The era of social business is here and it is becoming clear just how transformative it will be.
But many are still asking, “What does social business really mean?”
Companies are increasingly adopting social media technologies, using Facebook to reach out to customers or YouTube to demonstrate new products. These are good first steps, but there is so much more that “social” has to offer. Social media is just one dimension of today’s social business.
Gone are the days of businesses limiting or even entirely restricting employees’ access to the Internet and social media platforms. Today, by combining social networking tools – internally and externally – with sophisticated analytic capabilities, companies are transforming their business processes, building stronger relationships among their employees, customers and business partners and making better decisions, faster. This is what makes a social business – embracing networks of people to create new business value and opportunities.
Leading edge companies, including China Telecom, Nokia and Cemex, understand what it means to embrace social. They recognize that they cannot afford to relegate social technologies to people’s personal lives and have instead implemented social tools and concepts to drive brand awareness and ultimately, their organization’s bottom line.
While embracing social technologies, these organizations are also creating a new business culture that encourages employees to tap into the expertise of their colleagues and clients, to communicate and share ideas across departments and geographies, and to learn from others to create new products, respond to problems, and build the brand. These organizations not only see the power behind social, but they’re actively combining social networking with sophisticated analytics to glean insights from social activity streams and behaviors to find out what they need to do better to drive financial results.
What is keeping other companies from following their lead? Many executives recognize that social media is powerful, even if they still wonder in the back of their minds whether it’s just a time sink. Yet, even when they decide that there is potential, these execs get hung up on trying to figure how to apply social technologies to their companies, how to engage and empower their employees to participate.
Here is the trick with social business: Focus on people and culture.
People by nature are social beings. We naturally form networks based on trust and similar interests. With social technology, executives are providing the necessary tools for their employees to easily tap into the creativity, intelligence and community that they crave. They are now able to reach networks of people inside and outside the company to get work done more efficiently, more creatively, more collaboratively. But will they? Not without trust and encouragement from the top. Just as important as the tools, building trust and encouraging social interactions are essential to driving a social change in the workforce. Creating a social business culture can be the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but it’s also the most important.
Social Business at work
This concept – social business – can sound abstract, but consider two very different examples of how social technology can tackle problems big and small:
Social networks can help us tackle chronic healthcare issues. They are actually ideal for this task. For years, we have tried to come up with transactional solutions to this problem. A social solution, however, could be more powerful. Filling out more forms at a healthcare provider does not help a patient with diabetes or asthma get healthier. People need community support and the participation of others who have those conditions, as well as ongoing input from doctors and nurses, so that they can learn how to manage their disease, get support when they need it, and share knowledge that will make a difference.
In this instance, the contact made possible by social technologies makes a huge difference. The information created by a community you interact with is trusted. It’s information you would actually act on. Its knowledge and insight you may have not had access to without the community.
Another example: consider how companies, overwhelmed by the amount of information they handle, could rethink data. Think about your own work day. You get to the office, slog through emails, check your calendar, read some blogs, update your status and make some comments on the corporate social network. Then, based on all this information, you try to pull together a coherent to-do list for the day.
As hard as it is now, integrating all of this social data will soon become an insolvable problem for us to tackle alone. Because we are now a society of information creators, the data deluge is on. This is where technology can step in. Imagine if a combination of social software and analytics could draw together all the data about your business day automatically alerting you, based on what you’ve done in the past, what the key tasks of the day are, what the emails you need to respond to are, when your can’t-miss meetings of the day are. During the day, it could help you change priorities and give you alerts to new information, whether it’s an email from HR that turns out to be urgent or a blog post from a colleague that could help with a task you’re working on. This is social business at work.
We have always been social beings. Social media has just amped up these natural tendencies. When we apply social technologies and cultural guidelines to our companies, to business, that’s when massive change is going to happen. Like the PC or the mainframe or the Internet, these innovations will reshape work and customer experience. In the process, they will end up separating the winners from the losers.