Social Business: Connected Business is Good BusinessThe fact that we are talking about Social Business and Social Enterprise makes me think that we see “social” as a separate thing, not as the connective tissue of business. While we've largely embraced the concept, we haven’t yet internalized it -- there’s still a divide between “social” and “community” and the rest of the organization. 

Isn't a Social Business basically a connected business -- when people connect to people, ideas, resources and business processes? If connectedness is the mark of today’s society, then isn't Social Business just good business?

Communities Deliver on Business Fundamentals

Let’s talk about business communities. A community reaches its potential when it connects people inside and outside of company walls -- and to business processes it touches. While it’s not a bad idea to start with a focused goal, it is limiting to treat communities as a “spot solution” in the long term. Rather, think of (internal and external) community platforms as a way to deliver on core business fundamentals.

No matter how different our businesses are, we all share these fundamental goals:

  • To stay relevant and top of mind in the industry we serve;
  • Provide solutions to prospects’ problems so they become customers;
  • Deliver value to customers and delight them, so that they remain customers and bring new customers in;
  • Manage costs and make smart financial bets;
  • Out-innovate competitors by understanding the future and moving in its direction;
  • And the most important of all fundamentals: to make money!

The Right Tool for the Right Time

As much as these fundamentals endure through time, methods by which we achieve them are changing drastically. Achieving these fundamentals is not easy in a world that produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, where technology changes faster and faster, and where category leadership is no longer guaranteed.

Solving today’s problems with yesterday’s tools is inherently ineffective and inefficient. Most of all, yesterday’s tools reinforce rigid Industrial Age organizational models, which fall apart in the face of today’s velocity and complexity. Instead of hierarchically organizing around a predictable world, people now need to self-organize around a moving target -- and community technology enables just that. At a basic level, business communities -- whether they are internal or external -- solve human problems with technology.

Cultivating the Right Mindset

What kinds of organizations do communities enable? And just as importantly, what kinds of organizations can get the most out of marrying technology and people?

A learning organization can turn massive amounts of unstructured data into insights, learn from them and act on them. However, the community manager can’t do this alone; it’s imperative to work across the organization and even outside of company lines. When a community team sits in a silo, an opportunity is wasted because wrong things are measured, data can’t become insights without context and action can’t be taken by the right people.

Too often customer-facing employees are not connected to the company’s operations, and thus unable to create meaningful change by bringing “outside-in” thinking into the organization. All this sounds simple enough in theory, but is considerably harder in practice. A learning organization is obsessed with customers, thinks outside-in and is prepared to change.

An adaptable organization can bob and weave, no matter the change in competitive landscape, technology or business outlook, or customer preferences. This kind of organization isn’t mired in process and hierarchy; rather, it creates the conditions for people who are closest to the problem to solve it. This kind of organization rallies behind a vision and decentralizes execution by trusting its people to do the right thing. This kind of organization works openly and fluidly across company lines, with customers and partners -- and stays on the cutting edge as a result.

An adaptable organization embraces unstructured collaboration in self-organized groups and provides solutions to real problems instead of creating solutions looking for problems. This kind of organization considers the shift of power towards individuals as an opportunity to accelerate, and not a threat.

A big-vision, high performing organization outperforms its competitors and leads the market because it thinks ahead and executes flawlessly. This kind of organization creates environments in which employees thrive because they are always improving -- the kind of improvement that only working together openly can provide. This kind of organization can draw to itself the right people, whose passions inspire them to work on the right things, with the right intensity, with the right people. In this kind of organization, work isn't drudgery; it’s a high-impact way to make a dent in the universe, with observable outcomes -- which is incredibly motivating.

Technology Enables, but Human Touch is Still Necessary

The power of people working together is nothing new, but developments in technology continue to make it easier and cheaper. We can now self-organize into boundary-blending communities with a click of a mouse, and solve complex problems with many moving parts and without “how to” manuals. By doing so, we can create customer experiences worth sharing.

Technology is not a panacea, however -- rather, it’s an enabler. To be effective, a community must bring together and motivate the right people to take action. For action and knowledge transfer to happen, participants need to trust each other and the environment, and be intrinsically motivated to contribute and act. This combination of motivation, trust, shared purpose and passion, facilitated by a collaborative environment, creates a community of action. Community strategy, community design and active community management ensure that these conditions occur and persist.

What’s Next?

Communities of action are like small movements that rise above the tactical nature of portals and forums of years past. When people inside and outside of company walls work together in new and unexpected ways, whole new economic models emerge. Jeremiah Owyang suggests that the Collaborative Economy is the next phase of Social Business -- check out the report here. While the specifics and value chains will continue to evolve, at the center of the Collaborative Economy is a peer-to-peer connection in a community of action.

Title image courtesy of djem (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Maria's thoughts on the role of community in business, read her Community Design is Like Throwing a Good Party - It Takes Planning