E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Social Business, Where Do You Stand?

Tenerife - Garachico in the WinterA few days back, just before I embarked on to another business trip to both London (To attend and present at the #UCExpo event) and Paris (To present at the Lotusphere Comes To You event) – more on both of those wonderful events shortly!, by the way- I put together a blog post where I tried to highlight the current status of the Social Web out there and how it seems like we are entering a new era of mediocrity, where the overall user experience keeps deteriorating itself by having to face a good number of various different issues that consistently keep diminishing and destroying our very own rights, as end-users, specially, as we keep allowing, repeatedly, plenty of abusive practices from lots of social networking sites, without doing much about it apparently. Well, while we try to figure out a way out to rebel against that ugly landscape we’ve allowed to grow further along, in today’s blog entry, and as way to resume my regular blogging activities, once again, I would like to spend a few minutes covering Enterprise 2.0 or, lately, Social Business, which seems to be the term everyone has been embracing (Incorrectly, if I may add, judging from what Social Business is originally all about it, as coined by Prof. Muhammad Yunus), since things are not going much better either in that space, as the true intentions from most organizations are starting to show up.

I have been involved with social networking sites for business since early 2001 and over the course of the years I have had a chance to get exposed to a good number of trends. Both positive and negative. I have been having hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with the various parts of the Social Business ecosystem: vendors, customers, business partners, competitors, industry analysts and other thought leaders and, over the course of the last few years, one thing is starting to become rather obvious and evident regarding the state of Social Business within the corporate world. The fact that there are two different and distinct types of businesses wanting to embrace it:

  • Those who are there for the money, your money, that is, the easy buck
  • And those who are there for the true social transformation of their entire business ecosystem (Both internal and external)

Yes, I know that this may all well seem like I am turning myself into some kind of a curmudgeon, but if you folks have been reading this blog for a long while now you would notice that’s not the case. Quite the opposite. I’m still that optimist, outrageous, heretic, rebel at work, free radical and hippie 2.0 (Now more than ever, specially!) who is finally understanding that we may well be at the crossroads of what one would consider the point of no return for Social Business, and that’s the one where businesses would, finally, need to make a critical decision: Are you there, in Social Business, for the money, for that easy buck I mentioned above, or are you there for the real transformation of your business, and your business processes, as you know it?

The reason why I am starting to question the validity of Social Business in the current corporate world has got nothing more to do than trying to distinguish those businesses that are just there wanting to earn the easy buck out of you, and therefore are living on the hype & buzz from Social Business itself (which is what’s been happening in the last three to four years and counting…) from those companies that are challenging their current business models to see how they could, at long last, start, truly, living social.

But what do I mean exactly with earning the easy buck, you may be wondering, right? Well, to me, there are two different types of businesses at the moment with regards to the world of Social Business and that transformation that we all keep talking about. Those that are claiming they are truly social businesses, because they are, indeed, living it all the way. They are transforming their business models to match the current needs and business landscape of the 21st century, where the knowledge economy, the relationship economy and the meritocracy economy, amongst others (Including a sustainable customer centric approach towards doing business!), are slowly taking over previous business models and are surely on their way to transforming their overall business ecosystem.

And then there are those that are saying they are truly social businesses, because of how they have embraced the social networking / computing philosophy and traits like transparency, openness (through servant leadership), publicy, agile, trustworthiness, being nimble, full employee empowerment and engagement through co-ownership and co-sharing of responsibility, etc. etc. and yet they still keep operating with the same good old mentality from the 20th century, with the same business models; the ones where command and control, micro-management, controlling the brand, as well as the message, optimisation of resources, etc. still rule big time, where customer centric interactions do not exist at all, where they claim they have lowered down the barrier for decision making and the centre of gravity, but it hardly ever happens, where they keep stating how they continue to encourage an open knowledge sharing and collaborative culture, and yet, employees still carry on competing against each other to get better overall performance reviews to advance in their own personal careers, at whatever the costs (Oh, and never mind rewarding group / team / networks / community performance, because currently it just doesn’t exist); in short, where they claim they are now becoming sustainable, engaged, networked, transparent social businesses and in reality nothing has changed. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. At all.

Well, those are *not* social businesses, I am afraid, and, in my opinion, they should not be considered social businesses and that’s why from here onwards I refuse to add that tag of #socbiz for any company out there that keeps talking about how they have become true social businesses, yet, they hardly walk the talk. Becoming a social business is something you earn. It’s a merit you work really hard for over the course of the years to provoke that social transformation that will help you carry out your business in a sustainable, meaningful and purposeful manner into the 21st century. It’s a lot of hard work, effort and energy of wanting to do things different than what you have been doing in previous decades. It’s a step forward towards a radical change in both management, leadership and transparency, as well as trust and engagement, from all sides of the equation, both the businesses and the employee workforce itself. The #socbiz is a tag that should be used carefully and sparingly, instead of being abused left and right by all of this mumbo jumbo talking that we keep getting bombarded with from all over the place; only if you are truly willing to not just say you are embracing it, but to eventually walk the talk all the way should you be worth it of that #socbiz tag. And I am afraid plenty of companies keep failing at delivering on this important business transformation.

That’s why, to me, it’s now the time where we need to put a stop to all of the BS we keep getting thrown back at us (And please do excuse my French!). We are on that critical stage where the initial hype, buzz and enthusiasm about Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business is running over, where knowledge workers are finally finding out, through a massive awakening!, that all of their efforts in wanting to change and smarten up by becoming true knowledge (Web) workers 2.0 are not being met by the other half of the equation, the employers themselves, those businesses who pretend to have what it takes to live social, but that they haven’t delivered, nor do they want to!, since there aren’t any hopeful signs they will be changing and adapting any time soon. We need to start getting serious about this social transformation, ALL of US, not just the employee workforce, but also the corporate world, as a whole, as my good friend, Sameer Patel put rather nicely, just recently in a superb blog post under the rather thought provoking title “Social Business Facts and Fiction” with notable quotes like this one:

The first innings of social in the enterprise is over. Those organizations that like to experiment have done so. Beyond those, a small number of executives who innately believe that collaboration is absolutely critical to execution have put their weight behind these programs. […] But there’s massive untapped opportunity out there to revise the value proposition for those numbers-driven businesses who will want to understand how all of this enhances what they’ve invested in for the last decade. Until then, this massive bucket of executives will treat “social business” as another Mickey Mouse program until they see how it matters to revenue increase, cost reduction and risk mitigation

Now, I am not sure whether I will be rather supportive of a Mickey Mouse programme, or not, as Sameer himself puts it rather nicely, in my opinion, but one thing for sure is that I think we all need to start challenging, and rebelling to a certain extent!, against those very same executives / business leaders and those other folks with the decision power to come forward, up their game, and truly state where they stand with regards to Social Business: up for the easy money, and quick profits, regardless of the damages they may continue to exert upon all of us (Remember Knowledge Management back in the day with vendors and consultants? Do we want to keep making the very same mistakes? Over and over again? Anyone?) or that social business transformation we, knowledge workers, have been anticipating all along over the course of the last few years and which we all know will help succeed those business into the 21st century Knowledge Economy, but that we keep failing in seeing it become a reality, our reality, just because we are not brave enough to challenge the current status quo of how business has been getting things done in the last few decades.

Think of it, seriously, picture yourself into 2020, or 2030 even, do you still think you will have a job in your current company without realising the social business dream? Actually, let’s push the limit a little bit further. Do you think that your company will still exist by that date without having become a successful social business eventually? … That’s what I thought. We need to change that dream into reality, our reality. Our time to act is now! Not tomorrow, or the day after, or next year. Or in five years. But today!! If you would want to be known, and respected!, as a successful social business, you better start earning that tag with all of us. Because we are watching… and acting accordingly, if you aren’t.

So, dear social business, where do you stand? By the money or by the social business transformation? Or, perhaps, somewhere in between? … If so, whereabouts exactly? Care to tell us so that we know where you stand in this Social Enterprise journey? I am sure we would all love to know, wouldn’t we, folks? You never know, you may be closer to it than you think.

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  1. Powerful argument Luis. As a first time reader of your blog, I’m impressed by your insight.

    I think a key word that goes amiss in the malstrom of hype is humble. Whilst I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the exact etymology of social business, and neither am I one to have a tit-for-tat over the contents of an exacting definition, one broad characteristic I’ve found (let’s throw ‘anecdotal’ in here too) in businesses who i’ve viewed as truly social is a sense of humbleness. Yes they’ve got a good system, yes they show off how nice their offices are to the world, but they usually don’t get up at a keynote and unleash a torrent of double speak lambasting others for not subscribing to their 19 point system to get to utter social business harmony. They’re usually more coy, more wise, less earnest to assume your current system is worse. I think there’s a lot to be said for being humble, listening and not shouting the loudest. And I think those that do that stand out, and some of them are, for me, the best examples of what a more harmonious social business future could look like. Where that would leave evangelism for the medium I don’t know.

    Looking forward to hearing some debate around the post, and to reading more of your blog in the future. Thanks for sharing.

    Luke W
    Community Manager

    1. Hi Luke! WOW!! What a wonderful set of comments! Thanks ever so much for dropping by and for the feedback! Outstanding! Ohhh, and welcome to the blog, too! Glad you enjoyed this your first blog post. Hoping for many more in the future 🙂

      While I was reading your thoughtful comments I just couldn’t help thinking about two particular key words that I, too, would associate with the concept of social enterprise and social business and which go, hand in hand, with your thoughts about being humble and harmonious and those two words are sustainable growth.

      I think that’s also part of the key mix that would make today’s businesses even more successful tomorrow. Focus on, of course, making profit and generate growth, but in such a sustainable manner that it becomes something harmonious and natural to achieve.

      Sustainable growth also from the perspective of the entire ecosystem: employees, customers, business partners, competitors, analysts and other thought leaders in the space. I think with those traits we would surely be heading in the right direction. What do you think?

      Thanks again for the wonderful feedback! And look forward to further exchanges 🙂

  2. Well done Luis! Semantic comments:
    1- “Social Business” is really NOT a good “slogan”, I agree. If you choose real transformation of the business processes, you will also talk about “Enterprise 2.0”.

    2- “Sustainable growth”, confusing also. “Sustainable” is a trendy word but in the case of Enterprise 2.0 it would probably mean “a growth in tune with customers’ needs and providers’ skills”…which was always the case! “Sustainable” is linked to environment problems and these problems will be solved by each person inside whatever community, not only the enterprises.

  3. Luis, I am also also a first time reader of your blog and also appreciate your insight! I just so happened to be listening to the John Williams station on Pandora while reading and some very dramatic theme was playing. I have to be honest with you that I did get a little choked up towards the end.

    It blows my mind as to how many C-Level execs I come across that know they NEED to be at this enterprise social adoption level but just aren’t. Meanwhile their wife’s 19 yr old nephew is blasting off tweets and blog posts in the other room on behalf of the million dollar corporation before his shift at Taco Bell.

    Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I also feel that we are at some sort of tipping point to where there the “Social Media Strategist” may be rearing his/her head MORE OFTEN now as many of us have had more and more experience in the Social/ Business space. The Strategist acts as an “orchestrator” inside the company’s business integrating and adding reason to the internal and external factors. They also can show ROI when it comes to social media strategy and lead gen. (ROI is definitely easier understood by the C-Suite than “reach” or “transparency”….)

    Keep up the informative insight and I look forward to coming back!

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