Is Social Business Real?

Yesterday I (awkwardly) commented on an interesting post by Geoff Livingston, Social Business or Social Bullshit? On Friday he will pick the top 5 comments and send each person a copy of Jason Fall’s new book. Take a look if you want to give it a shot.

I’ve wondered this myself which is why I commented (not that I wouldn’t like the book). For me, the question is more about terminology.

Here is what IBM (where I am an internet marketing consultant) says the characteristics of a social business are:

  • A Social Business is engaged—deeply connecting people, including customers, employees, and partners, to be involved in productive, efficient ways.
  • A Social Business is transparent—removing boundaries to information, experts and assets, helping people align every action to drive business results.
  • A Social Business is nimble—speeding up business with information and insight to anticipate and address evolving opportunities.

Those are valuable characteristics for an organization. As I’ve thought about the term “social business”, I’ve asked myself whether I’m really struggling to understand it or if I’m simply playing a semantics game.

Social Business Is Real, But Is It New?

Using IBM’s definition, I don’t doubt that the traits of a social business are real in the sense that they can exist, and that they would provide value. An organization that wants to use social tools to connect with customers will be best positioned to do so if it adopts the characteristics attributed to a social business above.

But are these new characteristics?

  • Supply chain management solutions promise us the ability to sense and respond to market demands at low cost.
  • Customer relationship management solutions promise us a deep understanding of our customers and the ability to connect with them making use of all the data in a well organized manner.
  • Knowledge management solutions (one I haven’t heard in a while) provide all the relevant data to anyone in the company who needed it at the right time.

Social tools may be shedding a particular light on these challenges. We have more access to customer data than ever before because people are sharing more via social networks. The issues businesses are facing are being packaged up in a new way, and yes, I think the perspective is somewhat different because of social tools. But I don’t think the business challenges are entirely new.

Why Does It Matter?

So who cares? Whether it’s new or old, whether we call it social business or something else?

I suspect that part of why anything “social” is looked at with skepticism is because it isn’t entirely new. We are circling around with solutions we call “social business” but to some degree, we’ve been here before and business owners had the same problems then. That doesn’t make social business invalid, it just acknowledges that the promise is to solve challenges that businesses have been struggling with for years.

Another part of why “social” is met with a raised eyebrow is because of the period when anyone with a Twitter account called themselves a social media marketer. Businesses are spending hard-earned money on social media marketing and social business consulting/tools. We (I) owe it to them to have discussions and be clear on the terms.

Your thoughts?

[Image credit: Asif Akbar]

Disclosure: Though I mention this elsewhere on this site, it is worth repeating here since I discuss IBM. Though I am an IBM employee, this is a personal site written and edited by me. It, and my postings elsewhere on the internet do not necessarily reflect IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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