• Social business is real.  But it has to come from within the enterprise and the usual suspects – consultants and agencies – aren’t equipped to bring social media from without into the enterprise. It’s either going to come from within, or it’s not going to happen.  

    • Contest aside, I think I may respectfully disagree.  A great agency or consultant gets the business and appreciates the culture and can bring great enablement chops to the table.  They can coach the right stakeholder to make it happen.  But in that respect I agree, this discipline demands a strong internal champion.  Internal change, particularly cultural change has to be driven from within.

      • But it’s all going to depend on the internal champion(s). If there’s no one inside the enterprise who’s pushing, any consultant or agency isn’t going to be able to do much more than collect a check. 

  • First off, great topic for conversation and KUDOS Jason on the book launch!  I was planning on picking one up on my next trip to the US.

    Social Business is as real as the discipline behind it.  Businesses of scale generally need major reorganization if they are going to foster meaningful internal and external dialog across the marketing mix and across their many partners.  That said, most people selling social business have very little experience.I have worked in this space for 5 years, working with massive brands on early social business efforts going back to a global collaboration portal and enabling social policy for a tech infrastructure company in 2007.  The reality is that the tools and disciplines for social business have not yet come of age.  No technologies have the complete desired feature set – ready to ship with no duct tape required.  And few major decision makers or power players are really ready to invest the effort and funding required for social business transformation.  And fewer consultants have the experience to claim robust expertise.But this doesn’t mean that social business is BS.  It’s an emerging and promising discipline.  However, anyone who claims to have this cracked and solved, particularly anyone who is offering a proven recipe that will work for your organization, is full of it.  

  • You rock, sir. Thank you for doing this! Looking forward to the comments!

  • There’s a lot of bullshit about it. But: can something that takes us back to the very essence of human relations be bullshit? 

  • Part of the issue in social media getting recognized as a game changer is because the CUSTOMER isn’t calling it “social media.”  In polls and surveys and market research, customers aren’t saying “yes! the social media at x company is great and has now made me a fan of a brand that I will be spending more $$ with in the future!”  Customers are simply saying “Customer Service was great” – just so happened they were helped on Facebook. — or — “A friend turned me on to your brand” – just so happened to be via Twitter — or — “I saw an advertisement online” – just so happened to be on a company blog they didn’t know was a “blog.”  Until the majority of customers understand what they are experiencing is “social media” (not likely to happen), then the importance of what practitioners are doing in the enterprise will be called into question.  We know we’re making a difference to customers but “proving it” could be a long time coming…

    • Good point, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Ordinary people don’t care about media types, IMO.

  • I was tempted just to copy one of your replies, Geoff, because I really want to read this book and figured that would get me a shoe-in :) Thank goodness I resolved to be less of a smarty poo poo this year.

    Here is what jumped out at me from the IBM page:

    “A Social Business isn’t just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.”

    This, to me, is the missing link for a lot of people. As you say, Geoff, a lot of people who got involved in social media when it first became hot are not (underline, screamer, bold, italics) marketing people. That is why we have conversations about whether ROI is real. That is why people preach that a brand is the same as your logo. There is a LOT of misinformation on the interwebz and as a person who has one foot in each world, it’s really interesting to see what takes and what doesn’t. In the case of social business, I think a lot of people *would* define it as a company that has social media accounts.

    To me, social business could be a new, updated for social media term for true marketing integration. With social media as a tool, you now can respond to your customers faster, respond to other departmental people faster, deal with crises faster, and spread good news faster. That is something that a lot of marketers have been dreaming of for a long, long time. A social business, to me, is one without silos, one reliant on the customers first, and one that is willing to engage (sorry to use a buzzword).

    So…I don’t think it’s BS. But the way some people misconstrue it just might be ;)

    • OK, devil’s advocate here” Isn’t that just a customer centric business, and didn’t they exist well before social media?

      • They existed – not in the numbers they should have, but they existed. However, I think Social Media can amplify the customer-centric business. And besides, even a customer-centric business can have internal silos. Social Media can bring departments together, can bring people into the realm of customer service who might not ordinarily have been there, and can bring customers into the company’s communication stream.

        Goshes. I sound like a fan girl :)

  • Geoff – it’s both. Trick question. The pros and cons you listed are all valid, not mutually exclusive. 

    Really though, this is a theoretical macro debate that’s not terribly instructive until we start talking specific industries, companies, use cases, etc.

    Joseph Kingsbury

    • So is predicting winners of the NFL playoffs, and until the games are played… But we do it anyway, don’t we? ;)

  • I am not convinced there are many true “social media experts” but rather people who understand how to use social media channels to engage with new audiences in creative and memorable ways.

    Journalists, communicators, editors, PR folks and anyone who communicates for a living all are figuring out how to use these channels, connect with target audiences and apply some sort of measures to gauge progress. 

    Content is king … with social media. 

    • Figuring out how to do what is the big question.  So far, they just seem to broadcast, generally speaking.

  • Geoff, As always very insightful and provacative,,,, Ok I’ll bite

    I’ve been a small business owner for 30 years and most of my clients are small businesses as well.  For the small business segment (as compared to enterprise) I think being a successful business has largely always been about being a “social business”  (i.e collaboration & community internal & external)

    IBM’s defines social business as engaged, transparent and nimble. At face value these three characteristics pretty well define the strengths of a good small business.

    That being said, the increase availability of social media tools/platforms has certainly had an impact on small business owners and not all positive.

    “Social” doesn’t scale.  The typical small business owner with limited staff bandwith often doesn’t have the people talent and/or time to move beyond social tactics to integrating social into an overall marketing strategy.

    Moreover, many small business owners are not prepared to make
    the investment to get outside professional guidance to help
    them leverage social.

    So where it stands today, i think many small business owners see more hype than reality and would probably vote  “B.S.” on Social Business

    But for those small businesses who do wade in smartly (either on their own or with “expert” help) “Social Business” is real.

    Lots of “real work” because the technology tools are still very fragmented
    and require lots of cobbling together.

    But yet “real opportunity” because social allows a deeper connection between people (staff, customers, partners) and when done well (authentic creative, strategic) that is always good for business. 

  • The question you ask is whether or not social biz is something that will change how a biz conducts “biz as usual” or if it’s all hype around these new tools. I think that the point is that social media is a tool… or set of tools… and social media itself will not change how biz runs or interacts with its customer. 

    Being employee or customer-centric is a culture within an org. It’s not dictated by the tools the org. uses to communicate. So for a “social media  expert” comes to an org and says: I can change your business, THAT is the bullshit. A social media expert can teach an org how best to integrate social media into their communications strategy, project management plan, etc… but the culture within the org has to already be there. 

    And by culture, I don’t mean: Yes, we should have a FB page. I mean there has to be a willingness to be transparent, to not need to make all decisions by committee, to teams that you can trust with message/content, etc. You also need to be willing to try new things and fail.

    Until that culture is part of an org’s makeup, it’s BS. 

  • I think the underlying principles of social business (using IBM’s definition) are real and legitimate. But I’m not entirely convinced it’s all new, just as Cloud was called Client/Server at one time. I think what adds to the bullshitiness of it all is calling everything social business. Good customer service is not social business. I’ts just good service. I think calling everything social business makes people feel like there is this whole new, technical thing they have to do. It seems unnecessary.

    • Well clearly I’m no expert, because I posted logging in with Twitter and did not notice that my husband, the Casual Triathlete had not logged out. He didn’t say that, I did. If that comment wins, I get the book :-)

    • I agree. It does seem like it’s putting cache on something that’s already an understood concept.

  • I’ll tell you what’s bullshit, Geoff–this whole argument we’re having. I just got into this debate with Jay Baer last week, who posited that PR people aren’t qualified to lead a social business effort. Jay, by the way, is co-author of a terrific book called The Now Revolution, which does an excellent job of outlining the concept of what a “social business” is.

    In that book, he and Amber Naslund make the point that in the future, social media skills will be considered a primary, basic business skill that all professionals should master, and social media will be woven into the fabric of most organizations.  Obviously, we’re not there yet, but I don’t think we’re too far away.

    Now if you accept this analysis, and I do, then it logically follows that each area of the company…from HR, to customer service, to sales, to pr and marketing, to internal communications, to frontline management will be using social media, as a platform, to communicate to their specific audiences.  Each of these areas will have to find reasons to use it, policies for content, measurement and reporting tools.  I think eventually, it will become so ubiquitous, so widely used, that to have a department that “owns” social media will seem ridiculous.  It would be like having a VP of printer paper.

    Granted, I am taking a very long term view here.  In the meantime, organizations will need social media champions…people in the organization that can train, teach and transform around the social business model.  PR and marketing folks tend to have the best grasp of the communications principles behind social media and are, in most organizations, the likely suspects for getting the ball rolling.  In some instances, they may want agency help to get extra energy and resources behind the game.  But in other companies, it might be the CEO, or the head of IT, or the head of customer service who really cuts through with compelling business results with social media. 

    Social business is a very new concept.  Enterprise social tools aren’t very old, either.  Why don’t we all just admit we’re learning, and stop this “I’m a better qualified expert than you” nonsense.  The future of social media will belong to those who can use it to drive business objectives–period.  Let’s start treating it like the truly democratic tool that it is, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the social integration everybody so desperately wants.

    • Well, you make a strong argument for, so you win a book.  Email me your addy at geoffliving [@], please.

      I agree with you that uniquity will occur, and “that to have a department that “owns” social media will seem ridiculous.” I don’t think I agree so much on the social media champion inside. I see this as more of an email function, where people just use it.  I also don’t think PR and marketing people (or the consultants for that matter) have the best grasp of the media form based on CMO adoption and integration rates.  To me, I think that argument is for the blind leading the blind.  So I respectfully disagree there. But, I do respect that there is a significant school of thought in this direction.

      • Geoff,
        To argue for Susan, the difference between social technologies for social business and Outlook for electronic business is that the social technologies don’t have a Microsoft arguing for them, marketing for them, trying (and sometimes failing) to prove business value for them and a help desk to solve issues for them. Unlike email, social business tools aren’t something you can purchase to layer on, yet. So you need a champion. You need someone who can serve those functions. Of course, you need a company willing to buy in, too.

  • In this space everyone loves buzz words and everyone is looking for the next it trend. In some ways Social Business will be the meme or buzzword that makes us want to take the Die option of 2011’s Engage or Die…

    Businesses that are smart will look at all avenues available to them to get a leg up in their space and to get a pulse of their customers. So if social is able to assist in that, great, otherwise it is just a buzzword. If they are building up meaningful relationships with their customers bonus. 

    To me I would rather see social media become part of business as usual rather than a buzz word that is forgotten and overlooked by the decision makers and customers. One cares about the bottom line and the other cares about how you deliver the widgets/cogs for their consumption.

  • Good points, but what stands out most to me from all this digital social communication around the world is how it stands to potentially change business moreso than adapt to serve business. 

    “Social Business” is a step in the right direction, but it’s mostly bullshit, where “business exists to make a profit” -types are still trying to associate themselves (and their offerings) with better without actually investing in being better. 

    As more and more people come online and demand their voices be heard, I think we’ll see truly social businesses put societal impact above everything else to deliver meaningful benefit. Business will exist to make a difference. 

    That’s what I’m working toward, anyway.

    • I think you are right, Brian. Social business is a result of online pressure, not consultants pimping the latest social media flavor. You win a book.  Email me your addy at geoffliving [@], please.

  • Social business can be a great thing provided your business is ready for it and you have the right plan to get it started. One of the reasons many businesses fail in the social universe is because they blindly go into with the expectation that money will flow in just from being in the space. This is a big misconception. Have a successful social presence is more than just having a Facebook or Twitter account. It takes serious planning and proper execution. 

    One of the first questions a business should ask itself when preparing to enter the social space is “how is this going to help my business?” Success is based on setting goals, figuring out what tactics/platforms will best reach those goals, and understanding how to measure your efforts to see if your goals were met. 

    Social media has the ability to weave itself into every aspect of a business, but whether or not it should is up the that business. It can turn a simple customer service call center into a pro-active, lead generating, customer service beast; it can also tear a company apart if the people handling it don’t know how to properly handle a situation.

    The “bullshit” behind social business comes from not know what you are wanting to accomplish, how to accomplish it, how to measure results, and  not having properly trained employees to handle the move into social media. Without all this, a business is setting itself up for social media failure.

    If you want to avoid the bullshit, then have a plan. Be pro-active. Don’t be afraid to dive-in headfirst. In the end, your goal should be to make your customers happy, because a happy customer is a customer for life.

  • Whether or not it’s bullshit ultimately comes down to metrics.  Right now, it’s a theoretical debate.  To the extent that companies can track and measure the impact of social, the debate can be resolved.  The true heros (whether PR reps, marketing execs or software wizards) will be the ones who establish a sense of credibility and accountability for their social media strategies.

    • Outcomes and metrics are critical for sure.  So are desired objectives. I don’t see social business arguments discussing those very much.

  • I think it’s impossible to call it business or bullshit.. It’s all in the execution.

    At some point some young gun told the office manager they should buy a fax machine because the competitor has one and they can obtain signatures on documents in less than 5 minutes.  When we add the concept of time we can see that for some businesses, it was still ‘bullshit’ because none of their vendors, clients, or customers had fax machines yet.  But eventually it became ‘business’ when everyone else was using it.

    At some point some international wiz said “we can make money in asia, there’s millions of people and laws are relaxed”.   For the guy who makes 200 lb work tables it’s bullshit.  The shipping is more than the revenue per table.  But for a bunch of people it made sense to export.  Nowadays, the guy making the tables is getting them made in china, and drop shipping to customers.  Now it’s business.

    This one is pretty well suited to social media and marketing.  To anyone who’s worked in marketing and advertising can tell you, people’s eyeballs are looking at computers more than billboards and tv’s.  That doesn’t mean that you post the billboard on facebook and call it a day.  We don’t like billboards.  Putting it on our computer doesn’t work, just like it doesn’t work alongside of the highway.  There’s more to it.  Making a ‘real world’ marketing pitch fit our computer screen is bullshit.  Tailoring a company’s message to reach the people that are sitting in front of these screens for 10 hours a day is now and will continue to be ‘business.’  We just gotta be smart.

    As more and more people let their voices be heard online, the messages will be more and more clear.  At that time we can call social business “business”.  Until then, we have to pick and choose the quality of what we take in and push out to the ‘interwebz’.

    Now I want that book, Damnit.

  • A lot of the concepts are right, but the terminology is simply not adequate, as I argue here:

  • Good work!

  • Pingback:Is Social Business Real? - Laura Orban

    […] I (awkwardly) commented on an interesting post by Geoff Livingston, Social Business or Social Bullshit? On Friday he will pick the top 5 comments and send each person a copy of Jason Fall’s new […]

  • I sit on the social biz side, as I’m one of those talking about it all day with my clients – so to me it’s not a buzzword.  It’s actually an evolution away from “social media” used as a derogatory, it’s “only for the young people” excuse not to get involved, towards an understanding that having a digital presence in public social sites is good for business.  But even further than that, to me it’s a really promising indication that organizations are starting to get that becoming social is much more than social media marketing, social media campaigns, influence numbers games, or any other of those things that are less than a holistic understanding that businesses need to become more human – all the way through – to flourish in the future.

  • Social business would be wonderful…but it’s such a 180 from how most marketers think about things that we’re going to have to wait a generation for it to be built into companies’ DNA. Ironically, older people get the social part even though the tech is new to them since that’s how business used to be done, but younger people don’t have the experience to prove that the long-term relationships they’re building (or saving) will pay off. It’s like any consulting…the answers are usually clear, but it’s bringing about the execution that really matters. Most so-called social media folks have no experience with this part, so it ends up being bullshit in effect even though it could be great. IMHO.

  • Also, Geoff, way to practice social business via posts like these!

  • Social Business is bullshit from the perspective of the social media consultant. 

    While social networks have sparked a tectonic shift in human behavior and how individuals/consumers communicate, the transformation into a social business has to be from the inside out. It takes visionary leaders inside companies to start the change in corporate culture. Once that shift has started, only then can a social media consultant help.

    Until then, everything they say just sounds like bullshit to the executives.

  • Pingback:TWICs, XIX

    […] Geoff Livingston: Social Business or Social Bullshit (01.03.12) As more and more people come online and demand their voices be heard, I think we’ll see truly social businesses put societal impact above everything else to deliver meaningful benefit. Business will exist to make a difference. […]

  • Social Media is a Revolution in Interpersonal Communications Technology. Marketing is not part of this statement. And it is just a communication tool. How we all use it is up to us. The people who make money with the Social Media Bias (speakers, rockstars etc ) are bullshitting out their ass. It hasn’t moved any sales needles and there was a great article recently about major firms not spending on marketing via Facebook. Ford said it is a waste of their money. They do the brand page and use it to leverage other marketing efforts (digital/traditional).

    But as a Comm tool business can use them to improve many aspects of their business. Why not use a Facebook Page or Twitter account for non-urgent easy customer service and feedback. Why shouldn’t a small Org use Path for simple private communicating. Or a big firm add to their Intranet technologies that allow more social collaboration/participation. Can’t a few people now use G+ for free video conferencing and not leave their building or cubical?

    In fact the words Social Media are a misnomer. It is technology not content. I have blogged about this. And the Ad support is the worst form of revenue ever. If the technology was so good wouldn’t you pay to use it?

    Lastly when I go to Social Media Club events I see too many professionals who think Social will mint them a fortune. And I don’t see that in their results. Two years before property crashed there was 1.1 homes for sale in California for every licensed Real Estate Rep in the state! Or when Day Traders couldn’t lose money in the mid-90’s. Everyone and their grandmother is trying to become a personal brand now and it is pretty much proof of a coming correction.

  • Pingback:TWICs XX

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  • Pingback:Is Social Business Real? - Laura Orban

    […] I (awkwardly) commented on an interesting post by Geoff Livingston, Social Business or Social Bullshit? On Friday he will pick the top 5 comments and send each person a copy of Jason Fall’s new […]

  • Social Business, is in reality, just a new name for a whole bunch of traits that many have strived to achieve in their business prior to the Internet. Note, I say business, the whole business, not just the Marketing and PR department. Sandy Carter from IBM is spot on when she says that Social Media is just a subset of Social Business. The traits I’m talking about are openness, improved communication, comfort with change and increased levels of collaboration to mention just a few.  The only difference today, is the availability of Web 2.0 tools as enablers.

    Some of the key aspects, in no particular order, of being Social and being Social Successfully, not doing Social are:

    1. Putting Strategy before Tools. Why? before How? If you don’t have a strategic reason for having a Facebook page, Twitter account of starting a Yammer network then you’ll just be committing random acts of Social Business and wasting your time, effort and $$.  Only after your strategy has been established can you select the most appropriate tools to achieve the desired outcomes.
    2. Applying Systems Thinking to the Strategy to broaden the scope of your Social Business activities beyond Marketing & PR to encompass the whole organisation and all it’s related communities.
    3. Taking a Scientific Approach – Coming up with a hypothesis based on your Strategic Goals and their related Operational and Social Business Objectives. Testing that hypothesis, incorporating measurement of the stuff that matters, not the BS metrics, but, the really, important stuff, and then based on the results, scaling projects, canning them or adjusting and trying again.
    4. Making sure the boundaries are clear. Let having appropriate governance and policies in place and making sure everyone understands them.
    5. Being Agiles. Making sure your organisation is comfortable with changing fast, stays aware of their environment, what’s changing for their community and moves to stay relevant to those communities. Societal norms are changing and we have to move with them.
    6. Enable Social Business by taking it seriously, committing to it with support from leadership “Do or Do Not, There is no Try” (Yoda), having a real strategy so that your not just performing random acts of social media, resourcing it well, making sure it is scalable, recognising that it is often a major cultural change, re-aligning the way we approach business with shifts in our communities beliefs.
    7. Saying Yes to Authenticity and NO to BS. Gotta get the open communication going.
    8. Trusting your staff. So many will allow their staff to broker multi$million deals and give them the keys to the building but not let them tweet. If you’ve set the boundaries and educated everyone as to what they are, let ’em loose. It will highlight the good peeps as well as the bad faster (that way you can move them on).
    9. Don’t forget the human touch. Nothing beats face to face to really connect.  
    10. DO.  Gotta get on with it. You might start with Marketing and PR, if that is your strategic desire.  You can’t do everything at once, but, remember to be a truly Social Business, being Social needs to touch all parts of your business and the systems that connect to it.

    Being Social is done well, should increase the number and depth of meaningful interactions between communities in the system, enhancing collaboration and achieving a measurable return on the time, effort and $$ invested.

    Yep, just like any field of endeavour there are those that a full of BS and those that really know what they are talking about. Social Business shouldn’t be tarred with the brush of the BSer’s, we should be looking at how we can do it better by applying principles such as those above.

    One thing is for sure, consumer are savvier than ever before and they won’t put up with the BS.

  • I agree wholeheartedly with the Pros. The social media experts have no clue about the fundamentals of “social media” let alone how to market and  *GASP* generate a return from the effort. So sad, as this does not, nor should be the case. The reason why? So many social media experts are just best-in-class regurgitations of tech news articles. They speak loud, they’ve learned to type without grammatical flaws and they report vanity metrics that have no merit or warrant in how a business should reach its bottom line. Plus, their pyramid is inversely stacked with these unproven and useless metrics that those businesses who set their businesses up under such tenets are going to land smack on their face. 
    Essentially and its simplest, which is where we all need to start, is social media is broken into three areas for a business: customer service (aka wall engagement, twitter responses, social media surveys) direct response marketing (interactive page apps), and paid advertising on social sites (FB featured stories). That’s it. Keep it simple to establish benchmarks (i.e. for customer service– what is current customer service benchmarks at the company in terms of response rate and did we increase that month over month? what is our lead / sales generation through direct response marketing programs on interactive apps? what is our click and lead rates through paid advertising on social sites.
    If you keep it to terms that you know how to measure then your business will more readily adopt and embrace the media networks.

  • Technology adapts and modifies in its environment.  Eg email was going to do away with meetings, now people are holding meeting to deal with the flood of email.

    A technology is not a paradigm.  

    The web2.0 is the beginnings of a new paradigm perhaps – to do with two way communication.  Large companies will take a long while to adapt to this (if they ever do).

    But even with web2.0 you can’t have a close relationship with 10,000 customers.  It is however probably possible to have better information about your customers for far less than a business consultancy would charge.

  • I like how you’re writing, interesting and usefull, not a bullshit like other bloggers))
    So keep up, thanks for post!

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