The End of Social Business As We Know It

My original German language posting on the End of Social Business has now been published on SocialMediaToday.

At the beginning of the new year, it’s always en vogue to take a look into the crystal ball. It seems everyone’s weighing in right now, and not just online. So I’ve decided it’s time for me to peer into my crystal ball too. I foresee the end of social business. And, you know what? That’s just fine.

Why? Social business is and remains an artificial term that has confused and upset many people, partly because it conflicts with the term “social business” as defined by Muhammad Yunus. “Our” social business involves taking behavior and technologies that we know from the social web and using them in the business environment. It’s not just about communicating with your own ecosystem via social channels like Twitter or Facebook; there’s more to it than that.

It’s about using those behaviors (such as information sharing) and technologies (such as blogs or communities) in the business context within the company, behind the firewall, when working with business partners in secure, protected environments (such as those for joint project management), in dialogue with customers (for example, in online communities of application users), or for acquiring new customers (for example, by getting potential customers curious via social media). The list of potential uses goes on and on, from customer service, to getting customer input for product innovations, to building up communities for specific areas… What all of these have common is that they benefit the business. That’s why it’s called social business.

And here I am, saying all that is about to die? Well, in principle, yes, because every company, every CEO and every department has to deal with all of these topics now.

  • HR asks: How do I use social media to find the best employees? How do I foster my employees’ development and provide them with advanced training? …
  • Customer service asks: How do I ensure that my customer service representatives find solutions more quickly and easily? How can I optimize my field staff? …
  • Sales asks: How can I build up my network to score big with customers? Where do my customers spend time and how do I reach them? …
  • Marketing asks: How do I get those famed influencers to see my company and solutions in a positive light? How do I speak to customers as individuals and thus encourage them to buy from me?
  • Research and development asks: How do I ensure that my new products meet customer needs? What other functionalities do my customers want my solutions to provide?

The list could go on. And social business can help answer all of these questions, in terms of both technology and approach. It moves the business challenge to the center – “social” is just another word for “enabler,” a way to do business and handle business processes, usually in combination with other technologies and innovative methods.

That is exactly the point I’m making. Social business has caught on as a tool, method, and approach, at least among forward-thinking business leaders (and some consultants). This has undoubtedly been helped along by the debate around the so-called “digital transformation,” which you can read about in all management publications and online media these days. Many people can’t stand to hear the term anymore (and for sure, there’s a lot of digital hot air out there), but it’s still an important thing to talk about, especially for companies, but also for the subject of social business itself, because “social” is a subset of, or better yet a building block for, digital transformation practice.

No matter what you think of the digital transformation and social business, the important thing is that the impending business changes and challenges that the Internet of Things (IoT), greater mobility, more globalized value chains, and new business models present for companies are at the center. Social technologies and work methods, mobile end-user devices and apps that use the cloud to access knowledge and analytics functions, protected by reliable security mechanisms, are being used in concert to transform business processes and entire companies.

Social business is dead, long live the use of social technologies and work methods in the unstoppable digital transformation.

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