Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The journey towards a truly social business starts from within

Jay Deragon wrote a great post yesterday that made me wake up early this morning to write this post. I believe Jay has a very important point that it is easy to forget about, ignore, or even be unaware about:
“While focusing on measures and ROI for use of social media seems rational the fact is that social media is nothing more than a new and powerful “communications channel“.  As stated, you may catch buyers by using social media but the buyers intent is not to become friends with your organization unless of course your organization is truly social.  Being social is the root cause of sales (revenue) online and off line. To ignore this means your likely to measure the wrong things just to justify use of social media. 
It is much harder to create an organization that is social than it is to use social media. Being social is an organizational intent. Using social media is the intent of marketers.  See the difference?
I agree entirely with Jay. Dedicating a bunch of people to post updates and respond to people's comments on Facebook and Twitter does not make a business social. Investing in Social Media Marketing, adding Likes and sharing buttons on corporate web sites and measuring the hard return of social media activities doesn’t either.

So, what does make a business social?

I believe that a social business engages the entire workforce to support and interact with each other, with customers, with partners, and with the public to build trust and create value together. It has virtually transformed everyone into customer service personnel and sales representatives, from the CEO to the previously anonymous worker. It empowers anyone in the workforce to do and say things that help to build trust in the business and its services and products by having honest and open dialogues.

In most cases where organizations have started to use social media to provide support and market and sell their products and/or services, if you scratch the surface you will just find the same old organization, culture, leadership and practices that existed before they created a friendly support team to chat with people on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and before they launched social press releases and cool viral social media campaigns integrated with their fan pages on Facebook. The business is not any more social than it was before; they are just adjusting to and taking advantage of the fact that there are now new and effective ways to reach out to (and even create) their markets, often with much greater precision and at a fraction of the cost compared to using other more traditional channels such as broadcast and direct marketing. Who could blame them? In fact, they would be stupid not to exploit this opportunity. But that is not the point.

The point is, as Jay writes, that “Being social and using social media are two totally different things” and that it is being social that will create value originating from improved collaboration, innovation, customer engagement, talent management, and so on. In this sense, real beauty - a truly social business - comes from within; a business that wants to become social needs to transform itself from the core to the crust, from the inside and out, by turning itself outside in (becoming not just customer-centric, but people-centric).

Such a transformation needs to start with empowering every individual in the workforce - not just self-motivated early adopters, or socially networked individuals, as Rawn Shah argues in this excellent post - with the same "social super powers" which many of them (but often far from the majority) have gotten used to possessing and using as individuals and consumers.  It needs to start with a transformation of the communication culture, using new communication technologies and practices to shift it towards more open and transparent communication where anyone can participate, connect and engage in two-way conversations that goes in any direction across the organization. What will evolve is a “socially networked enterprise”, as Rawn calls it.

Needless to say, a transformation to a truly social business needs to be fully and explicitly supported by formal as well as informal leaders. They must walk the talk themselves with the ambition to become role models that will influence others to change. The new styles of communicating need to be fully reflected in how they lead other people.

"The rest", such as socializing core business processes, will come naturally after the organization has opened itself to new ways of social learning, sharing and collaborating. It is sure to influence and transform every other part of the business, from strategy-making and management to the core business processes and supporting processes and functions, to become more social.


  1. Awesome post! Couldn't agree more. #justsaying

  2. I absolutely agree, however this will require a more holistic structure of an organization. I requires breaking down barriers and silos what will cause friction.

    Any suggestion on how to get started?

  3. Great post Oscar.

    I think that for many companies the fact that others are already using social media platforms to communicate and engage with customers create an appetite for exploring these new spaces.

    Besides, the difficult question is: where to start? Do companies decide "let's transform into a social business" and then when internal capabilities are built they explore "the outside promise of social media"? Or is it a two-track paralel development with internal transformation going hand in hand with external exploration?

  4. Thanks Ana and Pim!

    Ana, you ask some really good questions.

    I always argue that you need to start with intent. The intent needs to be formulated as a vision that everybody can understand (why and what). So yes, there must be an explicit and communicated decision to transform the business towards becoming more social. The next step is anchoring and committing to that vision, especially among formal and informal leaders, as well as outlining a strategy that tells you what you need to do to achieve the vision. In parallel, you can and should build awareness, knowledge and experience about what to by supporting and encouraging exploration and learning.

    I do think that a company has to work with change in multiple dimensions (technology, leadership, practices, processes, governance, incentive systems…) but do so a stepwise and smart way - politically, technologically and business-wise; avoiding big bang change programs and instead focusing on making one change at the time, integrating the change everywhere. The right changes will trigger other changes to happen. That is what I mean when I say "The rest will follow naturally". A lot of things will change as a consequence of changing the communication culture. The communication culture is in many ways influencing and regulating other attitudes, behaviors and practices.

    I also do think that you need to work with the internal and the external perspectives at the same thing. That's essentially what I mean with "from the inside and out, by turning it outside in". You can’t become customer-centric without building the entire business around the customer. A business and its business environment is inseparable, and everything that is decided and done internally affects what is decided and done externally, and vice versa. This is even truer in the kind of hyper-connected, ever-changing and transparent environment we are moving to, and in some ways already living in.

    That is also the main objection I have towards companies and organizations that use social media to pave cow paths and lipstick on a pig, who see social media as just another arena to do the things they have always done in the same way as before. Possibly they isolate a part of their business from the rest of the business allowing it to become more social, for example by creating a social media group within Customer Service and a social media group within Marketing & Sales – groups and individuals who are not really integrated with the rest of the business or organization, neither culture-wise or process-wise.

  5. I have one thing to add.

    I don't think this transformation is as radical as it might sound when you look at how work is being done today, and needs to be done. Work is getting more fluid; project driven, on-demand, community based, distributed, knowledge intense, virtual, complex, dependant on personal networks, technology dependent...all of which requires information to flow and collaboration to be possible and happen across all other structures. Our structures should support work, not hinder it. We are using analogies such as "silos" and "stovepipes" to describe the problems that occur when existing structures are restricting the work we need to do.

    Since work becomes increasingly dependent on technologyu, we should at least not let the technology reinforce structures that prevent work. There must be technology infrastructure that supports "fluid" work by decreasing or entirely avoiding the friction between these structures and work. We need to redesign our practices to support fluid work, using these technologies. We must learn how to use these practices, to think outside our functions and teams, and unlearn the behaviors that we have, in a way, been forced into by the structures which restrict work and which have been reinforced by technology.

    To ignite this transformation, the formal and informal decision makers within an organization need to agree on an organizational intent to "set work free". I am pretty sure that if you not just set your own mind to it, but the mind of every individual in your organization, the steps you need to take will seem natural and obvious.