Evolving to Social Business (and beyond)

Most organizations are well into the process of incorporating social media into their day to day business – and many are starting to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities of being “social” over the long haul: the resource commitment, the necessary changes in leadership and culture, and the responsibility to engage in  conversation, collaboration and community with customers, prospects, partners, employees and other stakeholders.

Many rubrics have emerged over the last few years to try and provide a context for the transformational phenomenon that is partially expressed by social media: Enterprise 2.0, Open Leadership, Social CRM, Social Business… the list goes on. By listing these terms, I don’t mean to dismiss any of them. I like and find value in all of the concepts I’ve listed – I love Charlene Li’s book “Open Leadership“, and find a lof of value in the recent discussions about Social Business, especially Stowe Boyd’s writing on the subject, and particulalrly, his defintion:

“A social business is an organization designed consciously around sociality and social tools, as a response to a changed world and the emergence of the social web, including social media, social networks, and a long list of other advances.”

With all of the good thinking and conversation happening around the topic of business transformation via “social”, I do feel like we are all describing different parts of the same elephant. I would propose the larger context – and the north star – for social initiatives is really about Sustainable Business. Think more Senge’sThe Necessary Revolution” than Open Leadership (which is still important, but a component).

A Sustainable Business (or organization) is a business that creates generative (net-positive) value in the form of:

  • Social Capital – Stakeholders are engaged and help shape the business, products and policies.
  • Financial Capital – The business is profitable.
  • Ecological Capital – The business has a net-positive impact on the ecological resources it uses.

How does “social” fit in to the concept of Sustainable Business? At least 3 key ways (and there are many more, this is a big topic).

  1. Stakeholder Engagement: Connecting to customers, prospects partners and employees has never been easier or more impactful than today, via social technology. Social media, online community and collaboration tools offer a high bandwidth and near-real time opportunity to communicate, discuss and share. Further, managed properly, social tools allow organizations to communicate and manage relationships at scale.
  2. Leadership and Culture Change: The process of adopting social tools, like hosting an online community or offering support via Twitter, is a forcing function for culture change in an organization. Business culture has to evolve to have an honest dialog with customers and prospects, and leadership has to support this honest dialog, or the investment in social tools won’t pay off.
  3. “Social” is Generative Asset: This is the key point – social sites, online communities and collaboration spaces, when done correctly, produce net-positive value in the form social and financial capital. Claiming ecological capital is a bit of a stretch here, but one could argue that the impact of conversations and  collaboration online vs. in-person favors online from a positive impact perspective.

In short, I’m proposing that we collectively acknowledge that there is a larger and more important context for the activities we generally refer to as social media, that the call to action around leadership and culture change is rooted in creating sustainable businesses, and that the term “Sustainable Business” may be a more helpful way to describe the macro trend we are collectively involved in.

I would love to hear what you think, and discuss via comments.

Online Communities and Sustainable Development: Supporting “Green” and Beyond