also in big business. I worked in high tech for many years. Even though we had multi-million dollar deals with many clients, they knew us all for years. They even knew me, who ran product management and marketing for some big product lines. However, that didn’t happen by chance. It happened because our field SEs and delivery folks provided amazing service, we kept the same people on accounts for years etc. I also attended numerous industry events and many of them repeatedly over a number of years. We invested in relationships and the people within the companies. As a result they invested in a relationship with us as well.

        I guess I struggle with this one as I also know many small biz’s who do not treat their clients so nice. I know many restaurants and other small biz’s who are making it only because they are the only one in the area or the only one with such a service. I see this across the Tampa and Orlando area and use to see this a lot when I lived in Colorado as well.

        I do agree with your point though in that some small biz’s are doing great and have no choice but to put focus on relationships.

        However, I do not think it’s necessarily just a small biz thing. I think medium and larger biz can see the same benefits. However, they must invest the time which for a larger biz can be much more of a cost.

        Great thoughts and thanks for making me think on this!

    • PamMktgNut February 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

      @[email protected] I agree Eric that relationships are key as well as listening. Bottom line regardless of if a company is big or small they must listen and engage with their customers as real people. I like your comment “if they treat us like we benefit it”. Wow, that puts it into perspective for me. Yes, we want to feel as though our business matters and we are more than a number!

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

  6. JacoboGheller January 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    First strategy and creativity, second technology and tools. Social media, or Social in general, is not a strategy….

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  8. MariSmith February 8, 2012 at 2:20 am

    I LOVE your definition, @PamMktgNut Pam!! I’m giving you a two thumbs way up! xxx

    • PamMktgNut February 8, 2012 at 8:40 am

      @MariSmith Thanks so much Mari. Glad you liked it!! xoxo

      • MetroFax February 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

        @[email protected] Very insightful, Pam! In a world increasingly dependent on social media, it’s important to take us back to the roots and really dissect what exactly “social business” or even “social media” means.

      • MetroFax February 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm

        @PamMktgNut @MariSmith Very insightful, Pam! In a world increasingly dependent on social media, it’s important to take us back to the roots and really dissect what exactly “social business” or even “social media” means.

  9. JacoboGheller February 8, 2012 at 3:09 am

    I like to think of Social Media as the cornerstone tool that enables The Power Of Humanization……that process in which a business can reach it’s zenith and become a Social Business!

    I have to say, I love this post, but above it, I love the priceless contributions provided by the professionals in the comments below.

    • PamMktgNut February 8, 2012 at 8:49 am

      @JacoboGheller Love that “enables the power of humanization.” Yup, enables the power of humanization. The big question of the decade is HOW do biz’s do that. Some will some won’t!

      Great words Jacob. Thanks for your comment!

      • JacoboGheller February 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        @PamMktgNut @JacoboGheller

        More than the age of the web culture, the online marketing, and the revolution of the social media platforms, what we, and all businesses are living, is the time and the hour for brand humanization.

        Brands, businesses and managers that do embrace this core, vital and organic need and “humanize themselves” will move on to the next level:

        To be in the customer’s heart.

        I agree, some will and some won’t. But being in your customer’s heart is so powerful that other more reluctant managers and businesses will follow the more human, wholesome and healthy habits of the “humanization process”.

        The How?

        We don’t really know exactly how is it that we learn when we are learning, nor do we remember the exact process in which we learned to ride a bike when we were younger. What we do know – and remember – is that we sat down frequently and consistently with our school books day after day with the desire to pass the exam, and we might also remember that we had a burning desire to move like the wind and feel the wind on our faces, so we stood up each and every time until we master it and rode the bike.

        Such is the case in “humanizing a business or a brand”. As marketing strategists, creatives and consultants that we are, we (of course) have to provide our clients with a plan, a strategy and so forth….but, as I was sharing before: First is Strategy and Creativity, then Technology and Tools….I dare to add here that for all of this to work and have an impact on a brand, a business and its managers, above all, there has to be, there has to exist “a burning desire”.

        The task is then: To make business managers sensitive to the human needs around them. Show them their human side first, plant the seed, and see “a burning desire” grow. Somehow the rest sits on its righteous place if we “sit down to do the work”: Plan, strategy, creativity, tools, technologies, etc, etc.

        Or, I could be seriously wrong 😉

        To all the amazing professionals that engage with @PamMktgNut in her wonderful blog, thank you.

  10. MetroFax February 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Great article! Loved your quote: “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.”

  11. LauraOrban February 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I really appreciate that your post talks about the struggle with defining the term “social business”. I struggle with this myself. Part of the challenge is that I think a lot (not all) of what we’re packaging up as “social business” isn’t new. We say that social businesses will be more in touch with customer needs, will have access to data to anticipate trends, will break down organizational silos. But these are the promises made by CRM tools, knowledge management and other technology when it was new and hot. We also make the distinction between social media marketing and social business. Using the tools isn’t enough. How does social technology transform business processes? And why do business owners need to care about that?

    I think this is an important discussion, and it’s good to see the ambiguity around social business being acknowledged.

  12. younomy May 23, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Hi Pam,
    Nice post. I have a different take: let us go by the impact of social media on business to define what is social business. What is the greatest impact of social media? Last decade, we were trying to define what is e-biz, when businesses embraced Internet in a big way. How did we define? We went by the impact of Internet on business. What is the greatest impact of Internet on a business? Digitization. So, we unanimously agreed that a e-biz is something that has made all its business process online. 
    The greatest impact of machines was industrialization. The greatest impact of computers was automation, and now again, what is the greatest impact of social media. I think it is very very clear that it is democratizing the business. People decide what Dell has to produce. People decide to which organization Target US has to donate its CSR fund. People decide what Bungee Food has to do for the local community. People decide what should be the core value of IBM (“IBM’s values jam”). People decide what should be the new business areas NEC, Japan should focus. 
    If people – internal and external stakeholders – are deciding everything from what to produce, to what goes to the product, to what to manage, through their thumbs up, thumbs down, voting, rating tools, then is it not the case of democratization of business? If yes, we have to say that a social business is a business that uses social media as a democratizing tool and makes all its business process open for democratization. What do you think?

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  16. MZazeela July 9, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Pam – “it starts on the inside”.
    How true. Good businesses have always been social. Way before the Internet and social media, you still had a brand and a reputation. The only real difference was in how you spread your message and how others spread it for you.
    Businesses have always been about people. People who make our companies run and customers (people) who create the need (market) for our products and services.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  25. PamMktgNut July 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    I still stick to the definition written here. We teach more on this topic in our trainings and consulting w/clients. Best advice I can give is to read my blog, download my tools posted etc. It’s not something you are going to learn overnight.

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  28. Eddie Prentice September 7, 2015 at 4:32 am

    Thanks for this Pam. As with most things in business, there is very rarely anything that is truly “new”, just new ways of doing the same things. The need to break down silos didn’t emerge with the arrival of social media technologies and won’t be solved by their introduction. These tools are mere facilitators. It’s all about the people and culture within your organisation. It’s about developing an open and honest working environment. The only issue I have with your definition is about “connecting the internal with the external”. In my experience some of the biggest hurdles to becoming a social business are about connecting the internal with the internal!

    • Ellen Feaheny January 2, 2016 at 2:04 am

      Hi Eddie – I think you have some fair points – and you are right, that you need to solve the people issue at the culture level (which is not a sudden mandate – more an evolved progression or style) – but if you do not have latest tools (YES, as facilitators – and preferably integrated) to support that, it just plain doesn’t matter. Collaboration will be broke regardless. So these beliefs have to come from the top of an org – or be a self-perpetuating culture where all buy into the Social Business koolaid. Indeed, it needs to be nurtured to work well and get the efficiency and collaborative benefits, and the better the tools to facilitate, the easier that job is.

      I wrote in response to your similar comment at Andrew Grill’s post –

      • Eddie Prentice January 6, 2016 at 12:22 pm

        Yes Ellen, in principle, better tools should mean better outcomes. But handing a five year old the keys to a Ferrari doesn’t help if the child can’t drive. My point is that vendors tend to sell tools and features which isn’t very helpful to the client, who has dozens of apparently similar software options to choose from. The first step is for the client to understand what problem he/she is trying to solve and to keep that front of mind post implementation. There’s always going to be a better tool. However, the best tool will never substitute for poor management. On the other hand, good management can achieve great results with apparently suboptimal tools.

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