Social Media vs. Social Business

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I recently saw this excellent “article” on Fast Company by @DrewNeisser and in it he makes the important distinction between social media and social business. Two of the my favorite points that he makes are:

  1. People do business with people, not businesses (You think you’re B2B but a business is made up of people. They just have bigger wallets at work.)
  2. Your employees need to be digital citizens too (personal brands are essential and should align with the business brand)
  3. Social Media will be dwarfed by social business.

The first two are my favorite points because I’ve made them before! And I really hope the third is true. It touches on the point made in The Cluetrain Manifesto, that we are in fact back in a market place and (using my words here) not in the business of the assembly line.

This all sounds great but the people who run businesses need to decide, how deep they can go down the social well. I broke out the four levels of online relationships businesses can have with their customers, four and half years ago! (Can’t believe it’s been that long.) The four are 1) findable, 2) recommendable, 3) transparent and 4) collaborative. A social business is going to get down to the last two levels.

The next obvious question is; how deep can my business go? And of course the answer is: it depends. It depends on the following.

What’s your business model – If you’re selling tombstones, it’s going to be difficult to get to a collaborative level with your customers and potential customers. Transparent can definitely happen but is usually most poignant when mistakes are made. If you make a mistake on someone’s funeral arrangements, you to could be dead! There are of course business models work well with the last two levels and I believe you know who you are.

Who works for you – I love calculus. All you do is exaggerate something and then measure the results. I’ll use a little “life calc” here. Imagine that everyone that works for you uses the Internet only for email. They don’t surf the net. They use smartphones only for calls and they still wonder where the damn “any” key is. If these are the people that work for you, regardless of department, a social business may not be possible. In a social business, everyone represents the business online. Their Twitter account. Their Instagram account. Their Facebook page. Everyone. Everything. They have to be present and sophisticated. If not. Let’s hope they can’t be found online at all (and be ready for them to offer no “digital value”.)

Who’s the leader – Organizations mimic the CEO/Leadership. If you’re not a digital person, then your organization follows your lead because HR has followed your lead. You know you need social & social technology but you’ve blocked Facebook at work. No one worth hiring, that can add any real digital value, will be willing to work for you. (Don’t believe me? Look at this study.) Not willing to give up that $400k salary. I understand. Then hire a CMO/CIO who can be (not act like) a real social maven. Allow them to lead the company culture to become more social. (It’s okay. As CEO you shouldn’t really be doing anything internal anyway. You’re the external facing portion of the entity. If you’re what they call an operational CEO: you’re really a COO. Sorry.)

Lastly, if you’re a business that is only going to use social sphere to make your company findable and recommendable – welcome to the land of social media. You can attain some level of ROI and essentially use the medium as broadcast, hoping for some stickiness. Good luck!

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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