February 2, 2011

Social businesses: Glimmers of a macro trend

Social Business Design (CC image by Dachis Group)

Annual look at the best strategies, tactics, case studies & insights in the enterprise space

Christopher RollysonCompared to 2009 and 2008, the past year was a relatively calm one because the amplitude of market gyrations clearly diminished and businesses began to find a new floor on which to build stakeholder expectations. Although I watched with high interest the unfolding financial drama in Europe, I didn’t have the time to conduct the research necessary to do a rigorous interpretation, although I published a brief reflection last week. The big story of the past year was this: 2010 marked a turning point in the adoption of social technologies and in the recognition that analysis and strategy are necessary to achieve consistent results with social initiatives.

Macro trends: Moving from broadcast to relationship building

Until recently, being on Facebook was an end in itself, agencies produced vapid content and little interaction occurred because people rarely interact when brands are talking at them instead of listening

Social has been in adolescence until recently — “being on Facebook” was an end in itself, agencies produced vapid content and little interaction happened because people rarely interact when brands are talking at them instead of listening. People feel it when a brand is interested in using social tools to promote itself. They also feel it when a brand is interested in building relationship, which is marked by active listening and responding, along with a relative absence of self-promotion. Brands that build relationship learn that they don’t have to try so hard to promote themselves: when they are truly interested in people, people will promote them. However, this approach remains a future state for most companies. Relationships take serious work — thus, a need for a strategy.

The growing use of strategy is also a harbinger for what I call “social business” (a step beyond social media), in which leaders use social technologies to transform their businesses by collaborating openly with various outside and inside stakeholders to innovate constantly. Early movers will begin emerging this year: Only a few gutsy players will aggressively adopt social business practices in 2011. I believe they can change markets.

This year, I have five views through which I analyze social business trends. I also selected 12 articles as Must Read. Most important, I invite you to share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Economy, Enterprise, Strategy and Adoption

In 2010, the world economy slowly improved at a pace of 1.25 steps forward, 1.0 steps back, but enterprises slowly gained confidence that bad news was finite and mostly behind them — unless they were in Greece, Ireland or, to a lesser extent, Portugal and Spain. Their adoption of social business was predictable, steady and slow. Most of the posts highlighted cited below hail from the Social Network Roadmap (SM) because they focus on the drivers and practice of social business. Heavy client work in the past year included a Fortune 50 retailer, a global semiconductor manufacturer and a prominent local government on the U.S. East Coast.

Business executives have begun to realize that they need a more coordinated sense of purpose — a strategy, and strategy began maturing social initiatives. Not long ago, the mantra was, “Throw a couple of interns at it, they know how to do Facebook.” In the past year I helped clients clean up some of those messes: Activity doesn’t equate to business results. I expect the clean-up phase to continue through 2013 at least because success depends on being social in meaningful ways to customers and practical ways to businesses.

From a business perspective, strategy provides the rationale for prolonged focus, which is required because relationships need commitment. Businesses’ commitments must be grounded in business purpose. Being social for its own sake is a short-lived phenomenon. As this section’s “must reads” point out, most businesses don’t know how to “be social” in authentic, meaningful ways. In most cases, it also requires extensive mentoring to learn the tools, processes and behaviors well enough to be natural online. Social knowledge is indeed a key barrier. Also read the “Decade in Review” to understand the context of where we are today.

Social Business for Commercial and Government Enterprises

This year’s posts are jammed with case studies that reflected steady progress with social media by business and government, but most businesses are still at the level of learning the tools; they aren’t yet focused on building durable relationships, which require deeper focus and more sharing. I sponsored a collaborative piece on 2010 predictions, collaborating with 16 executives in my enterprise social networking group on LinkedIn (“17 Visionaries..”). I also shared best practices on social business competency teams, which serve as a virtual PMO to drive enterprise adoption of social business as well as a post on comparing different types of social media consultants. Enterprises are also starting to experiment with geosocial apps and algorithms everywhere, both hallmarks of enterprise 3.0.

Social Networking Platform Review

Most chief marketing officers know the names and logos of the major platforms and like their exploding popularity, MySpace notwithstanding, but the lack of in-depth platform knowledge of social media providers produces mediocre success. I encountered many cases of firms just “doing Facebook” because it was popular and, well, who wouldn’t want to be there? It’s disheartening to encounter agency-produced snappy social media speak on Twitter and Facebook, which is far worse than doing nothing for most brands; people can smell it a mile away — brands are just flushing money down the toilet. Likewise, few organizations understand that the power of blogging is largely built on networking and relationships. Two must reads this year discuss network-oriented approaches to building Facebook Pages and blogs. The mind bender post is on LinkedIn body language, which is key to reaching another level of relating online.

Marketing 2.0 and Customer Experience

In 2010 I guest-blogged on MENG Online, and this section’s must read hails from that. “Rude Awakening” debunks word of mouth marketing as a flawed concept, riffing on Don Peppers’ remarks at the Alterian Social Business Summit. Most of the speakers emphasized how marketing was changing forever, and most meant it. Others shared marketers’ frustrations with trying to drive social initiatives from a legacy marketing viewpoint; the root of their teeth-gnashing was that relationship building doesn’t fit the style of marketing metrics on which they are currently measured.


Although technology enjoys shrinking attention in the ongoing adoption of social technologies, 2010 proved once again that it’s critical to keep one’s ear to the ground because technology enables quantum leaps in capability. I covered the accelerating adoption of Web 3.0, in the particular form of geosocial, a specific type of mobile social networking (Foursquare, et al). Other recommended reads here discuss Facebook Connect and Google FriendConnect, Web 2.0-style single sign-on (with benefits ;^). Make sure to delve into the PopTech coverage, which highlights using social tech for social initiatives. I loved meeting Patrick Meier and listening to his story about using Ushahidi in Haiti and Chile.

From your viewpoint, what was the most important event of the past year for businesses?Christopher S. Rollyson is a partner in Socialmedia.biz and managing director of CSRA, a management consultancy that advises enterprises and startups on social business strategy and execution. Contact Christopher by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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