There's no doubt that social business has arrived. In three short years, we've adopted this umbrella concept to encompass function-specific concepts like word of mouth marketing, consumer advocacy and Enterprise 2.0. But what exactly is social business?
As a definition, a social business harnesses fundamental tendencies in human behavior via emerging technology to improve strategic and tactical outcomes. There's a lot more to unpack in support of that statement — so let's talk about what matters in social business.
First, we need to understand how we got to where we are today. Although social business draws upon fundamental human nature, the opportunities we see for companies today were not feasible at scale until changes came about in work, society and technology. In particular:
A Change in the Cadence of the Workplace
The average length of the workweek has steadily declined as the US economy has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing to services. The average US work week is currently about 35 hours. However, professionals in social business-related roles are exempt employees and their success depends on taking an always-on, always-connected approach to work. The pace of change may be slowed by regulation, such as the law passed last month in Brazil declaring that checking email after hours qualifies for overtime, but global commercial pressure will drive companies to do whatever it takes to win in increasing competitive markets.
Increasing Acceptance of Public Sharing
In the late 1990s, Josh Harris created an art project called "Quiet: We Live In Public" with 100 people living in a terrarium under New York City, with webcams capturing everything. At the time, the experiment was a bold projection about the power of technology over human lives. Just over a decade later, a culture of public sharing has emerged on a massive scale that has facilitated toppling of governments, seen wedding proposals and live-tweeting of births and terabytes of mundane commentary on everyday life‚ which contain a wealth of insight for brands.
The Consumerization of IT
IBM has stated that your smartphone has more computing power than the whole world did in 1950. Moore's law shows us how we got from mainframes in the 1970s to the iPhone today. Metcalfe's law explains why connecting these devices is valuable. Computing capacity for personal and professional uses has never been more affordable, setting the stage for social business to thrive.
Businesses recognized these trends and saw opportunities emerging in the market. Outside the firewall, "viral" videos involving brands like Subservient Chicken and Campaign For Real Beauty got the attention of marketing and PR professionals. Inside the firewall, communications channels were evolving into social networks and collaborative spaces, where increased informal engagement started leading to greater productivity. Taking advantage of both internal and external opportunities is critical to social business success, as shown in:
Businesses must account for how they are building direct relationships with individual consumers. In today's landscape, hundreds if not thousands of examples exist where brands are engaging consumers, striving for the same four outcomes: increases in awareness and mindshare, fostering brand love and activating advocacy. For example, Red Bull manages a Facebook community of almost 27 million fans. CoffeeMate operates an advocacy community called the Brew Crew with thousands of participants and dozens of thousands on a waiting list to get in. US Cellular has leveraged their award-winning customer service to get active in social media channels and increase their volume of issues handled by over 600%.
Although external initiatives generally get more attention than internal, companies can drive meaningful results by applying social business approaches to existing business operations - most notably, cost reductions. For Spanish telecom company Movistar, a customer support community delivers almost $6 million in annual call deflection savings. At reinsurer Swiss Re, an internal community paid for itself in less than 12 months by allowing legacy systems to be decommissioned. At TransUnion, $50,000 spent on a social networking platform resulted in $2.5 million in savings within five months.