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4 Things To Consider Before Becoming A Social Business

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

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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?

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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.

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[Image: Flickr user Jake Sprouse]

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.

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