Gini Dietrich

Is Social Business a Buzzword or is There More to it?

By: Gini Dietrich | January 17, 2013 | 

When I spoke in Holland right after Thanksgiving, a woman in the audience asked me what I think about social business.

I told her I thought it was a buzzword the social media geeks use to get more business. I hurt her feelings. Apparently she is creating a business around the idea.

Because I hurt her feelings and because she presented a good argument for why organizations need consultants to help them figure out how to become a business that uses social media throughout their entire organizations, I’ve been thinking more about it.

You see, I’ve always believed social media doesn’t belong to anyone. To use Jay Baer’s analogy, it’s like typewriting. There used to be pools of women who typed things and now we all type (some of us better than others as I have a friend who pecks away at his keyboard so much I call him “Two Fingers”).

And, when I speak, that’s how I present it, particularly to groups of business leaders.

I still think social business is a buzzword (as well as “native advertising,” which Tom Martin correctly took me to task on), but I understand the need for it.

Social of Social Media

You see, John Jantsch wrote a blog post before the holidays about the very idea. Titled, “The Far Reaching Implications of the Social Business Model,” he explores it more fully.

See what he has to say:

Lately I’ve begun to wonder if social behavior, not social media, is actually much more than we’ve made of it.

We’ve bolted certain socially enabled practices on to our businesses to provide greater reach, customer service and the pretense of connection, but I wonder if we’ve stopped dreadfully short of the true potential of social.

Even those who preach social strategy are generally talking about finding ways to use social tactics to support existing business strategies and models.

Read that last sentence again: “Even those who preach social strategy are generally talking about finding ways to use social tactics to support existing business strategies and models.”

Egads! He’s right! And that’s what drives me crazy about this digital world we live in. We forget the social part of social media. Instead, we use it as another push method to get our products and services out to more people.

Social as a Way to Communicate

But we have to think about social media beyond marketing. It’s not just another add-on for the things you’re already doing. It’s a way to communicate with anyone, anywhere. We are no longer bound by geography. We can do business halfway around the world without leaving our desks, if we’re so inclined.

I have this conversation A LOT with business owners. Typically we work with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers tend to think, “I get this is the way the world is going, but I’m going to retire before it really hits my business so I don’t need to worry about it right now.”

And Gen Xers tend to think, “I get this is the way the next generation wants to communicate, but I’m too set and comfortable and I don’t have any time to learn something new, so I’ll just wait and see what happens.”

Of course, that’s not the case for all of them, but it’s prevalent enough it sticks out in my mind.

Social Beyond Marketing

For those of us helping organizations understand the nuances of and constantly-changing social media, we have to present it as more than marketing. For those of you hiring people (either internally or as consultants) to help you understand it, push them to help you incorporate it throughout the organization.

A recent Nielsen study shows 40 percent of us would prefer to reach the companies with which we do business through the web.

That means customer service, sales, HR, product, marketing, communications, and even the executive team should be figuring out how to use social media to talk to customers.

If you want to call that a social business, fine. I prefer saying it’s a business that knows how to talk to and work with its customers in ways that are easy and convenient for them. But I think we can all agree organizations need to get there as quickly as possible.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I think it’s a buzzword in that there are and will be loads of people who will throw dollars into a social business initiative, but without understanding its implications/potential, they won’t accomplish much.
    Social business as a concept is extremely powerful. It’s kind of like CRM on crack. Everyone/everything is connected and talks to each other. I think there are tools out there that make aspects of this easier, but it is a hard road to really get a business there. We’re having some good luck using Chatter, but have not yet made it external-facing, so technically it’s operating at half power. 
    I also think this goes beyond business flow (for lack of a better word) and also ties in socially responsible businesses. Everything is basically on camera these days, so companies that understand that and find ways to do truly good work – a meaningful cause partnership, sustainable ingredient sourcing, safe labor, etc etc etc – will succeed here.

    • @katskrieger Salesforce is doing a nice job with it, IBM too. I’m also testing out the new platform for Vocus and like it’s ability to create conversations around business initiatives. So it’s both software and conversations. I also agree with you on the social responsibility angle. It’s a lot to put in there…perhaps it is easier to call it a social business.

      • @ginidietrich I’m really curious to hear what you think about the new Vocus suite. Keep me posted.

  • This is why I love working with small businesses. They generally begin to “get it” when I explain to them that really all they need to do is what they’ve been doing all along, but using different, online tools. In general, they tend to be very social, but they draw a blank when they get online because they’ve bought into a bunch of lies.

    • @KenMueller “They tend to be very social.” Exactly! But we’re all social – we’re human beings. It doesn’t matter the size of the organization. And you’re right – too many hacks out there are advising incorrectly and organizations lost money on the social media efforts. Now they’re supposed to spend money on becoming a social business? It’s scary, but it’s also a very natural way of communicating.

    • @KenMueller @ginidietrich We’re all social, but some more so than others. I like to think that social media gives a leg up to people who genuinely like people. And maybe it teaches people to be more accepting of folks who don’t come from their very specific environment.

  • I especially agree with this Gini. “We forget the social part of social media”. Great businesses and institutions never forgot/forget the social aspect of what they do with or without the new tools and tactics we have available today.
    Talk about issues of jargon:  I first heard of social business when Muhammad Yunus’ began talking about it over a decade ago. He defines social business as cause-driven business.  The purpose of the business is to achieve one or more social objective.  What’s great today is that we have the technology to help us get there without the limits of time or geography.

    • @deborahhinton You raise a very good point…which is part of the reason I think it’s a buzzword and we need to really define its meaning. Is it an organization that is cause-driven? Is it one that uses social media as a way to communicate? Is it both and then some?

      • techguerilla

        @ginidietrich  @deborahhinton One of the reasons I don’t particularly like the term ‘social business’ is this very reason.  Muhammad and the work he’s done over at the Yunus foundation is amazing, and long predates our usage of the term social business in the mgmt consulting industry.  Granted, not many actual customers know that, but it still makes for bad SEO, and just adds unnecessary confusion.  Peter Kim, who originally coined social business for the usage we are talking about here, didn’t purposefully do that, it just made sense at the time.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. Businesses have been traditionally social, what with all the conversations happening. Then a new channel got added in form of various platforms and they just need to alter their strategy to engage the new found followers. The key difference though is, the businesses got wider and faster reach.

    • @MalharBarai And the wider and faster reach is enabling organizations to work in ways they never thought possible, but that also creates new issues never seen.

  • belllindsay

    Interesting. I still try and tell people what I do for a living and am met with blank stares and drool’y bits. Maybe I should start saying “I talk to people for a living, and I write stuff” – slap that on my business card. 🙂 Also, my catch phrase for 2013 is “It’s evolution baby.” – I’m going to write that at least once on every blog post moving forward. Watch this space.

    • @belllindsay Dang. When you were here, I should have shown you the pictures my sister’s kids made me for my birthday last year. One drawing is of me “working.” I’m sitting on a computer.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich Sounds about right. 😉

  • Lara Wellman

    I think people just like using buzzwords 🙂
    We work with a lot of people who understand social is important but don’t really “get it” or even want to. It can be really hard to convince small business owners to start being social online!

    • @Lara Wellman Ug. I know. I had an audience a week ago that argued with everything I said because they just don’t see why they should talk to their customers online. The big argument was, “I’ve invested tons of money in my call center.”

      • Lara Wellman

        @ginidietrich  It’s so frustrating! That argument makes no sense.  If you’d invested a ton of money in a VHS recording studio, would you still keep making VHS tapes even though NOBODY wants them anymore? 🙂

  • MackCollier

    Totally with you, Gini.  At this point it’s mostly buzz and most of the discussion about it is being driven by agencies and consultants selling ‘social business’ advisement and consulting services.
    Not to say the larger idea of having a more interconnected business and culture that helps you better connect with customers and stakeholders doesn’t have enormous value, because it definitely does.  But until the discussion around the idea moves from the marketing stage into the tactical application phase so that the value can be better understood, it’s simply not going to be relevant to a lot of businesses.

    • @MackCollier Part of it might be that organizations have stopped hiring consultants to teach them how to do social media so many are trying to figure out how to catch the next wave to make their mortgage. Which I get. I was there in 2008. I totally get it. But we have to figure out how to make it relevant to organizations…and I don’t think it’s one consultant. I think it’s a group of them with expertise in different areas.

    • techguerilla

      @MackCollier (My clients would be pretty upset to hear we’re not in a tactical application phase yet 🙂  )

      • MackCollier

        @techguerilla Yes but I don’t think the larger discussion around the idea of social business is, as we’ve discussed before.  When/if we ever reach that phase, then I think understanding and adoption will accelerate.

        • techguerilla

          @MackCollier Not sure I understand your meaning specifically, but understanding (biggest challenge in the world of social business) and adoption ARE accelerating.  These aren’t engagements using marketing skill sets for the most part, there are a few areas of direct overlap in the policies and processes area but otherwise no direct customer engagement work, do you think that’s why there’s still such confusion in the marketing consulting sector? Trying to fit a square block in a round hole?  About mid-way through 2012 social media marketers started blending their usage of ‘social business’ to just be a proxy for what they called ‘social media’ the day before, I guess they thought it was a new term for ‘a business that uses social media’ or something and didn’t want to be left off the bandwagon, wanted to be taken more seriously, or… I don’t really know to be honest.  But I can tell you that it created a lot more confusion with social media folks, a little bit of confusion with companies (mainly marketers.  the execs understand pretty clearly that they aren’t hiring marketing experts, they’re hiring management consultants), and scratching of heads for social business consultants themselves.

        • techguerilla

          @MackCollier (I should also mention that the software vendors have created as much or more confusion around the term as anyone)

        • MackCollier

          @techguerilla that’s good to hear as I really am intrigued by the possibilities of the ideas being bandied about.  And I totally agree with you on the misconceptions and how some believe a ‘social business’ is ‘a business that does social media’.

  • The more we hold conversations like this, in settings like this one, the more that message will build and over time bring about change. We’ve been talking about this stuff for years. Slowly, surely, organizations are sitting up and paying attention. They may not be ready to implement yet, because integrating social media involves a lot more than showing people how to tweet, but they’re beginning to pay attention to more than just Facebook. Sadly, however, we have along way to go.

  • It’s business in the age of digital networks. The whole “social” term actually skews the discussion. Connectedness, on all levels, is becoming ubiquitous. That’s the big picture.

    • MackCollier

      @SteveWoodruff Bingo.  Don’t focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate.

    • MikeToner

      The “social” prefix needs to go. As Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G said, “This will be the year of The Drop. We will drop social from social media as all media is social.”
      “Social” as a term has permeated EVERYTHING, but social media is just media, social search is the new search, social tv= TV and Social Business, well- it’s just Business.

      • trainwithcts

        I would say the prefix needs to day.  Social implies two way conversation and to me not all media possess that quality.

  • trainwithcts

    I like that..the social part of social media. I enjoy giving presentations on LinkedIn for that very reason. I give presentations to job seekers, HR personnel, sales people, etc. and really try to make the point it is about making connections and liken it to networking groups like BNI. I usually try to weave in discussion on using introductions, writing recommendations for others, and providing answers and links to experts in the Q & A section as a way to see it is more than just connecting with as many people as you can and then never checking your account again.  For those of you on here that make presentations on social media, how do you try to drive home this concept?

  • techguerilla

    Couple of comments.  I’m on record in many places as to my feelings on ‘buzzwords’ (including a recent conversation regarding Native Advertising instigating by your post via Tom Martin), so I won’t go into depth on that here. To sum that up I’d say it’s whether something attempts to add clarity to a conversation, or whether it’s meaningless jargon meant to deceive that matters.  Even though ‘social business’ is *my* business, I’m not a particularly huge fan of the term as I think it muddies the water because folks involved in the ‘media’ portion of social have conversations about it that do nothing but confuse the issue.
    If you just want a definition and traits: 
    If you want executive positioning and statistics:
    Where I’d disagree with the articles point of view is that it seems to still equate social business with the usage of social media and with the engagement of customers.  At its simplest, social business deals with two areas.  1) The *impact* of social media on businesses themselves (pace of communications, cultural impact on workforce, internal processes, etc.)  2) The usage of social constructs *within* the business to improve business itself (collaboration, culture, knowledge distribution, learning systems, and so on).  In other words, it’s not about ‘using’ social media.
    Social business can (but isn’t required to, there are good examples of ones that don’t) encompass external social media engagement into its holistic strategies, but it isn’t about social media.
    That help?
    Matt Ridings
    CEO, SideraWorks

  • When dealing with the Babyboomers & Gen Xer’s on the social topic, its just like dealing with them on the technology and digital age issue. They think they will be retired before it becomes necessity or that what they are doing is enough.  Social media, etc goes hand in hand with evolving in technology.  If you leave out either in your business your business wont survive, period!

  • What is it with this business and buzz words?! 
    When I started hearing the “social business” phrase in the past year or so, I had the same reaction as you (and still do). Really, I think this concept of social business isn’t new….not to social media or to marketing in general. What we’re talking about is breaking down the silos and integrating a particular practice across the entire organization. We should be doing that anyway with how we communicate our core mission and values throughout a company. 
    It seems to me that this phrase is often bantered about as another “thing” that companies need to have or accomplish and yes, even go out and hire someone to help them do. Instead of thinking becoming a “social business” it should be about what can having this kind of approach help your business accomplish? 
    I think that we’re all in agreement that this kind of collaborative approach that involves the entire organization is desirable. I think maybe we just call it that instead of muddying the water another term that businesses don’t understand.

  • karyncooks

    Lots to comment on here but – for once – I’ll be brief. 😉  Yes, totally agree that The Drop may be the 2013 imperative.  It’s been brewing for a long time and we’ve reached critical mass in terms of sitting at the table with a new client, explaining that social is most effective when infused throughout their plans and culture, and that (gasp!) we may not actually be tweeting for them.  This is where it gets dicey for some — understandably – but the minute the plans are framed as social business vs. social media, the entire project has perceived weight vs. perceived lack of any real strategy or skill. Suddenly it all has meaning.   I think outlining the business of social  – perhaps by calling it social business – lets everyone know your work is about a cultural shift internally as much as it’s about the effective use of the tools.  Ok, that wasn’t brief. 🙂

    • techguerilla

      @karyncooks I suppose the question becomes, who is then responsible for bringing about this cultural shift and the change management necessary? I don’t see that as a marketing function.

      • @techguerilla  @karyncooks I’d argue that it’s a leadership function, right from the top. Which is why so many companies fail at “social business” because their leadership, the people actually making bottom line decisions that affect the whole organization, have no idea what it really means.

  • PattiRoseKnight

    You are so right….most people forget the social part of social media. If people like and trust you they will buy from you.  It really is that simple.

  • Jason Bahamundi

    Great points in here.  When we talk with clients and potential clients it is in the manner that social means just that: social.  There has to be give and take and you have to be prepared to answer questions and ask questions.  This cannot be a one way street and then put it into the example of a store owner.  They wouldn’t ignore a customer that walked into their store and would talk to them.  That is the same way social media business needs to be conducted as well.

  • Gini,
    Loving this post. Perspective from a Gen Y guy:
    I am thinking about this in a backwards sort of/kinda way. Social Business is a cool/trendy term that holds a lot of merit. But I think “social networking” is another buzzword that ties right in. Social networking creates social Business. I think the word “business” makes some people think too quickly about revenue and sales. So, it might be better to think about social networking before social business.
    Unfortunately, “social networking,” now-a-days, seems to relate more to meeting people/online dating on social platforms. But I think social networking is where it all starts if you want to do social business.
    Whether you are trying to grow a personal brand or corporate brand — you have to network. You have to physically and digitally network with people in a way that honest and forthright. Develop trust. Be genuine. Offer help. All of us listening in on Spin Sucks know that’s how you network. It’s not rocket science on the digital level.
    It just takes more effort and an applied perspective that I think overwhelms some Baby Boomers. It’s much easier than some of them think. They just have to crossover their old school networking strategies. 
    In the end, follow the same code on the digital level like you would at the physical level. Social networking creates social business.

  • Yeah, but when her questions sounded like wat denk je over sociale bedrijf? what did you think? 
    I would say there is really no wrong way or right way but that might not be true. If you don’t embrace enough to at least make it meaningful maybe you better go ahead and retire. It certainly is fickle and can be all over the map trying to keep up with this and that, but at the end of the day you don’t have to be an expert at everyone one of the platforms. 
    I’m a ‘boomah’ and most of my non or semi-social friends think that I know all things social. Probably more than most in that group, but I know I am still just scratching the surface. It is a continual journey of learning and I’m having fun just diving in.

  • Gini Dietrich

    The comments are out of control!

  • How casually you toss out lines like: “When I spoke in Holland…”  OK, ok, I’m jealous. I did speak in Italy once. It was to a cafe owner in San Remo, and I did learn where to get a great meal that night, and when the farmer’s market began. 
    (1) I LOVE the typewriter analogy. That’s going into my next proposal. Thank you!
    (2) Also love John Jantsch’s piece on social tactics/existing business models. It’s a huge point that needs repeating
    (3) Being picky here: “…should be figuring out how to use social media to talk to customers.” Talks WITH customers — or at least, to and with. It’s still vitally important to understand the company story, the vision, the mission, value propositions, key benefits, customer personas – and more. But that’s just a foundation for interaction. I think. 
    Good stuff!

  • MikeToner

    “Social Beyond Marketing” – let’s dissect this…you explain that “social” SHOULD permeate everything- all departments, all employees. Does it? No, but it’s getting there.
    If all employees used twitter or google+ or facebook or linkedin the way perhaps they use email or IM, is that “social business”? No, it’s business. It’s the HR dept, the PR dept, the sales dept AND the communications dept. communicating with customers. The medium is the message kinda deal.
    P.S. I’m gonna start calling it “social email”. (shout out to Livefyre)

  • rdopping

    I can’t hear anything with all the buzzing going on…..or maybe it’s my tinnitus kicking into high gear.
    “A recent Nielsen study shows 40 percent of us would prefer to reach the companies with which we do business through the web.” – Is that because we are inherently lazy and the “web” makes it easy or we just can’t get access to most  companies through traditional means (like walking in the front door and asking for stuff).

  • HowieG

    I guess my issue is the reason I trashed Michale Brito who blogged about this because Edelman Digital has latched on to this. Businesses have always been social. This is no different. Is me tweeting about my business any different than talking about it with strangers at a pub after work in 1980…or 1825 or 1200 BC? Not really. And you can’t order your employees to behave a certain way unless you incentivize them to be. I have a client who can’t get her staff to tweet even with training and coaching and just plain orders. They make $12 hr why should they tweet?
    So I feel this is a buzz word. A customer service guru like @adamtoporek probably agrees social hasn’t needed social media just customers and workers interacting through the ages.

    • @HowieG I’m with you on this one. I guess if a buzzword inspires more people to actually engage within their company and with clients, than I’m ok with it. But it’s nothing new under the sun IMHO.

  • TedRubin

    Since my social mantra has always been about Return on Relationship™, it’s refreshing to see a shift in the corporate mind-set regarding the business use of social media. According to a 2012 Social Business Benchmarking Study by FedEx and Ketchum, large companies still view social as a tool for building brand loyalty and strengthening customer relationships… and in my opinion that has a long way to go. However, they are also beginning to see the benefits of scaling social to other relationship-driven aspects of the business, from enhancing collaboration and dialog with stakeholders, to strengthening relationships with employees and vendors.
    And it’s about time! Since everything we do in business relies on developing and strengthening good relationships, why lock the most effective relationship-building tool we have in a marketing closet? Take away the “social media is for marketing” blinders, and all kinds of possibilities within your organization become clear. Shift your approach from Social Marketing to Social Business. The value of Social goes well beyond marketing.
    Great post Gini!

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