Social business — defined in this context as internal collaboration in the mobile enterprise and the digital workplace — had a big year in 2015.

We did a non-statistical survey of experts and practitioners to get their sense for the big trends in social business in the year that soon will be finished — then compared what they told us with a seminal (and scientific) study on the topic: the joint effort by MIT Sloan and Deloitte University.

Expert Opinions

So first, here’s what our informal panel of experts offered as the top social business trends of 2015:

Real time collaboration: Process is beginning to finally adapt to the employee in the 21st century, millennial-fearing, attention-span-shortened workplace.

"This was the year of Slack and other real-time collaboration tools. Project management tools that operate via static post-like updates, such as Basecamp, fell out of favor with many digital and modern workplaces. Rather, they were replaced by collaboration ‘messengers’ that focus on real-time collaboration paired with static task and deliverable management," said Tony Rindsberg, CMO of SOCi, a social media management platform.

Employee advocacy tools: Business leaders can get nearly Shakespearean with their soliloquies about how important people are to their business. But with a social business, the excuses for why they fail to actually act on these promises are fewer and fewer. It's time to put up or shut up; create a "delightful business environment" or not.

"Employee advocacy tools can help onboard and educate employees, generate high-quality candidate referrals, build culture, and support marketing or branding initiatives. These employee advocate tools are rewarding for both sides — participation is fun and engaging for the employee and also helps the business increase brand awareness, revenue and customer engagement," says Jim Williams, vice president of marketing at Influitive, an advocate marketing firm.

Enterprise social networks: Are they fancy intranets or simply ways for social media firms to get past business browser firewalls? Will they replace real time collaboration tools like Slack or build off them? From reports from an early adopter of Facebook at Work, it appears reality may be a little of the former two — with enterprise social networks as tools to allow companies to harvest and share knowledge across an enterprise and boost morale by showcasing work and building community.

"Facebook at Work has launched, and the idea that you harness employees' desire to be on social media for work purposes is fully formed," said writer Amy Vernon.

“In 2015, workplace social really exploded,” agreed Cameron Uganec, senior director of global brand at Hootsuite.

“From Slack to Facebook at Work—which we use ourselves at Hootsuite—these networks are becoming homes to learning opportunities, extensive collaboration and good old-fashioned human interaction. … Expect even faster adoption in 2016. Down with email. Up with social.”

'Digital Desire'

Now, let’s take that look at the 2015 MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte “Becoming a Digitally Mature Enterprise” study, as promised. What we find — its one key message from 2015 — is one of digital desire. Employees want to be part of social business.

According to the research, 91 percent of employees believe digital technologies could fundamentally change the way people work in their organizations. Fewer than half (43 percent) of those surveyed are satisfied with the current digital approach. About 71 percent scored their organization as either in the early (26 percent) or developing (45 percent) stages of digital maturity. 

Those last two numbers correlate. Only one in 10 of employees in companies deemed in the "early" stages of becoming social businesses were satisfied with progress, and fewer than four of 10 in "developing" firms.

And it's not those dang millennials just pushing their companies forward and grumbling, "Hey, we're the biggest age group around here now ... you better do what we say!"

The Deloitte/MIT researchers found that 81 percent of Gen Xers (age 36-44) agreed that "it is important for me to work for an organization that is digitally enabled or a digital leader." Even boomers agreed: 76 percent of them ages 53-59 and 72 percent older than 60.

So for social business, 2015 could go down in the books as the time that bottom-up pressure pushed organizations toward their inevitable digital transformation.

By the time 2016 flies by, we may even be so far progressed as to have perfect clarity about what “social business” means.

Title image by Ryan McGuire