Social Business Means Redefining What Business Is

Brian Solis talks about the bigger social business opportunity that is ahead of businesses and social media professionals:

When you look behind the scenes, you actually see more duct tape and rubber bands than fluidity and polish. Business units are still siloed and even the chief executives have gone on record saying that the acts of engagement do more for the company’s PR than it does for the improvement of products and services. Just look at your favorite social media source and you’ll see an endless array of examples of how brands are succeeding in social media. Again, most of them are basking in the brilliance of individual victories, some are actually breaking through the internal barriers that prevent collaboration, and others are simply stunts designed to spike conversations, sales, and PR. Nothing wrong with it…especially if it work as intended.

You and I are here together, right now, to do something greater. It’s up to us to lead the way for the socialization of business, understanding that it’s an uphill journey for the foreseeable future. But in the end, our experience and triumphs are unparalleled.

What Brian is talking about here isn’t social media marketing.  He’s talking about redefining what it means to be a business. It’s an ambitious vision, but has a few nascent successes that point to what could become the new corporate structure (Zappos comes to mind, 37 Signals, etc.)

For as long as the corporate entity has existed the model has been command and control.  Ground troops up on the front lines taking orders from well heeled Generals sipping tea well back from the front, who are ordering air support via massive branding campaigns on television, radio and print. All in an effort to convince the public that their product was just a little bit better, cheaper or faster.  And this worked well, for a long time.  But not any more.

With today’s connected, real-time landscape, business leaders and brands are in the thick of it.  They’re being pulled in every direction, flanked by conversations, complaints, kudos, competitors and their own internal chaos as they try to respond to the changes in the way business gets done.  And respond is all most have been able to do.  Not think, not plan, not leverage. Merely react.  Often these knee-jerk reactions are head-in-the-sand denials. Across the country there are conversations going on that start like this “Maybe we should just kill our Facebook presence,” because these leaders and brands aren’t fairing well in this new reality.

And even those that choose to engage in this new arena, as Brian points out, are doing it via smoke and mirrors, not necessarily through any enlightened state of corporate prescience.  But hey, if you’re one of the brands that hit the jackpot in connecting with customers online; well, by all means, don’t leave the girl you brought to the dance.  However, it’s important to understand the distinction between achieving success with social media marketing and reconstructing your business based on this new world order.

The marketing changes wrought by social media platforms have been hashed over ad nauseum for the last few years.  Most socia media successes can be boiled down to tactical executions of providing customer service and compelling experiences on the social web.  And that’s all well and good and interesting.  The evolution of marketing from spray and pray, one-size-fits-all messaging to actual conversation is welcome indeed; but in order for businesses to fully leverage the changes afforded by the social web they must embrace this new reality outside of their marketing department.  And that’s where I think Brian gets it right.

It’s not about redefining your message, it’s about rebuilding your company.  Breaking down command and control, creating better flows of information capital, creating more authentic and meaningful customer experiences and touchpoints, and empowering employees to put in their best to work for the business and customer every day.

This transformation starts when the business owners realize that the game has changed, that they in turn need to adapt.  Businesses must be willing to flip the megaphone around and put the wide end up to their corporate ear.  And then do something with the data to rearchitect their fundamental infrastructure to better serve the market. Because it’s not enough for a company to come up with the Old Spice Man campaign if customer feedback isn’t driving product development.  It’s not enough to launch a Facebook page when you’re customers are all active on a BBS somewhere.  It’s not enough to have branding, product, customer service, loyalty, global marketing, product teams, etc. all off experimenting with Twitter; when what’s needed is leaders who can to drive the new social way of operating on the Web through the organization to create a new way of thinking about delivering value to the market place.

A favorite metaphor for corporate dysfunction and disorganization is that the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand.  Well this problem is amplified by the challenges created by a real time, messy, loud market place full of demands.  And if organizations insist on relegating social media to the PR/customer service silo, without truly embracing the power it can bring them in terms of insight, innovation, customer and employee satisfaction and bigger and better shareholder returns, than the vision of social business is left unfulfilled, and we as champions of the space will have come up short in our mission to change how business is done.

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