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

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 22, 2012 at 9:35 am

When Amber Naslund and I were starting up our new business we sat down and started fleshing out where the gaps were in this nascent space called Social Business. We figured it would take us a couple of weeks to fully capture the essence of it. We immediately knew that we were seeing disparate definitions flying around, a lot of confusion, and some real difficulty in getting clear answers. Fast forward 4 *months*, and we finally released our treatise on Social Business. What we arrived at were some of the same things you’re mentioning here. It’s not enough to understand ‘what’ social business is, you have to understand why you’d want to be one, what being one would look like, and what it takes to *become* one, and how it’s different than social media. And I’ll be perfectly honest, it was much much harder than we expected it to be. We knew we didn’t want it to be filled with jargon, that it shouldn’t be as academic and unrealistic as what we were seeing in the marketplace, and it needed an actionable path forward (speaking of jargon, Amber would kill me if she saw me say ‘actionable’).

The biggest things clouding the waters at the moment are twofold: 1) the product vendors. There’s this surge of vendors scrambling to reposition their products as ‘social business’ tools, and in many cases they are really stretching it, and in almost all cases they are completely ignoring the ‘soft’ aspects that are so critical (culture, change mgmt, etc.). 2) people in the social media space who don’t understand the difference between that and social business and believing that social business is just the new hot term for social media…thus rebranding themselves as such which just leads to even more confusion in the marketplace.

I won’t link to it here as I’d rather make a point than be seen as pushing our document on explaining social business. But I think you have a copy of it Mack? If you get a chance I’d love to get your feedback on it and see where you think it’s lacking.


Matt Ridings – @techguerilla
Co-Founder & CEO – SideraWorks

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

For everyone, here’s the copy of Matt and Amber’s new PDF on Social Business – http://www.sideraworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/WhatIsSocialBusiness_SideraWorks.pdf

This is one of the things I wasn’t getting across last night on Twitter, but I don’t think that document is lacking and is very good at explaining what a Social Business is, and why companies should be interested in the concept.

I think it’s the concept itself that we need more clarity around. What’s a real-world example of how Company A could start today to become a Social Business? What would need to happen? Would they need to create and staff an Data and Insights Team that would be in charge of collecting relevant customer data and distributing it to the appropriate areas of the business so that existing processes can be made more efficient? Would there need to be a Customer Advisory Panel put in place to oversee activation and interaction with the company’s brand advocates? Could this panel also facilitate the collection of feedback from the advocates and get that to the Data and Insights Team, or is that their responsibility?

I think we need to see less of the brochure on why Social Business is so awesome, and more discussion about what an actual blueprint would look like for implementing and executing this concept for a real company.

And yes, I totally get that there are a million variables at play here (type of business, industry, size, etc etc etc), but I think we can do a better job of creating a more specific picture of what it means to be a Social Business.

I think if we can start to have that discussion, the adoption will follow. Right now we are showing the brochure, but I don’t think we are giving the fine details that would close the sale.

And I believe in the concept enough to think it’s worth the effort to get there.

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 22, 2012 at 10:26 am

As for ‘having the discussion’, that’s something many of us do every day even amongst our perceived competitors. Myself, Michael Brito & David Armano of Edelman, Dave Gray of Dachis, and many many others (at least those that are willing to share). Where I get hesitant is drawing what could be perceived as roadmaps. I can do a lot of damage to an organization by making them think that if they do steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 they can become a social business. We use several actual case studies with our clients to demonstrate how our framework flexes with the different scenarios at various companies, but we won’t even pull them out unless we’re sitting in front of the client. I have to be very sure that they grasp that all we are doing is demonstrating ways which the framework applies, but not how *they* need to go about it. We genericized as much as we felt comfortable with when we built the document you link to above, but when you’re talking about an effort that requires a ton of soft skills (the people side) you have to be extremely careful not to imply that technology and process alone can make this transformation happen. Can we use more case examples in the public? Sure, I’m good with that, but I sure hope they are caveated properly.


Matt Ridings – @techguerilla

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

Matt totally get what you are saying about not wanting to give companies the idea that there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the problem. But at the same time, I think if we are too vague, the only companies that will buy in are the ones that didn’t need to be sold on the concept to begin with.

Honestly, I think some of the vagueness is coming because we really aren’t sure how ALL the pieces fit together. Personally, I don’t see that as a bad thing, because I know how smart you and Amber and David and Peter Kim and others are. I think this is another reason why we need to have more discussion about fleshing out the pieces, because in the process, I think the entire concept will be strengthened and the value to companies in adopting it will be increased.

As I told David on Twitter, our conversations around why companies should use Social Media were pretty vague in 2005 as well. Once it tightened up, companies began to see the value, and adoption rose. And no, Social Media and Social Business definitely aren’t the same thing, but I think lack of clarity hampers rate of adoption.

Thanks for chiming in here, I appreciate it!

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

Let me put it this way Mack. If someone came in saying “I need a way to tell what time it is”, what would you write down in a blog post that gives the detail of what that finished solution looked like?

Would it be a stick in the ground? a more accurate sundial? a wrist watch? a grandfather clock? an atomic clock? a laptop computer? a TV set-top box? ….

If I was a customer, and knew that I needed to tell time, but didn’t really know the ins and outs of the options and costs, your post would miss the mark about what *I* really needed 90% of the time. I believe it was Einstein who said “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. I’m inclined to agree. I don’t really care that packaging things up in nice, neat, simple to understand blurbs makes them easier to sell or easy to communicate. If it gets so simple that it doesn’t adequately convey the complexities involved then it has failed in my opinion. I don’t sell sundials, I sell solutions. If I wanted to only sell sundials, then *that* I could package. It’s just not my bag.

Mack Collier March 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

Sorry Matt, I meant to come back to this comment and got sidetracked. As you say, you’re selling a solution, not a product. So we’d need to say that you would be going to someone trying to convince them that they need a way to tell time. How would you do that? Would you simply offer them a definition of what it means to be able to tell time? Or would you communicate the advantages of being able to tell time in real-world examples that they would understand?

Companies are already HIGHLY skeptical of anything with a ‘social’ modifier attached to it. If the solution we offer is ‘fuzzy’, it only adds to the skepticism, and IMO it somewhat justifies it.

I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that the only thing anyone can offer for public consumption is a carefully-crafted definition of the concept. There has to be more, I really don’t want to wade through ‘What’s the ROI of a Social Business?’ posts for the next 2 years.

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 24, 2012 at 11:54 am

At this point I honestly am confused about what you want Mack. I’ve already told you that we use real-world case examples with our clients and prospects. Is your issue that I’m not sharing them with you? Because if so I don’t understand why that would be very high on my priority list right now.

We have an approach, our prospects rightfully want to know what that looks like, we give them specific examples that we think will be relevant to them and provide context around it. If they then want very specific advice and relevant examples based on an in-depth review of their specific challenges and opportunities we engage with them to develop that assessment of their current state so we can do so.

Will we allow more of that to percolate into the public sphere over time? Probably, if there are ways of doing so that provide clarity vs. ambiguity and we think it a worthwhile investment of time for us to do so.

We’re starting where the main confusion is based on what we’re seeing in the marketplace. At the moment that’s predominantly around truly understanding what this nuanced topic consists of. So that’s what we produced. If they can’t get their arms around that first then the rest is meaningless and without context. You’ve consistently used the term ‘we’ but I’m unclear of the role you’re playing in social business. You keep saying what we need to do to sell business is x, yet that *is* what we’re doing. You keep saying we need real world case examples, yet they are out there. If there is something very specific you think would be useful in this marketplace then wouldn’t building it be a very useful for thing for you to do so as to add value to this space? This just seems like a merry-go-round of a conversation that has no end and I’m losing any sense of its purpose. As the SharkTank folks would say…I’m out.

Mack Collier March 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Matt it does seem we are going in circles now, and I apologize.

EDIT: I deleted the rest of this comment cause it made me sound like a catty jackass instead of the stubborn mule I can be 😉

Ric Dragon March 22, 2012 at 9:41 am

Hi Mack;
I’m still not totally getting what it is that is frustrating you so much.
You say that the discussion around the concept of social business feels more like marketing, as opposed to discussion. It is true, that many executives do still need to be sold on the concept. After all, any real change effort begins with getting the sense of urgency that can only be obtained by getting executive enthusiasm and demand.
I have seen a lot of blueprints being presented. As I mentioned last night, I think David Armano’s presentation at BlogWorld LA presented some actionable steps. Brian Solis’s “The End of Business as Usual” provides, for instance, a framework for driving cultural adoption. Michael Brito’s “Smart Business, Social Business” also has some very specific action items. The Community Managers’ Roundtable’s maturity model, and the posts around that model, likewise, provide tactical advice.
So, I do think it’s in the air, and it is happening. I’d like to think that 2012 is the year where we’re getting “real” about a lot of this. At the same time, I think there is a place for continued evangelism (marketing?).
I can say that in writing my book which provides a process framework, I found that I could append any statement with “depending on your business” (sorry, Sam Fiorella). Amber Naslund said last night in our Twitter discussion, “When have there ever been identical business needs? The complexity IS the need.” She has a point, leading me to think that how we proscribe specific actions for organizations will continue to be mildly fuzzy.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

I think you hit on my main frustration with your point that several different people have brought up elements of what a Social Business could be.

Is Dell a Social Business because they have IdeaStorm to cultivate ideas from customers and EmployeeStorm to collect them internally? Or is there something else? If so, what’s that ‘something else’?

My big thing is always trying to put whatever I am selling in terms and concepts that the potential buyer will see the value in. I think with Social Business, the definitions are great for companies that are already INTERESTED in making the changes to become one.

For the skeptical businesses, I think they want more. And right now I think there are a LOT more skeptical businesses than there are ones that ‘get it’.

Thierry de Baillon March 22, 2012 at 10:16 am

Great post, Mark.
Interestingly enough, your voice isn’t the only one raising this kind of concern on these days. It looks like the pink coating is now flaking, and that organizations are beginning to see that throwing in technology and community managers is far from enough. Real changes are needed.
That is also the reason why I launched the Future of Collaborative Enterprise a few months ago: to try to understand which changes are needed, and which implications these change will have on the way businesses are run.


Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 10:22 am

When we first started talking about why companies should use social media several years ago, we talked about the value from ‘joining the conversation’ and ‘having a seat at the table’.

Guess what? That didn’t lead to widespread corporate adoption of social media. When we started talking specifics, expected outcomes, measuring results, necessary changes, then businesses started to pay attention.

Just showing the brochure didn’t work then, I don’t think it will work now.

Angela Dunn March 22, 2012 at 10:34 am

The first change many businesses need to make is to become social regardless of social media. For some, this is a big culture change.

The most social businesses have a culture of being social and customer-centric. Even “one” customer is important, not the quantity of “likes”, “fans” or “followers.”

Brand equity carries over into social capital.

Steve Woodruff March 22, 2012 at 10:37 am

Mack, like you, I applaud the evolution towards “social business” (while not entirely being sold on the term). And it’s going to gradually take shape over time – and, by its very nature, it will shape-shift.

We can put all the strategies and tactics on the table we want, but I think any company that is going to succeed has to have embraced three core PERSPECTIVES that undergird everything:

1. The gold is distributed – value is everywhere among employees, customers, and other stakeholders;
2. The marketplace/workplace is now in a perpetually dynamic cycle of change;
3. “Social” technology can/does/will facilitate gold-gathering and change-agency.

If these perspectives become part of the worldview DNA of business leaders, social business will work as it should. Otherwise, there is the risk of it being just another fad. Our challenge is to not only define and market social business, it’s to advocate the core perspectives that make it make sense. That’s the not-so-hidden foundation.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 10:56 am

Thanks Steve. I like your core principles, but I still think we need more clarity around the ideas if we are going to convince the companies that think this is all BS.

For example, I think there’s still huge untapped potential in using data collected from social media content customers are creating to not only better understand them, but to drive business insights that can improve the bottom line. When I was in Austin at Bazaarvoice HQ a few weeks ago, Erin Nelson gave a very simple example of how Lands End noticed from customer feedback on a particular sweater that customers said they would buy if it was offered in another color. LE added that color, and sales of the sweater immediately jumped I think 27%.

I think for a skeptical company, offering very simple real-world examples like this helps get buy-in moreso than just offering a solid definition of the concept.

Right now it seems we have solid definitions, and the company hears and goes ‘Hmmmm……ok I’m listening.’, but we can’t go much further into detail. And we need to in order to close the sale.

Michael Brito March 22, 2012 at 11:18 am


Great discussion. You certainly haven’t pissed me off at all and I am not sure if you are referring to any of my content as a “car dealership brochure”. If so, I would love for you to point it out.

The truth is Mack and this comes from very personal experience, there is chaos behind the firewall. The majority of my career, I have worked in the enterprise and I have lived through it. And many times, consultants/agencies are bought in because of their different perspectives. Unfortunately, there is a credibility gap between employees. Even the companies like Dell & IBM who many claim to be social businesses still struggle/adapt/learn/fail — we just don’t see it. We only see the external.

It really doesn’t matter what we call it and we can argue all day long. In fact, couldn’t you substitute “social business” with “social media” in your blog post? One could argue the same exact thing when it comes to that topic.

Social Business .. as defined by Dachis, Ants Eye View, Edelman, SideraWorks and everyone else isn’t a hard concept to understand. It’s simple, yet complex at the same time. It’s simple because many of the same challenges exist within companies. It’s complex because there is no “one way” to solve these problems. Business is complex. Leadership lacks. Collaboration is non-existent. And technology is a mess.

For context:


And Mack, don’t you market yourself through your blog posts/tweets as a social media leader/expert/consultant?

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 11:40 am

Hey Michael, I was hoping you would chime in here.

To be honest, I think almost all of the discussion around Social Business needs to move to a more granular level in order to make it more relevant to companies. And there’s nothing wrong with brochures, we need them to raise awareness and interest.

But I think we need something more than we have now in order to really close the sale. I think we need to have a discussion around what the concept of a Social Business would look like at a real-world company. Not bits and pieces, but an entire framework.

And if we have that discussion, at some (many?) points, I think we’ll have to say ‘I don’t know what comes next’. To me, THAT’S what we want. Because when we start asking these questions, then we’ll find the answers, and the entire concept will be strengthened as a result.

There are honestly 2 reasons why I keep harping on more detail around this concept:

1 – I think it’s valid. I think the concept of a Social Business has enormous potential for companies.

2 – I think the people pushing this concept the hardest, people like you, David, Amber, Matt, Peter and others are REALLY smart.

If I really thought this was a bullshit idea being pushed by hucksters, I’d never write a word about it.

I’m not trying to call anyone out, or say anyone is wrong, or full of it. I’m saying what I’ve seen so far is good, but I think we can do better. if I didn’t, I’d shut up and write another post about 5 Ways to Get More Email Subscribers.

Amber Naslund March 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

Here’s the thing. I don’t think any one of us involved in this space would argue that blueprints and frameworks and specifics of models and execution are a valuable thing. But my issue with this discussion has a couple of angles.

I agree with Matt that it’s a fine line to write too much of the ins and outs down on paper and say “this is the way it should be done”. That’s violating exactly what you were frustrated with yesterday, claiming that there is AN answer versus acknowledging the complexity of businesses. For example, to respond to a few the questions you posed:
Do we need to hire new people for newly-created positions?” Probably. “If so, which ones, and what would their roles be?” Depends on the company, what staff they have existing and their skills, and the specific gaps they need to fill. “How will we better connect with our customers?” That question is far too broad to be answered with any one answer, but each company needs to solve it for themselves. “Do we need to create a new infrastructure to better facilitate the flow of information internally about our customers?” New, not likely because that’s expensive and unrealistic, though still possible. Most likely, existing infrastructure needs to adapt. “And what information do we need to distribute and which departments need to get what?” That depends.

My point here is that what you’re asking for are details of specific company processes that people may or may not be willing to share, and many companies haven’t even reached the point where they CAN share them because they’re still working them out. Does that invalidate the entire concept of social business because someone can’t draw a picture of what it looks like? A social business is often the *result* or the outcome of a lot of different elements and strategies that converges on a key set of more social *values*. There isn’t a blueprint for that any more than there is a blueprint for how you should build a successful customer service organization and it’s related human resources, processes, and even operations manuals. Best practices? Maybe. Starting places and some core standards? Sure. Answers to every possible question? No. But that doesn’t make the idea of customer service any less legitimate.

My other problem is that this discussion keeps circling around the perceived problem: that social business lacks precedent, that there aren’t examples, that there aren’t models or details or enough discussions happening. If that’s true and we can all admit that a) social business has value and b) it needs to continue to build on that, can we stop pointing at the problem and instead work on our own parts of solving it? I don’t understand who the “this is the problem” conversation is still helping.

Oh, and pissed off? Not in the slightest, but I do think that there’s a bit of a circular conversation happening that I’d like very much to break.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

“My point here is that what you’re asking for are details of specific company processes that people may or may not be willing to share, and many companies haven’t even reached the point where they CAN share them because they’re still working them out. Does that invalidate the entire concept of social business because someone can’t draw a picture of what it looks like? A social business is often the *result* or the outcome of a lot of different elements and strategies that converges on a key set of more social *values*. There isn’t a blueprint for that any more than there is a blueprint for how you should build a successful customer service organization and it’s related human resources, processes, and even operations manuals. Best practices? Maybe. Starting places and some core standards? Sure. Answers to every possible question? No. But that doesn’t make the idea of customer service any less legitimate.”

Bingo to everything you just said. I’m not asking these questions to attempt to invalidate the topic (I think agencies that started last week that focus on ‘Providing the best in Pinterest Marketing’ are ridiculous, but I’m not gonna waste a blog post on em), I’m asking them because I think the resulting discussion will strengthen the case for adoption.

And I don’t see a lack of solid case studies as a sign that the concept is invalid, I actually see it as completely rational given where we are. We didn’t have a lot of examples of well-developed social media strategies at the Fortune 500 level in 2005, but that didn’t mean the idea of big companies using social media to better connect with their customers was invalid.

I’m clearly doing a horrible job of explaining myself because I’m not trying to shoot down this idea, or anyone’s thinking behind it. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of a skeptical CEO that’s reading what’s out there about Social Business, what it is, and why it’s important.

Is what we have now good enough to convince the company that ‘gets it’? Probably so, but then again, do they really need to be sold?

As for the skeptical company, what gives them pause? What’s their objections?

That’s what I am trying to focus on, because widespread adoption of this concept (which for the 50th time, I think DOES have merit) is dependent on convincing the skeptics, not those that have already bought in.

Amber Naslund March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I know you think it has merit. And we seem to agree on a lot of the elements here, most especially that a lack of case studies doesn’t invalidate a concept. Hell, if that were the case, we’d never innovate a thing. Every best practice today started as somebody’s hypothesis once.

My simple reply is that YES, by all means, let’s have tougher discussions. Ask hard questions. (Oh and yes, even the company that “gets it” needs to be sold when it comes to just how they go about realizing the investment they’re committed to making, even if they don’t have to be convinced that there’s inherent value somewhere). But then let’s HAVE the discussions, not the discussions about having the discussions. If that makes any sense. I feel like the “we need more rigor” argument isn’t really being refuted by anyone working hard at this, so I’d very much like to move beyond pointing out the need, wasting oxygen on the dingbats who are building Pinterest agencies, and move into the actual meat of the discussions you’re talking about here.

Heather Whaling March 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Pinterest marketing agencies?! Heaven help us …

To the point of this discussion, I think one of the frustrations – at least for me – is when people get in over their head, offering advice about business functions outside their qualifications. People like Amber, Michael Brito and others mentioned in this conversation have been on the inside, been part of building companies and integrating social throughout an organization. They get it. And, can do it. The “movement” starts to take on that snake-oil-salesman-feel when the guy who got you on Facebook is now trying to sell “social business” consulting. There’s SO much more involved in the deep cultural change truly required to become a social business. It’s disingenuous — and slimy — to think that social media consultants can pivot into this new social business consultant role. There’s certainly value in the process. But, from where I sit, it requires a skill set and level of experience that many — most? — social media consultants don’t bring to the table.

Mike Fraietta March 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

I really appreciated the pdf done by Matt and Amber as it resonated with what we’re striving to achieve on the enterprise scale. The concept of “social business” is complex and their “simple” presentation draws a clearer picture than I can usually explain (Although I disagree with the difference between social media and social business, as they should integrate and flow within each other as our consumers become our product creators. A company that is doesn’t use social media is not maximizing resources and is thus, not truly a social business IMHO). For me, sharing that presentation is a way for me to say, “here’s what we’re shouting!”. A plug at the end? Why not? They put the effort in.

We recently had a 65-comment discussion on Google+ discussing the department issue that you touch on in your post above. https://plus.google.com/112873087736902421915/posts/38v8gWoCRv7

I agree that there should be more public case studies. It’s only inevitable as the companies that practice internally will have cases that overflow into the public sphere.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hey Mike thanks for chiming in. I think more case studies will come in time, and when they do, I think we need to position them not as what every company should do (which I think was Matt’s point), but more as a teaching moment. In actuality I think that’s how all case studies should be used, but often they become a crutch to simply copy and assume similar results will follow.

David Armano March 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

“circular conversations” has been the most significant contribution to this comment thread. I won’t be as nice and polite as everyone else here—I have lost patience for conversations about things like this which go nowhere except ending up using much of the thinking it typically starts poking holes through.

Not that there isn’t a valid point to be made on questioning terms, methodologies or even case studies. It’s my opinion (and I feel a similar way about social ROI discussions) that the people doing the most are putting skin in the game while the others simply react to it.

Personal observation while trying to be objective. And probably won’t follow up with additional comments because there’s a lot to be done.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 12:39 pm

“Not that there isn’t a valid point to be made on questioning terms, methodologies or even case studies. It’s my opinion (and I feel a similar way about social ROI discussions) that the people doing the most are putting skin in the game while the others simply react to it.”

David I told you this privately, I’ll repeat it here publicly: I’m not trying to make this about you or any individual. Again, I actually agree with you, and believe in Social Business just as you do. I wanted to talk about a topic I am passionate about, not hold a witch-hunt.

And speaking of circular conversations, we’re back to the ‘your opinion in this conversation isn’t valid if your resume isn’t X inches long’ argument? Wow.

David Armano March 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Feeling strongly about something does not equal taking it personally. Faulty assumption there in my opinion. Not even sure where the resume part comes into play unless someone mentioned that somewhere in another comment.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Good, I hope you’re not. If you in any way thought I was trying to slight or call into question your work, teachings or writings on Social Business, I truly do apologize. Other than Ann Handley and CK, I’ve known you longer than anyone else in this space, and have always had the utmost respect for you, David.

Sorry again for any misunderstandings, you can beat me up at the next conference 😉

David Armano March 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Let’s just beat up the non social business “Matt Ridings” who we accidentally yanked into Tweet chat last night and call it a day. He probably has a less complicated job like being a doctor or something.

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I like this idea very much. He can be like my stunt-double whenever I screw up.

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm

About 2 years ago, I found out by accident there really is a @MarkCollier on Twitter. Really good guy, he’s a pastor in Oklahoma. About once a week he tweets to someone ‘Thanks for the compliment about #blogchat, but I think you meant it for @MackCollier’ 😉

Jay Baer March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I wonder if the pioneers of Six Sigma had these conversations?

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm

To answer your question Jay, yes….yes they did :)

As did Rational & Agile, Lewins, Kotter, Force-field, Gap. Bleah. Necessary evil I guess.

Ric Dragon March 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Could you imagine if Juran, Deming, the Toyodas, and Ohno had the internet and social media? Interestingly, a key component to their thinking was customer value and customer perspective. (More in Lean than in 6Sig) – and a lot of the beliefs that have emerged in our field are relevant (transparency, authenticity, real conversation).

Kathy Sierra March 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Mack, I haven’t spent much time reading about Social Business, but what I have read doesn’t make much sense to me. Like you, I don’t think that it any way implies there isn’t something deeply important about it… only that it’s being communicated in a way that “feels” too fuzzy.

Yes, we could say that’s because it is too complex and subtle, and I can accept that… but I still feel something about the positioning of Social Business needs to shift, and quickly. Because while selling snake oil is bad enough, inadvertently making something extremely valuable *smell* like snake oil could be a serious problem.

And I keep reading and re-reading and really trying to “get it” and I keep feeling like people are being evasive about what it really IS. And if it’s that tough to talk about it in ways that feel graspable, that’s usually a sign that the use-cases are not clearly defined, etc. Or perhaps it is at a 60k foot level and needs to drop to 30k, SOMETHING.

This is especially confusing to me because many of the folks behind the movement are experts in communication. Personally, I think they can do a better job at bringing this more down-to-earth. A lack of real-world examples and case-studies and specifics is always a problem for something new, BUT, there’s no reason they can’t just make up examples (painted as made-up examples, of course).

Right now, Social Business is way, way, way too abstract, and it doesn’t have to be. Complexity is not an excuse.

And Jay, I would not put Six Sigma in the same category. First, Six Sigma had precise definitions and an explicit, repeatable process (though I have no idea what it was like at the beginning). But more importantly, when six sigma began to make its way from manufacturing to service businesses, people SHOULD have been having “these conversations”. In my opinion, six sigma was one of the WORST things that could happen in a service-heavy business. The idea that Defects Per Million Opportunities was a useful way to think of , say, customer service complaints was, well, never mind. Off topic. But yes, I think “these conversations” are probably very annoying to those out doing it and also very, very important to be having.

I DO know that these same frustrations arose around the whole idea of Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0, something else that some of us felt had been well-defined (enough to be useful, anyway) while others thought it was absolute nonsense.

So, I have learned that just because we don’t understand or “get” it doesn’t mean it isn’t real and powerful. But that is all the more reason for the early proponents to up their game in talking about it. One of the reasons it feels too much like marketing (I agree with you on this Mack) is because these folks happen to also be really good at that.

Maybe that’s part of the problem… If you are claiming that something is too new and too complex to define it in more precise ways with more concrete examples, then the materials and graphics used to help promote the idea should have a look and feel that *matches* this level of not-fully-baked.

I am probably not making sense, but I haven’t been thinking about this other than to recognize that I share Mack’s frustrations about it (as well as his underlying sense that it IS something very important).

Mack Collier March 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Kathy that’s the comment I wish I had written. We are in complete agreement from beginning to end.

Tom March 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Well said, Mack. Social frustrates the hell out of me for precisely the reasons you’ve articulated.
My perspective: I’m an outsider and a skeptic. I’m not scared of social, or technology, or change in general, and I’m not a curmudgeon. But on the other hand, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid either. I have limited time and limited money and limited patience, and I have to decide how social fits in with all my other headaches.
So let’s cut through the buzzwords and the hyperbole and the self-accolades. Quit telling me how awesome this stuff is and show me something that’s both relevant and concrete. Then I’ll stop rolling my eyes and start paying attention.

Mike Schaffer March 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Fascinating discussion and tremendous comments all around!
I think the adoption of “social business” practices comes down to one thing and one thing only: can it help your business achieve it’s goals.
And it’s critical to consider that there is a spectrum – it’s not just “social” vs. “not social.” A company can expand or contract their social strategy and tactics just like they would any other marketing stream.
The degree to which a business goes digital should be based on their customer base — will their customers appreciate the evolution of the brand? Will they be able to expand their audience?
I’m a director of social media at an ad agency and I hold myself accountable to one goal – is a social program helping the company grow their business or create efficiencies?
If not, it’s social for social’s sake, and I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that to a client.

Debra Ellis March 22, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Hi Mack,

Perhaps the ongoing conversation is the problem. Instead of trying to define social business with a treatise or manifesto, test different strategies and create a process for others to follow. Jay Baer has an excellent point. The creators of new management and manufacturing processes didn’t spend their time debating how they would define their creation. They invested in analysis, testing, and measurement.

Many of the early adopters of social media squandered their opportunity to develop something worthwhile because they were too busy positioning themselves as the voice of authority without a foundation to support the claims. Instead of testing different strategies and creating a path for people to follow, they spent their time championing each other and criticizing everyone who didn’t do social the way they thought it should be done. Their activity created an environment where people were afraid to try new tactics because they might make a mistake.

Social business doesn’t need to be defined or sold. Management teams that understand the importance of customer relationships are already making their business social. They are the true leaders of the channel because they are redefining business with action instead of conversation.

Kellye Crane March 23, 2012 at 10:26 am

There’s an 800 lb gorilla on one side of this debate: the worldwide army of IBM Global Services. Having spent my career in high tech PR, I’ve learned that when IBM puts its marketing and sales muscle behind a term (ebusiness, anyone?), it sticks, and IBM is behind “social business” (disclosure: I’ve worked with IBM in the past on unrelated programs). They also know how to find a few (albeit limited) examples among their bazillions of customers to showcase (http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/global/files/us__en_us__socialbusiness__epw14008usen.pdf), and I’m sure we’ll see more of that from them.

So, whether we like the term or not (personally, I don’t), it’s my belief it’s here to stay. And the companies that sell the technologies that enable social business are in the drivers seat. That’s not to say there isn’t room for outside agencies and consultants to help shepherd companies in the right direction and help define strategies/policies, but much of the “how” in the conversation is tech based. Or at least, in the way social business will be defined moving forward.

Rachel Kay March 23, 2012 at 11:03 am

This is such an interesting discussion that has mesmerized me from the sidelines. Every person who has weighed in here has made fantastic points, and I don’t think there’s one answer or resolution.

Plain and simple, this concept of a social business, which I’m really trying to wrap my head around, feels relatively new and nebulous as many have pointed out. The first iteration at a definition, and consequently the creation of actual best practices, isn’t going to be the best. It’s tough to demand case studies of something that is still so conceptual in nature – there probably aren’t that many. I admire the people working to flush it all out, and I bet by this time next year we’ll have a lot more tangible experiences to reference. In fact, we should expect that. I’d wager that Matt and Amber’s treatise goes through a lot of revisions over the next year as they test and try and fail and succeed and learn.

Mack – I really appreciate your efforts at recognizing that there is a lot of work to be done to build out the concept of “social business,” and I agree with you, but I also reference your own statement that stated, “I think we need to elevate the conversation and dialogue around the concept.” I’d argue that’s what every person in this virtual room is doing through writing, research and action (except maybe me :)).

Rachel Kay

Des Walsh March 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Best – as in, most relevant to business – discussion about social business I’ve read so far. thanks Mack and everyone.

Several comments touched on the cultural change issue and I’m wondering who of the social media/social business proponents and facilitators/implementers have tapped into the knowledge and skills base of those professionals who have been working for years on organizational and cultural change – they sometimes include people who work in the HR area at a corporate level, whether in-house or as consultants.

I’ve endeavoured to have the conversation with a few people who work in that broad field of HR + organizational development + cultural change, but as they’ve seemed to be stuck in a “social media is just another marketing tool” or “which do you think we should use, Facebook or LinkedIn?” time warp, the best response I’ve got so far is “Interesting” (as in, they’re bored already) – maybe that conversation is not going to happen, or not in enough time to make a worthwhile difference?

Mack Collier March 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Des thanks for the kind words about everyone’s contributions. I agree, a fascinating conversation, and I have definitely learned a lot.

The cultural change issue is one that also perked my ears up when reading about this idea of a ‘Social Business’, as it’s not exactly an overnight fix, in fact, it could take decades given the ‘right’ circumstances. And yet, as many here have mentioned, with the hiring of younger workers that are more tech-savvy, it’s going to have a profound impact on the cultures of companies around the world.

I’ll be honest, this conversation has been heavy on my mind over the last day and I keep going back to Kathy’s comment: There’s a disconnect around this issue that’s clouding the validity of the concept, at least in my mind. We have wonderfully crafted definitions of what a ‘Social Business’ is that do IMO a great job of selling the validity of the concept, but it seems no one wants to actually SHOW us the concept in action.

That’s confusing and that’s why it seems like more marketing over substance to me. My guess is the substance IS there, but the proponents of the concept can’t tell us exactly what it looks like because they don’t know all the fine details. And to be fair, there’s no reason why they should.

Again, no one is trying to bury this concept (and it concerns me that I have to keep saying that), and no one is trying to say it’s not valid because we want more detail around the ideas being championed by some. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I love the concept in theory, but I need to see the reality.

If that reality doesn’t exist yet or we aren’t sure what it looks like, there’s no sin in saying that. Because then we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on fleshing out the answers together.

Mack Collier March 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Thanks again to everyone here for an amazing conversation. I do want to apologize to everyone because I broke a personal rule of mine. Which is ‘If Kathy Sierra ever leaves a comment agreeing with you, you shut the hell up because it can only go downhill if you say anything after that.’ 😉 I broke that rule with the comments here because I can sometimes be entirely too stubborn about ideas I am passionate about.

This thread has been a good reminder that I need to work on this character flaw, and a reminder that getting smart people involved in a conversation makes it a joy to be a part of. Thanks again to everyone that’s participated!

Sankar April 10, 2012 at 2:38 am

Dear Mack, we are talking about social business after the emergence of social media. This means that we are finding that there are many new changes in the way companies conduct business and we are trying to find, categorize what is or could be the real impact of social media on business. Let us see the technology versus impact with relation to machines, computer, internet, first. The impact of machines on business resulted in industrialization; the impact of computers on business resulted in automation, and the impact of Internet on business resulted in digitization (this we all called e-biz). Now, what is the key impact of social media on business? I think it is democratization. Call it d-biz, if you want. Social media is empowering customers, employees, and public, by enabling them to contribute value to the business processes – that concern with boardroom to shopfloor.

Now, in this background, we can say that businesses find it important to produce for many (instead of “produce more”). This means, a social business in the automotive sector is not here to produce many cars (that would have been the best business case in industrializtion), but it tries to apply its abilities to see whether it can produce something for its employees, local community, too. This is what Mark Parker of Nike says in his CEO letter 2010.

Now how does the empowerment truly happens when the purpose and actions of an organization are created to meet the personal, familial, business and social needs of internal and external stakeholders, (and not just that of board members, but also that of employees, customers, and all other sections of society.)

As for examples, there are some piecemeal approaches. The core values of organizations like IBM are collectively created by employees (values jam); business ideas, new diversifications, product ideas of companies like NEC Japan are co-created by employees; social projects of companies like Target and Bunge are now chosen by employees.

Just because we are all technology enthusiasts, we cannot call an engaged organization as social business or just because we all stand for social welfare, we cannot call a business that is heavily into philanthropy as social business. Let us go by how a company uses technology to empower people.

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