Social Business

Social Business

After some soul searching I’ve just started updating my various personal profiles around the web to say I’m asocial business evangelist rather than sayingenterprise 2.0.  I’ve got close to this before.  I wanted to explain why now.  For me that terminology change is a big deal because I’m not 100% comfortable with “social business“, but it’s not me rather the market that decides.  If we move the clock forwards 5 years I’m sure we’ll be using different language again, and I believe the way the smart companies use social media and social tools in their businesses today will be as natural and essential to any organisation as a website, email, phones or mobiles (cell phones for my US friends, handys for the Germans – language is so crucial!).  I actually prefer the term “amplified enterprise” because the terms “social business” (as used by the likes of DachisAltimeter Groupand IBM) or “social enterprise” (as used by Salesforce) are already occupied by a very different idea.  Go ask the average, non-technology oriented bushiness person in the street and see what they say.  Actually my perspective on this topic has 4 dimensions:

  • The social term applied to business is already occupied by something else
  • Business has always been social, right back to trading around the tribal camp fire
  • Use of today’s social networking and social media tools inside and outside business is vital
  • It’s not about specific technology or a particular platform (a tough thing for a software guy to say!)

The Social term
If I type social business in to the Wikipedia search box, the relevant page says this:

“This article is about a business with a social objective. For organization designed around social tools, social media, and social networks, see Social media.”

If you go to the excellent ZDNet online debate from a few weeks ago titled “Social enterprise: Real or fiction?” between Dion Hinchcliffe and Dennis Howlett, in one of the first exchanges Dennis says:

“The notion of a social enterprise is at best laughable and at worst ridiculous.  Enterprises are artificial constructs designed with one purpose – the creation of wealth for the benefit of shareholders. The fact that such enterprises may employ people doesn’t distract from the primary purpose. That’s why we have hierarchies, rules, command and control. They serve to constrain people into behaving rationally and only for the benefit of the enterprise.”

he goes on:

“The notion of a social enterprise is merely the latest in a long line of fashion-driven management constructs designed to make employees believe that the enterprise cares.”

Pretty cynical, and even back in 2009 Dennis was saying “Enterprise 2.0: what a crock“.   But there is a confusion that comes from the social word and the fact that the term was first coined by  Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus and he was talking about businesses built around a social purpose or a cause.  Social media marketing is hijacking an existing term to make it become something different.  It’s a shame, because the principles behind this new version of “social business” are actually vital for all business.

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