We Need to Stop Marketing ‘Social Business’ If We Want to Start Selling It

by Mack Collier

social business, blueprint

You ever get the feeling you need to just drop a topic?  I am completely there when it comes to  ‘Social Business’.  Even to the point that I’m pretty sure I’ve started pissing off friends and people I respect in this space.

To set the record straight, I like what I think is the generally accepted definition of a ‘Social Business’.  Most all definitions seem to be build around the need for an increased flow of information.  External information from the customer being utilized and distributed internally so smarter business decisions can be made, and more communication from the company back to the customer.  I am a HUGE believer in the benefits that businesses will gain as a result, and I’ve been blogging about these concepts here for a while now.

But the majority of the discussion around the concept of a ‘Social Business’ has frustrated me for a while now, and I couldn’t quite place my finger on why exactly.  Then it hit me: This doesn’t feel like a discussion, it feels like marketing.  Almost every time I read a post/article about Social Business, I feel like I am reading a brochure at a car dealership.

A far more interesting discussion in my mind is to talk about exactly how a business would transition to becoming a ‘social business’.  Let’s talk about the specifics:

What happens internally?  Do we need to hire new people for newly-created positions?  If so, which ones, and what would their roles be?  How will we better connect with our customers?  Do we need to create a new infrastructure to better facilitate the flow of information internally about our customers?  And what information do we need to distribute and which departments need to get what?  Then how do we create a way to get information back to our customers?  Do we create an internal and external committee to facilitate that information flow in both directions?  How many people do we need to staff for that?

Those are the type of discussions I want to see, because I think we need more blueprints and fewer brochures if we want to speed business adoption of this process.  And granted, there’s obviously no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but we should at least have plenty of scenarios in place where we can determine more definite numbers based on a given business reality.

I think at this point the discussion is still a bit vague around Social Business because we are ‘selling’ a concept that’s not often seen ‘in the wild’.  But I think if we want to speed adoption of the concept, we need to move the discussion away from wordy definitions and more toward actual business realities.  Even if it means we need to at some point add ‘I think’ to our explanations cause we don’t have real-world examples of what our ideas being executed would look like.

And to be fair, we are seeing bits and pieces of what the larger picture could look like.  A community ideation site here, an internal socnet for employees there, a brand ambassador program in the corner, but we really don’t seem to have a view of what the whole picture could look like for an organization.

We need that.  Or at the very least we need a discussion around what it looks like.  And if we aren’t sure what it looks like, then we definitely need to have that discussion.

One of the things I loved about the blogosphere when I first joined it in 2005 was that many of us adopted a habit of asking ‘what if?’ when it came to our discussions about how companies could utilize and benefit from social media.  We threw stuff against the wall, some of it stuck, some of it didn’t.  But we all learned in the process.  We helped each other flesh out the concepts of how businesses could utilize social media, and even some of the concepts that have now been rolled into the idea of what a ‘Social Business’ is.

But I think we skipped the ‘what if?’ stage with Social Business.  It’s like we adopted our own definitions for what the concept is, then immediately started trying to sell it to companies.  Literally.

If we want to speed up understanding and adoption of the concept of a Social Business, I think we need to back up a bit and stop selling the concept, and start debating it more.  We need to stop saying ‘here’s what it is’, and instead say ‘here’s what I *think* it could look like’.

And to clear the air:  I keep railing about this topic because I believe in the concept of a ‘Social Business’.  Granted, I’m not crazy about the label, but I like the thinking.  If I didn’t, if I thought this was all bullshit soaked in snake oil, I wouldn’t waste my time.

I think we need to elevate the conversation and dialogue around the concept.  And I think in this case, we can start by offering fewer definitions for what a Social Business is, and instead more discussion of how we recognize one when we see one.  Fewer buzzwords, and more questions.

Understanding speeds adoption, and understanding comes from asking questions you don’t know the answers to.  I don’t know what the exact framework for a Social Business is.  I know what the definitions say it is at 30,000 feet, but I want to know what it looks like on the ground, in practice.  So do the companies that are being sold the concept.

What do you think a Social Business would look like?  If your company was going to start today on the road to becoming a Social Business, what changes would need to happen?


UPDATE: As long-time readers know, I am pretty obsessive about my blog’s stats.  ‘Social Business’ isn’t a topic I write about often, in fact this is only the 2nd post I’ve ever written about it, the 1st coming a month ago.  In the last month, search engines have sent 6,617 visitors to this blog, and 3 of them have looking for information on ‘Social Business’.

Pic via Flickr User Will Scullin

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