Unless you are extremely reclusive, refuse to watch TV, read a newspaper or listen to the radio, or have no Internet access, you have heard of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and, in all likelihood, are active on at least one of these social platforms.

These three social platforms -- notice I did not say websites -- are communication platforms that earn most of the media attention when the word “social” is used. It is no real surprise when Facebook leads with almost 750 million unique users, a reported US$ 4 billion in revenues and US$ 2 billion in profits; Twitter approaches 150 million uniques and an estimated few hundred million in revenue; and LinkedIn has its 120 million members and projected full year revenues of US$ 475 million.

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They have surging growth numbers reported officially or via rumor every month. These three social behemoths are the clearest manifestation of a much bigger paradigm shift. What we are witnessing is a shift in how we communicate, how we find products and services, how we make purchases and on some level how we live. But look beyond the headlines in the consumer space, and you see dramatic changes, which are giving rise to the term social business.

There are two sides to the term “social business,” so let us review both.

Businesses Going Social Internally

The not-as-well-known nor headline-grabbing version is how businesses are becoming more social internally. Organizations large and small are adopting social technologies that allow them to leverage the benefits of social platforms: Real-time communication, mobile updates, sense of personality and of course, real-time insights or analysis.

Look to companies such as Jive, Salesforce.com, INGage, Lithium, Telligent or Yammer that are all offering internal platforms for organizations. In the case of Jive, it started as a social platform for companies to build their own communities, but now like the Chatter solution from Salesforce.com, Jive is leading the attack in an enormous market opportunity for socializing business.

The basic premise is that we now live in a real-time world with data overload, and decisions need to be made quickly and with more insight than monthly executive reports. These platforms enable employees to work together all the time, help unlock the creativity in people and teams and encourage collaboration that can be a strong motivator for employees.

In a social world, brands lose some control to the voices of their customers. Businesses that are socially optimized need to be prepared to lose some of the hierarchical structure to better harness the talent, passion and ideas within their organizations. This is akin to crowd-sourcing (there are award-winning creative ad agencies that crowd-source many of their ideas).

Social networking products are a growing market that IDC (an IDG subsidiary) forecasts will grow 41.8% (CAGR) to $2.9 billion in 2015. It is a big enough market opportunity that major tech players such as IBM, Oracle and Microsoft are all likely to make acquisitions to increase their social business offerings. IBM has already significantly grown its marketing analytics portfolio in recent years.

Going Social Outside Company Walls

Outside of organizational walls, the opportunity is even more compelling. Historically, the web has represented challenges for smaller organizations due to the need to create and update a website. Today, small-medium businesses (SMBs) can leverage Facebook and Twitter platforms to create a social presence, which is far easier to do than a website, and access to the social platforms is free. This improves the SMBs’ ability to find and engage with prospects and customers in a dialogue with them and their friends rather than a one-way monologue on websites of old.