This post has been brewing for a while. It’s a culmination of a few years of using social media channels now, observing the changes in the marketing, communication and HR arenas and a growing frustration in observing companies making social snafus who simply should know better. The recent publishing of the Australian Top Ten PR Disasters, by PR watchdog and blog site,  there’s a very short list of factors that ensure you remain off these lists. Enough is enough!

I’m using the term social business in the way that IBM does.

A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.

It’s a deliberate use of term. I think we have moved on from social media marketing or social media use in HR. I think there is a growing recognition that our organisations are hyper-connected and operate within a social ecosystem. Yes, of course, organisations have always existed within a social ecosystem, but I don’t think this has been widely recognised by leaders and management.

The inhabitant of this ecosystem are many and varied and all have the potential to influence the outcomes of our organisations. And while we love to take the technological determinist view that the platforms like twitter, blogging, FB, yammer and youtube are enabling a new type of organisation, I’m just not sure that is enough to explain this shift.

Technology escalates the move to social business, but it is an ethos in operation, and complicit understanding of what it means to be social, that relationships matter and small actions can have massive impact, that is driving the move to social business.

The social ecosystem can be a dangerous place to exist. Those active in social media can be a ferocious and short tempered lot. They are quick to pounce, swift in ridicule and slow to praise. Somewhat unsocial really. It’s a behaviour that doesn’t get rewarded in the workplace, and I guess we can blame the immediacy of the “upload” button. If you felt so strongly to write a condescending snark of a letter about a company to your newspaper of choice you would have to take time to construct it and edit it to ensure that it had a chance of getting through the editor’s filter. And it may not see the light of print.

It’s no wonder that our companies and organisations are slow and reluctant to adopt social business principles. But here’s the rub. With or without social media technologies, if your product or services are lacking, people are already talking about you. And to a lot of people.  Once upon a time we use to trot out the “research shows that one unhappy customer will tell 7 – 9 people” in marketing and customer service seminars in the early 90’. With or without iphones, your employees are going home or meeting friends in pubs and talking about their their place of work – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Whether you like it or not you are already a social business.  What is left to determine is how good a social business you are.

The question that companies and organisations need to ask in 2012 is how much better could we be if….

  • Each employee were able to be an active brand advocate within their social circles
  • Our pool of candidates for recruiting was expanded to those within social networks
  • Our marketing did not need high cost above the line advertising
  • Our product and service development was informed by consumer research without the costly consultancies
  • Our customer services teams could respond to complaints in real time and prevent escalation or snarky stewing…

For some, the answer is a lot better. Others have a captive market and it is unlikely to make much of a difference.

You also need to ask yourself how worse could we do…

  • If the firewalls came down and employees could access social networking sites
  • If our customers had a space to voice their disappointment
  • We lost control of our key benefits and features and gave it over those who really like talking about us

I would argue that if you are truly fearful of these options as an organisation, then you have greater things to worry about than becoming relevant in your business practice.  But I do understand the nervous twitch and the paralysis by analysis. That said, there are four elements that will make it the transition to being a social business easier.

  1. A permissive culture that rewards risk, innovation and exploration
  2. A recognition that your organisation is made of highly interconnected social paths, and the boundary between inside and outside is highly permeable.
  3. A champion, a coach, a mentor or consultant who can translate and ease your into understanding the new ways of working and how you can harness them
  4. A good dollop of common sense.

Without these four elements, you’re possibly going to be on the receiving end of the snarkier side of the social media ecosphere and if everyone unplugged, there would still be some-one telling another seven people about you. If you look at this years’s top ten PR disasters pretty much all of them could have been avoided with the application of the four factors above.



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