Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business

IBM is moving itself and its clients well beyond social media into a new era of collaboration, insight sharing, and lead generation it calls social business.

It takes extraordinary chutzpah to promote a vision before it can be fully realized by your audience, let alone your company. IBM did just that in 1997 when it introduced the notion of e-business. Fourteen years later, it is doing it again with a concept they call social business. Given its prescience about e-business, a concept that radically transformed how companies buy and sell their products, it is hard to dismiss their latest idée fixe.

That said, getting your arms around this grandiose idea is not easy. Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy at IBM, spent the better part of an hour with me explaining the ins and outs while providing specific examples of how IBM is testing various social business approaches both internally and externally. In the end, I came away with these seven reasons why just about every company should be thinking about becoming a social business.

1. Social media will be dwarfed by social business

While social media has helped many companies become more customer-centric, it is treated primarily as a modestly effective marketing tool. McCarty explained, "Social media is about media and people, which is one dimension of the overall world of business. With social business you start to look at the way people are interacting in digital experiences and apply the insights derived to a wide variety of different business processes."

2. People do business with people, not companies

One of the notions behind becoming a social business is that your employees should be front and center in your digital activities. "Since IBM no longer sells consumer products, the brand experience for IBM is an experience with an IBMer," an experience that is increasingly happening online, McCarty said. To support this idea, IBM recently started adding IBM "experts" to various web pages—an action that in A/B testing dramatically improved page performance and revealed increased confidence and trust in IBM in focus groups.

3. Your employees need to be digital citizens, too

Becoming a social business means recognizing the need for your employees to become "digital citizens" and providing the training for them to manage their digital reputations. Accordingly, IBM not only trains its experts extensively, it is now building out "personal dashboards" to help them see the impact of their various interactions. "Good conversation creates good outcomes and that brings value to the organization and to the individual," McCarty said.

4. You don’t need to eat the whole social business elephant in one bite

When asked, "How do you eat an elephant?" the sage pygmy replied, "One bite at a time." And so it is with social business initiatives. IBM itself tried a number of different approaches internally: First by using a wiki to draft its social computing guidelines, and more recently by offering a "Social Computing Demystified" course to help more IBMers become digital citizens. These smaller building blocks helped pave the way for bigger initiatives like the expertise locator that now taps into nearly 3,000 IBMers from around the world.

5. A social business can be a good business, too

The same tools and processes that go into creating a social business can also be put to use for social good. To test this notion and in honor of its 100th anniversary, IBM asked every employee "to take a full day and dedicate it to skills-based service." Calling it the Centennial Celebration of Service, thousands of IBMers shared their expertise and then their experiences on "Now you have in this social business program the permissioning and guidance matched with content so IBMers can get started and experiment [with social business]," said McCarty.

6. Enough already with the useless email chains

Most companies rely on email as the primary means to share information among employees, despite the havoc it often creates. "Email is a very limited tool and does a lot of things to silo work efforts," McCarty noted. Calling it "completely antisocial," McCarty believes that a social business needs to employ more collaborative digital work tools (well beyond email) that are asynchronous, enabling a geographically disperse team to do great work together.

7. It’s okay to fail as long as you do it quickly

Since not every social business initiative will take hold, it is important to try lots of approaches and move on when one doesn’t work. IBM describes this as "agile development." "You can’t spend 10 months planning it and then launching it—the idea is to learn quickly and if we need to, fail quickly," McCarty said. As case in point, McCarty claims the first iteration of their expertise locator went from concept to a test on in four weeks with new iterations following in monthly succession sprints as short as two weeks. McCarty firmly believes this particular social business program, although still in its infancy, has infinite possibilities.

Final Note

McCarty is a passionate evangelist who believes "social digital activity is moving from the periphery to the center of business."  To understand this and how social business is increasing the surface area of organization, see the full interviews with McCarty on TheDrewBlog.

[Image: Flickr user ecstaticist]


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  • Raman Deep

    Thank you, Drew. Amazing post. An eye opener. IBM has proven itself and is destined to do it again. The train for social business is boarding, I better not be late. I am promoting Empower Network. I intend to apply the social business way to this business. Lets see where we get.

    You keep on posting these awesome articles, Drew.

    Thank you, again.

  • David Starr2

    IBM should be ashamed of itself capitalizing on a term ( social business) that is used to describe businesses that are being set up to help the global underclass rise above extreme poverty. Social Businesses provide incomes and employment opportunities to disadvantaged groups and communities it is NOT a clever techno term to get people to buy into a "brand. Co-opting a term associated with altruistic business practices to "brand" a profit- path in a  purely for profit corporation is is the height of hubris.            

  • Kathi Browne

    This post is not new, but I keep sharing it because it so succinctly explains "social business" and because many people still don't get that social media isn't just a marketing tool. A+

  • Christopher Rollyson

    Although I agree with many of you who recognized that this story is neither new nor surprising, it IS very relevant from an enterprise and executive adoption perspective. IBM is a true leader in social business adoption among global enterprises. Yes, most of the ideas and techniques are well established by now, but name another large enterprise that is investing in and executing on social business to the extent as IBM is. Since they are a services firm, they also affect adoption of my firm's clients and prospects. In my estimation, we distinguish because we're focused on the human side of *social* business. IBM is necessarily more software, services and (even still) hardware focused. They help our business due to their commitment. [disclosure, we are an IBM business partner, although we've never done business together] @csrollyson:twitter 

  • James Watson

    It's certainly eye catching when a larger (and certainly innovative) organization recognizes a trend and throws resources toward cracking the fundamental issues that come with doing social business. It's about process, tools, and developing something that organizations can implement.

    Monitoring and properly distributing the information (and chatter) - even if an organization responds to that chatter in their traditional ways - is a large undertaking. Sure, it's a no-brainer, but how many organizations learned the lessons of DellHell?

    Organizations are hiring Social Media Managers straight out of college because those individuals know more about social than most people in these organizations. Giving these (and more seasoned) professionals the tools to extract value from digital empowerment to our social nature is more than an awareness. It's at least in part about algorithms, and I'm happy to see IBM apply their resources to optimizing them. Enter Kevin Slavin.

  • Ed Lallo

    Becoming a social
    business means recognizing the need for employees to become “digital citizens”
    and providing the training for them to manage their digital reputations. It
    also means a company must also have an effective, safe and secure digital tool
    to reach its many audiences.


    Social media, like
    Facebook and Twitter, should not be the place for the public face of a
    company’s PR strategy. Conversations are fleeting and have little structure,
    and at times damaging to a companies reputation. It is difficult to direct them
    to higher level and most of them are definitely not tied to the company’s
    business or executive agenda.


    The dynamic online
    newsroom is rapidly becoming the place to hold an effective conversation with a
    company’s many and diverse audiences. It translates the corporate agenda into
    compelling stories that the media, customers, employees, vendors and
    stakeholders want to read, learn more about, believe in and contribute – all on
    a regular basis.


    In the world of
    social media, Twitter has become the headline. Facebook is the front page.
    Blogs are the editorials. The online newsroom is the entire publication. It
    becomes a company’s content engine – complete with social media – that’s
    archived for history.

    What is an
    Online Newsroom?

    It is a new business forum that enables a company’s story to be actively
    told in a journalistic way – from a perspective that only the company can

    The newsroom is the place to hold an open, on going conversation. It is the
    factory that runs a company’s content engine aligned to the business agenda.

    It’s where local, national and international media can obtain credible
    stories, photos, videos and story ideas around the clock.


    An online
    newsroom platform is safe and secure – for readers and company alike. There is
    no profiling, data-mining, security issues and blocked access – all potential
    landmines for lawsuits, not only the social media sites but also the companies
    using them. Recent findings have revealed the pervasive spread of social
    media within companies, and both the companies and their IT departments have
    good reason to be worried about potential risks.

    The 2011 Social
    Media Protection Flash Poll, commissioned by Symantec Corporation, announced
    findings, which examined how organizations protect themselves from negative
    consequences of using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and
    others. The risk of publishing confidential information increases as
    organizations increasingly share business related information on social
    networks to communicate with customers, partners and employees

    Who Benefits
    from the Online Newsroom?

    Customers can find the latest company information told in a compelling format.

    Employees receive a new source to stay in touch with their company.

    Business partners have can learn your story from the company’s unique perspective.

    Stakeholders receive valuable information tool to follow their investments.

    Industry experts have a platform to voice their visions for the industry.

    Company leaders have a respected source to regularly voice their thought leadership.


    The newsroom
    allows a company or organization to communicate directly with reporters,
    influencers and the public. As the company’s content engine, it is branded and
    integrated with the corporate website and social media sites.

    The dynamic
    online newsroom is proved to be a trust worthy communications tool for
    reputation management. Born from crisis, it has evolved into an effective best
    practice, according to the Communications Executive Council study, “How to
    Build a Leading Online Newsroom.”

    newsrooms also invite others – including employees, customers and business
    partners – to tell stories in ways that increase a company’s credibility and
    brand. This balanced brand journalism blends different perspectives, offering
    well-grounded points of view and fresh insight into a company’s operations and

    The power of an
    online newsroom comes from:

    Aligning content to the CEO or business agenda.

    Creating a clear line of sight into the business – for employees, customers,
    suppliers and other shareholders.

    Offering a platform for executives to express their thought leadership.

    Creating shared communities of interest through credible stories about the
    business and industry.

    Building credibility for corporate reputation through open and transparent
    communications with various stakeholders.

    Real reputation management involves creating an authentic online voice and
    maintaining a respected image through credible news.


    The dynamic
    online newsroom is the new business platform that allows a company to
    apply its insights and expertise to a wide variety of different business
    processes, as well as a wide variety of diverse audiences.


  • Janell NOble

    Great discussion going on here and comments rightly pointing to the fact that this isn't such a new topic or trend. Digitalization has transformed they way people interact and engage online and its affected every aspect of business. How exactly businesses are adapting to evolving social interactions, and exploring ways to utilize the benefits of effective social collaboration (with both their employees and customers) is still in the early stages but a maturity model is emerging and larger organizations like IBM, GE, Kraft, Sony, HP are actively working to figure out how to make social business affects and functions within the context of their existing business processes- (think new products, services, processes, etc.) An oldie but a goodie on this topic Ten Reasons Your Corporate Social Network Should be an Innovation Social Network is worth a checking out

  • Scott Bruun

    While the concept of “Social Business” is certainly not new,
    the fact that a large tech company is jumping on board suggests that needs are
    not being met. Having been an executive and worked for companies of all sizes
    over the decades, my professional opinion is that there isn’t a viable solution
    that meets the real, day-to-day needs of most businesses. And definitely nothing
    that emulates the type of networking we are able to do offline. For a brief
    moment it looked like social networks might grow into a good answer for this.
    But they’re too recreational, too time-consuming and too public for most
    business functions (not to mention they seem built by people who have limited
    real world business experience to draw from). The other Social Business
    solutions from the likes of JIVE and Microsoft were built for only the largest
    companies with the deepest pockets and lack what most small-to medium-sized
    businesses require. Main Street needs a solution.

  • EricCathcart

    Not earth-shattering news - just common sense. Any business needs to find its authenticity and understand engagement at the personal level. Trust. I administer a FB page for a website (product) as well as produce social media (videos) for clients who need to be seen. And it's tough to find relevance and engagement. But what I have found out is that it also needs to be entertaining. There's a lot of dry content and crap out there. Everyone is selling something and it's all boring. What would really be earth shattering for IBM to do is to be creative. Inspire imagination by being entertaining = engagement and activation. Entertain people and they'll stick around. And people attract more people. Move over Social Business... here comes 'Creative Business'.

  • Michael Raibin

    This sums it up for me, totally agree with having to be eye-catching / entertaining to have a greater overall impact with your desired audience.

    I work in commercial real estate in Central London, but being honest the industry isnt the most sexy or exciting in terms of cool content on the web, so at my firm Hatton Real Estate we tried to make our website more engaging / stimulating by creating Motion Picture Marketing Campaigns of properties and also video diaries on our Vlogs.

    The video diaries in particular give us the ability to showcase the people (our staff) with their personalities, which in turn demonstrates to prospective clients and or tenants who is actually behind our brand

  • Swag Valance

    Weird. I thought this article was from last year. There are companies already doing this -- e.g., services replacing company email systems with company walls, business exchanges and other B2B social networks, etc.

  • Sergei Dolukhanov

    Socia media + business intelligence = IMPACT

    Social media business intelligence helps your enterprise correlate social data with key business performance metrics, making your company more money. 

    Thanks for the article. However,  it's a bit redundant saying social media will make way for social business because social media is just a medium for communicating, while social business is the application of social data to existing business processes to increase the bottom line. 

    - Sergei


  • Suzanne Bowen

    This blog post and your original interview with IBM's McCarty is right on. You and IBM help to make sense out of things like all the talk about cloud, why being social in more ways than we thought ... can be good, and successful new business strategies in 2011 and forward. Is it okay that I recorded my voice reading it? I want to listen to it over and over. I added the audio for others to listen to and asked listeners to read the DrewBlog interviews and your original post here, taking no credit for myself at I this is not okay, I will remove it, but I hope it is okay.

  • AnneLawrenson

    Business is social.

    7 more reasons why your digital activities should be
    as well

    Management – your brand is what your customers say it is

    now have a louder voice than ever. 
    It’s time to ditch the monologue, start a dialogue and get serious about
    co-creating with the very people who keep you in business.   

    Engagement – people are broader than their job title

    about the diverse set of jobs, education and/or experiences you have had.  Isn’t it a shame that most companies
    don’t capitalize on this breadth? 
    The reality is that many employees want to serve a higher purpose in the
    company, but until now have lacked a means to engage regularly outside of their

    Management – have you talked with a millennial lately?

    recurring theme when I interview people is the fear of getting stuck in a
    silo.  The thinking: why work for
    someone else in a dead-end job when I could work for myself and have the chance
    to create something cool.  To
    attract top talent you not only need to provide the digital tools they expect
    but also the opportunities to use them.

    Engagement – ignorance is bliss…or is it?

    customers are talking.  If you own
    the conversation, even if it’s less than favorable at times, at you have the
    opportunity to do something about it.

    Insights – insights are at the edge, where are you?

    your front line employees are the ones regularly connecting with your consumers
    identifying needs and even recognizing unarticulated opportunities.  So how else would you capture these
    pearls and drive them back to your core business? At scale?

    – it’s a social process

    need a scalable way to socialize ideas, an intelligent platform to make meaning
    out of the masses of data and an engagement model that at it’s core is social
    in nature so that people, regardless of their job function, are inclined to
    make innovation part of their daily habit.

    Crowds – The
    Future of Work

    hypercritical rate of change in today’s business world demands faster innovation
    with greater collaboration.  Your
    crowd – your employees, customers, fans and partners – can help you. 


    Activate Your Crowd!  Learn how at


  • Mike Orchard

    Clearly no-one can invent Social Business. Humans are social, we are designed to collaborate, that is how 'business' started in the first place.

    The difference now is that technology moves at such a pace that new business models are being developed constantly, ones that make use of new tools to improve communication with customers, suppliers and colleagues to make us more agile and efficient.

    That's why we created the Skills Hive so that businesses can build Virtual teams online who are ready to  an opportunity or a problem.