Does your company support or pay for smart phones? Do you have a Facebook page or a Twitter account? Or course you do. But did you really want to? Do you understand what that entails? And can being social hurt, as well as help you?
Before you can magically transform yourself into a social business, you have to understand what that means, and what is possible for your individual business.
Over the past five years, sweeping changes have rocked both small business and multinational corporations on their heels. For most businesses everything has changed. If I'm not mistaken, Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, was the first to point out that the need to attract and retain young employees who live online was forcing changes to the enterprise. The most unsettling thing about these changes is that they are coming from the outside, and not as part of the planning process.
It used to be bad enough when your company decided to install a new phone system or deploy SAP. But at least those were changes decided on from within. The shift of business to social, however, was largely driven from without--from the customers, from potential employees, from shareholders.
So business has had to "go social." Social business is one of the most challenging initiatives being undertaken right now, and it appears to be rocking organizations. Last weekend I started a thread on Google Plus  to find out to whom an organization might speak to put some control on its social-business transformation. This thread is up over 100 comments right now, and people are spreading it around to ask others they know to weigh in.
As a side note, there are no trolls and no pitches on the thread. It is all serious, knowledgeable people discussing an issue that's very much on their minds: who is really doing this, and what does it mean to be an expert?
Here are my four takeaways:
1) Social business is still undefined. There are many people who confuse or confabulate it with social media. For my own purposes, I see social media as a subset of social business. The reason it is confusing might be because social media got all the publicity, and most "social" initiatives, especially in large organizations, began with social media. Also, as some of the commenters pointed out, PR people were the first to embrace social business, perhaps because they have always had to deal with potential disconnects between a company's external messaging and what's happening inside the company. There is still much research into what a social business should look like.
2) Those on the inside of organizations feel that social business is much more than outside communications, and must involve cooperation among legal, HR, regulatory compliance, product development, and marketing. They groan about how outside consultants don’t understand how difficult it is to break down silos and get buy-in for major changes that are personally disruptive for many employees.
3) Some companies have already taken big steps to be social. IBM appears to be the acknowledged leader. Perhaps that's because IBM is a service company now, and must have constant contact with customers. IBM’s white paper on social business can be downloaded here. 
4) And this is, for me, the most significant. Companies in regulated industries like utilities and health care, as well as most publicly traded companies, are going to have major issues as they attempt to become social. This is not just a marketing plan you tack on to your annual objectives. I wish I could offer you more guidance on this right now, but I am just beginning to investigate it myself.
[Image: Flickr user Jake Sprouse ]