What Is A Social Business?

Michael Brenner on May 9, 2013 in Social Media

what is a social business?

In response to my post defining social selling, I realized that I needed to take a step back and define “What is a social business?”

There is a lot of talk about the social business and too often it involves a discussion of social tools and channels. In this article I’ll offer my own definition as well as plenty of links to other resources you can check out for more ideas on how to help your organization transform into a social business.

A social business is not a business that sends a lot of Tweets or has a ton of Facebook likes. A social business is one that realizes that it operates in a more transparent and social world. And so it makes customers and employees equally as important as its shareholders and profits.

What is a Social Business?

A social business places equal value on the needs of its customers, employees, partners and shareholders.

This is not all that different from the concept behind one of the first posts I wrote 3 years ago this month. In that post, I talked about a book called “The Service Profit Chain” that inspired a lot of my early professional thoughts on marketing strategy.

The basic theory presented in the book was that happier employees generate more customers who create more profit for the business. Makes sense, right? Yet in the race to quarterly profits, many businesses still struggle with the concept.

More recently I talked about the many reasons why social business is important and I presented my own roadmap to become a social business including the need to define a social strategy that empowers social employees, activates effective content strategy and addresses the issue of culture.

Peter Kim from the Dachis Group offers his own definition of the Social Business as well as a Social Business Design. He identifies “culture, connections, participation and analytics” as the main drivers of an effective social business.

Charlene Li from Altimeter Group recently presented on the Evolution of Social Business and talked about the 6 stages of transformation: “Planning, Presence, Engagement, Formalized, Strategic, and Converged.” They surveyed a large swath of companies and found a small minority (28%) have achieved any level of social business maturity.

And then there’s my friend Jeremiah Owyang who not only nailed how to bring content strategy into the social business but also defined the next phase of social business as “the collaborative economy” which he defines as “where brands will rent, lend, provide subscriptions to products and services to customers, or even further, allow customers to lend, trade, or gift branded products or services to each other.”

Edelman’s Michael Brito writes that “social business is not about communication. It’s not about technology or Enterprise 2.0. It’s about change management. I believe this to my core.” And I think he’s absolutely right.

But what is the role of the Marketing leader in this emerging social business and collaborative economy?

In my view, marketing is uniquely positioned to lead this transformation. As more employees become socially active brand ambassadors and build their personal brand, marketing can act as the shepherd guiding the flock with good old fashioned marketing communications techniques that put the customer first, that are aligned to the business strategy and that deliver business outcomes.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 17 comments
  • Brandon Uttley

    Excellent insights, Michael. The crux as you said is that social business is about transformational change, not simply new technologies. That seems incredibly difficult for a lot of companies to grasp and undertake currently.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Brandon. Such a strong culture component.

  • Bernie Borges

    I partially agree and partially disagree with your definition of a social business. I agree that a social business is a mature one that values transparent engagement with customers and employees, actually anyone who has contact with the brand…The operative word here is “mature.” This requires adult supervision….Where I disagree is with the notion that marketing can lead the transformation. It must begin with the C suite. Marketing is powerless to create a social business mindset if the C suite doesn’t build an organization wide social business culture. Only then can marketing provide leadership, guidance and support. My 2 cents….
    – Bernie Borges

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Bernie, and I think you are absolutely right. Marketing is in a position to drive some of the changes because they are “marketing skills” (or communications skills) in many cases that are required for the transformation. But it has to be culture and leadership from the C-Suite that has to define the vision and the path for the social business. Great point and thanks for keeping me honest!

  • Steve Seager

    Hi Michael,

    Good post. I personally believe the problem is that most businesses cannot conceptualise the opportunity, hence it IS a communication issue – for the moment.

    I dont believe that marketing is best placed to lead as they themselves are struggling. Content marketing is currently ‘just another buzzword’ for the vast majority.

    As for the C-suite, until it is tried, tested, put through the corporate wrangler, and validated by the McKinsey’s of this world only the true innovators will lead.

    Processes will help further the cause, but the bigger change that is needed is a conceptual one. On that I 100% agree.

    – Steve Seager

    Some input on that conceptualising issue: https://www.steveseager.com/social-business-design-thinking-points/

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Steve, kind of an innovator’s dilemma right! I think you are right that marketers are struggling but I also think that the innovative marketers, the ones who saw social media as a cultural phenomenon and not a new set of promotional tactics, and the ones who are now not just talking about content marketing but applying it – I think these marketers are set to gain more authority and influence on the C-Suite of tomorrow. Do we have a long way to go? Yep. But I think it is an imperative. Our customers will force us all there eventually.

  • Lee Harris

    As always an excellent post Michael. There is such a shift now in thinking and implementation of marketing strategies that the culture of the organisation has to shift along with it. I have worked with businesses in terms of Lean transformations and as with this – unless the ownership and senior management teams are fully engaged the change will falter..

  • Michael Brito

    Michael — thank you for the mention!! As usual, good content …. you are a machine!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Michael, most days I feel like more of a broken record than a machine but I appreciate the complement! Hope all is well and we get to hang out soon.

  • David Thompson

    I am not sure Social Business is a Marketing Led Strategy… I think it is a Customer Centric, Employee Centric, Idea Centric, HR Centric… etc. where Marketing has a valuable role to play..

    I am asked about this all the time.. what is the value? Well to a Bank it may be that they can bring together Small Businesses with synergistic strategies in order for them to grow together and create opportunity for the Brand Portfolio e.g if you are a small florist and can team with a courier, or a wedding planner, why would the bank not feature you as Small Business of the Week/Month/Mother’s/Valentines day and offer a discount associated with your Credit card? and then allow “Social Media” promotion to proliferate “Social Business”? Why would same “ideation” or Customer feedback of a teller not be immediately fed back to Marketing to revise Offerings on the fly to immediate change a promotion in real time? Why would the scripts in a targeted product call centre not be changed to take advantage of the instantaneous feedback produced from the “sharp end” of the business to target the right customers with the right products based on real time understanding of campaigns? What happens when this 24 hour, follow the sun business, needs all of it’s employee’s to be up to date on the latest promotions and offers and have them at their finger tips so a common representation of the company is a must? What happens when one call centre transitions to the next?
    How do I attract and onboard a new employee even before they join my business?
    Social Business is about full adoption and integration, and less about silo’s of who it benefits most. It should, and does, benefit all.
    Social Business is the remover of boundaries
    The smart companies get this and are fully inclusive, the ones who don’t.. well…. let’s hope they do quickly for the sale of us all 🙂

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks David, amazing insights and use cases. Thanks for all those examples. And I really like the comment about social business as the “remover of boundaries.” I will plan on using that, with attribution of course. 😉

  • David Thompson

    Sake even ! That’s what you get for being in Sales !

  • Goran Maric

    Excellent post about social business! You really hit the point!

  • Curtis Rons

    Michael: Thanks for the re-post: it’s right on the mark. I really enjoyed what you said about: “social business including the need to define a social strategy that empowers social employees, activates effective content strategy and addresses the issue of culture.” I think you need buy-in from management and you will get that when marketers and empowered employees participate in and understand the over-all business goals and devise a strategy with transparent metrics to prove performance. Also, it’s imperative that everything is connected and done with competence; still today, employees and some SM contractors do SM just to be doing it and being done by tech-savvy youngsters who don’t keep their eyes on those business goals, adding to the slow traction and questionable perception of SM marketing.

    • Michael Brenner

      Great points Curtis. We need a softening on both ends of the spectrum so there is alignment around common business outcomes.