Why “Social Business”

Drew Neisser, at Fast Company, put out an article the other week entitled “Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business.” The subject was on IBM’s recent announcement that it was going to focus on what they’re calling “social business”, which to me really entails a recognition that businesses are faced with adapting themselves to the internal and external social realities that exist in today’s marketplace.  From this announcement, Drew draws several rather pedestrian, not-earthshattering  conclusions — some of which he’s taken to task for in the ensuing comments – that are, nevertheless, so basic to many of us operating in social media.  And yet, they are still so foreign to many (most?) businesses, that they are constantly violated.  Among these conclusions is the first one, which is really what IBM is staking its new business model on, and which, if they’re even partly successful, has profound implications for the way business is done from that day forward.

His first conclusion is this:  “Social media will be dwarfed by social business.”  From that statement, Drew follows with a quote from his source at IBM, Ethan McCarty, who is Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy:  “With social business you start to look at the way people are interacting in digital experiences and apply the insights derived to a wide variety of different business processes.”  This is a significant statement.  Just as IBM recognized the move away from low-margin hardware and rapidly converging software to services supporting both (and has been proved largely right in it, BTW), they’re saying that both internal and external business processes are poised to change  (perhaps I should say, “should have changed – by now”)  as radically due to social media.  On its surface this statement may not mean much, but peel back the layers of the onion and anyone who works in a company of any size will see how social media not only is changing how they design, deliver, market and service their product, but also how everyone on the inside works toward that end.  We’re not talking about digital communications tools such as chat, IM and collaboration, but rather, the need for enough autonomy and decentralization for an individual to do their ultimate job – serve the customer – without unnecessary hindrance of policy and operational process, without undue scrutiny and approval loops, and with a potential audience of millions.  In short, taking this idea to its logical (although not necessarily inevitable) conclusion implies instant tweaks to design, messaging or issue resolution.  It could even mean merely observing this process as a third-party “silent partner” and acting on its outcome – and also reporting on your actions once taken.

In short, it means bringing your best and most-committed customers inside your company, and putting them in charge.  After all, if the goal of any company is to meet customer needs, and the ultimate determinant of this is those customers’ purchasing choices, doesn’t it follow that the company that can best harness and respond to the process of defining solutions to those needs (while not getting in its own way) will win out in the marketplace?