Last week I was inspired by a meeting to write a post on 5 Sure Signs You are NOT a Social Business. That post received quite a lot of review and off line discussion. Since then, I have met with a number of potential customers or been working on existing engagements with partners and this question of the difference between a social brand and a social business keeps arising.

And for me, the issue has also been kept top of mind in a round about way as posts abound on the predicted top trends in social for 2012 as well as a couple of posts on whether digital agencies are properly equipped to consult on social business or not. See the original post here and the response of Edelman here.

In their own way, both point to the differences or provide signs by which to judge whether you are a social business or not.

I don’t want to buy into the argument as to whether PR firms should be a social business advisor or not except to say most we have met should not be considered for that role though doubtless some have the capability in spades. It’s a bit like the ROI of social media question – it’s the wrong one. Trying to classify all digital agencies as capable or not in social business consulting is meaningless. Some will, some won’t. Look at their work and ask their customers.

But the robust discussions have led me to continue thinking about several more sure signs you are not a social business.

Here are 5 more signs to consider:

  1. Your Social Data Streams are Full……of YOU
  2. Social Media is Owned by Marketing, PR or Communications
  3. The focus is on Customer Engagement rather than the Customer Experience
  4. You are not thinking ‘Community’
  5. Social Technology takes precedence over People

1. Your Social Media Data Streams are Full of You

We see this so often. The social media world is full of “how to”s” – make your tweets, posts, updates, comments more effective. All full of great advice which works to a degree. And so you look at your twitter streams and LinkedIn updates and Facebook or blog posts and it’s all about you.

On the other hand Social businesses share content of value to their community. Not just content they create, but content they curate as well. As someone said to us earlier this week – caring is sharing. They don’t just use it as another form of outbound marketing.

Taking your marketing and churning it out via social channels as well as via email and so on is not being a social business. There is interesting content for your community that was not developed by you. Share it. Give others credit. Learn from it. You will be a better organisation. Of course, if your community is totally outsourced it’s unlikely an agency can do this for you. (Ask us why not?)

2. Social Media is Owned by Marketing, PR or Communications

Perhaps the number one realisation of becoming a social business is that it needs to be a cross-organisational initiative.

In almost every large organisation we have met with in the last year, anything ‘social’ is the responsibility of either Marketing, PR or Communications – and if these are separate groups they will often be vying for ‘control’. We are not here to criticise these organisations or departments; we are simply saying that it’s a sign you are not yet a social business.

Social businesses understand the importance of social in service, in innovation, in recruitment, in retention; indeed – across the entire business and as a result either have a cross-LOB team in charge of it or a separate group reporting to the executive. Another way to describe this is “service design” which Wim Rampen defines as:

Service is the personal sum of a Customer’s experiences in all their interactions, through touch-points, with the products and/or services of the company
in all their interactions with the relevant experiences of others, through or in the Customer’s (on-line) social networks – all making up the Customer’s perception of the value received and/or to be received from the company at any point in time.

Dare we say it; social business is a transformational process across the entire company and virtually every business process within it. It’s not a ‘marketing thing’.

3. The focus is on Customer Engagement rather than the Customer Experience

This may seem like a pointless distinction – yet we feel it’s a key one. In social media, there is a lot written about ‘engagement’ – you must focus on ‘engaging’ in conversations with customers or potential customers. We find this kind of focus tends to be prominent in organisations which are still social brands and not yet social businesses.

Social brand objectives also usually incorporate various forms of “relationship marketing” which aim to get closer to a customer’s lifestyle and to increase their Customer Lifetime Value to the business. This seems, at face value, to be “social”, yet in fact it is the opposite and if you look carefully you see that social business exposes relationship marketing to be simply gilding the old lily of transactional-based marketing.

Social brands tend to get very excited about the prospect of engaging customers because they have not really entered into a dialogue before – they have been talking at their customers and prospects for a long time and to them, this seems like a huge leap. Yet social businesses tend not to talk about ‘engagement’ very much but rather they take it for granted.

Social businesses focus on using social to improve the customer experience – the focus is on how to serve the customer better rather than how to engage them. Customer engagement is important; improving the customer experience is critical and social businesses understand the difference.

4. You are not thinking ‘Community’

Social brands tend to talk a lot about social media and the networks and how they are using them; primarily in their marketing efforts. And they tend to consider community management as a process of making or keeping those networks alive and active. Which again is important, but is really a stepping stone on the way to becoming a social business.

A social business is concerned with creating communities around common business objectives or goals and understands that in fact a social business is a collection of communities, internally and externally; which collaborate to create value for all within the community.

Social businesses encourage employees to collaborate with partners and customers alike to create value for all parties in a shared process. And this is not for some esoteric reason of being more ‘social’ or more ‘engaging’ but to improve business results such as revenue, product innovation, reducing time to market or time to benefit, decreasing costs and so on. Not a fan, follower or friend in sight – people collaborating in communities on common business goals.

That’s the promise of a social business.

5. Social Technology takes precedence over People

Social enterprises understand that people and process take precedence over technology acquisition every time.

Organisations that do not understand what it takes to be a social business tend to focus primarily on the acquisition of technology or alternatively, how to keep consumer-led technology out of companies. These are the people who either spend all their time and resources on searching for a perfect Social CRM system or a perfect Social Business Intelligence tool or spend all their time arguing that allowing people access to Facebook on company time is the biggest threat to productivity known to the civilised world.

Both are dead wrong.

For example, the consumerization of IT has far-reaching consequences for both IT and the business and the transformation to a social enterprise – it’s a significant transformational area that requires progressive and careful consideration, and of course it also links and interplays with the impact of cloud computing and mobile.

The best social businesses help people form into communities and help direct the collective power of those communities towards figuring out how to improve the customer experience and how to become part of the recommendation chain in the world of social. The foundation for social business transformation is culture and leadership, and all the social technology in the world is useless if organizational behaviors aren’t changed.

Providing technology in the form of a social platform can be useful to assist with collaboration but it doesn’t come before people.

Do you agree with these sign, and the previous ones, that indicate you are not a social business?

What would you add?

Will B.