Although much of the early business use of social media was largely focused on broadcasting marketing messages at customers, social media transformed word of mouth into word of data and empowered customers to add their voice to marketing messages, forcing marketing to evolve from monologues to dialogues. But is the business potential of social media limited to marketing?
During the MidMarket IBM Social Business #Futurecast, a panel discussion from earlier this month, Ed Brill, author of the forthcoming book Opting In: Lessons in Social Business from a Fortune 500 Product Manager, defined the term social business as “an organization that engages employees in a socially-enabled process that brings together how employees interact with each other, partners, customers, and the marketplace. It’s about bringing all the right people, both internally and externally, together in a conversation to solve problems, be innovative and responsive, and better understand marketplace dynamics.”
“Most midsize businesses today,” Laurie McCabe commented, “are still grappling with how to supplement traditional applications and tools with some of the newer social business tools. Up until now, the focus has been on integrating social media into a lot of marketing communications, and we haven’t yet seen the integration of social media into other business processes.”
“Midsize businesses understand,” Handly Cameron remarked, “how important it is to get into social media, but they’re usually so focused on daily operations that they think that a social business is simply one that uses social media, and therefore they cite the facts that they created Twitter and Facebook accounts as proof that they are a social business, but again, they are focusing on external uses of social media and not internal uses such as improving employee collaboration.”
Collaboration was a common theme throughout the panel discussion. Brill said a social business is one that has undergone the cultural transformation required to embrace the fact that it is a good idea to share knowledge. McCabe remarked that the leadership of a social business rewards employees for sharing knowledge, not for hoarding knowledge. She also emphasized the importance of culture before tools since simply giving individuals social tools will not automatically create a collaborative culture.
Cameron also noted how the widespread adoption of cloud computing and mobile devices is helping to drive the adoption of social tools for collaboration, and helping to break down a lot of the traditional boundaries to knowledge sharing, especially as more organizations are becoming less bounded by the physical proximity of their employees, partners, and customers.
From my perspective, even though marketing might have been how social media got in the front door of many organizations, social media has always been about knowledge sharing and collaboration. And with mobile, cloud, and social technologies so integrated into our personal and professional lives, life and business are both more social and collaborative than ever before. So, even if collaboration isn’t in the genes of your organization, it’s no longer possible to put the collaboration genie back in the bottle.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.