In the new world order of technology and the web, we often associate social media or social networking with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. However, just because you have a Facebook page or Tweet on Twitter doesn’t mean you’re a social business. Just because you microblog on some cloud-based CRM system doesn’t mean you’re a social business. And social business is not just about the marketing hype of the cloud itself. A social business is one that views its entire value chain as a set of collaborative networks called communities and embraces technology that focuses on the relationships, conversations and business activities that occur in these networks.

Relationships Form through Many Different Channels

The fact is that many formal and informal networks already exist within an organization’s ecosystem of customers, colleagues, partners and suppliers. If you examine the ecosystem of a business, relationships have been and continue to be established with your customers, employees, partners and suppliers. Relationships are how most commerce is conducted.

In some cases these networked relationships are loosely associated while others are more tightly defined. People are already talking about your product or service. Customers are talking to other customers and employees are talking to other employees. Yes, some of those conversations are happening on Facebook and Twitter today, but conversations are happening in a variety of forms, in multiple channels and via many devices. Some conversations are online and some are word of mouth. Also in these networks, numerous business activities are also taking place whether or not you are aware of or subscribe to them.

Online Communities Make Connecting, Knowledge Sharing Easier

Whether in human or digital form, communities are already alive and well! Today, social technology simply provides a more structured digital context to support the formation of communities, facilitate relationships, encourage and capture conversations, and surface activities within the network. An online community provides a context for people to more easily form and engage in these collaborative networks and share common interests, information and knowledge independent of time or physical location. Communities empower the members of the network to share what they know, find experts and connect with people they don’t know.

Thinking in terms of communities allows knowledge and information to flow more freely within and across the networks that exist throughout your value chain. Communities allow you to better understand these relationships, influence the conversation, or manage the activities that are already taking place.

Want to Evolve into a Social Business?

So the question you need to ask yourself is not "What is our social media strategy?" but instead "What is our social business strategy to engage in and manage the communities throughout our organizational ecosystem?" You need stop thinking in terms of “supplier portal” or “customer portal” and start thinking about supplier communities and customer communities and employee communities. You need to view communities as a strategic common space for colleagues, customers and partners to communicate, innovate ideas, ask questions, share knowledge, search and filters on hashtags. You need to rethink the way information is published, consumed and shared throughout your ecosystem and embrace the activity stream as your primary collaboration dashboard.

You want to evolve into a social business? Then think in terms of communities and embrace technology that provides an integrated collaboration experience, simplifies the process of sharing and connecting people, accelerates ideation and expertise discovery, streamlines the aggregation and consumption of content, and brings visibility and transparency to the real conversations, issues, opportunities and business activities that are happening across your value chain.

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