When you hear “social business,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a company that uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to engage with customers? Maybe you imagine a company that uses internal collaboration platforms to connect employees together? Still, maybe you picture a company that uses both, social media platforms to engage with customers and internal collaboration platforms to connect employees? What’s the difference between social business and Enterprise 2.0? What about social media? Social CRM? Social collaboration?

What is a Social Business?

I’ve had many discussions about what people believe social business actually is over the past few months, and what I have found is that nobody really knows exactly what it is, but they have some vague idea. It’s a bit like trying to pinpoint an obscure country on a map: you might know roughly which continent it’s on or what the largest body of water nearby is, but you can’t say for sure where exactly it is located.

If a company uses an internal collaboration platform but does not have a collaborative culture, is that a social business? What if the company has a very collaborative culture but does not use either social media or internal collaboration tools? It seems as though everything boils down to two things: culture and technology.

A Social Business Doesn’t Exist

Nobody has really been able to identify REALISTIC characteristics of what exactly makes up a social business, and I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that the reason for that is mainly because a social business doesn’t really exist, does it? I mean, let’s really think about this for a minute.

Businesses are typically classified by vertical, company size, whether they are international or domestic, and other factors which are a bit more clear cut and obvious. If you ask me what business Honda is in, I can tell you that they are an international automotive company. But, are they a social business? Who knows and furthermore, does anyone care, and if so why? If we were to ask 10 people if Apple was a social business, I bet we would get quite a few varying responses. So if we (and when I say “we” I mean people in general, not just the handful of us in this industry) can’t look at an organization and clearly identify whether it is “social” or not, then how can we even use that as an adjective to describe it?

If a company has collaborative culture and uses collaborative tools, is that a social business?

I’m in the process of writing a book for McGraw Hill all around emergent collaboration inside of organizations. My challenge when writing some of the content was that I would continuously interchange many of the “social” words and jargon we hear about today. Then I realized that we have an abundance of terms which are all being used to describe similar things.

I also received some feedback from colleagues who told me that when they use the word “social” when speaking with executives and/or decision makers, that the first thing that come to mind is usually things like Twitter and Facebook, in other words social media. Personally, I’ve settled on “emergent collaboration,” but to me it signifies the two key things: “emergent,” which means something new, or something that is becoming visible or noticeable; and “collaboration,” which is really what I think this all about.

Final Thoughts

Let me ask you this.

What’s the difference between a social business and a non-social business? Does anyone really believe that businesses were ever anti-social? That employees never listened to or engaged with customers or that employees never collaborated and communicated with each other? Hopefully not, because that is 100% pure nonsense.

I’m a big fan of trying to keep things simple, no long definitions, no jargon, just something that anyone can understand. It seems to me that regardless of what we want to call “this,” the key behind all of this stuff is around being able to connect and collaborate in new ways and being able to leverage those connections to achieve goals. Those connections can be among people, information, or people and information. The second part of this is being able to leverage those connections in ways which allow us to accomplish something.

As Dr. Berne Brown said, “There is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people; there are simply those that utilize their creativity and those that don’t.” The same is true for social business. “There is no such thing as a social business; there are simply those that are more effective at leveraging their connections to collaborate and achieve goals, and those that aren’t.”

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: