Build a Social Business

What Is Social Business?

Social business—the application of social technologies as a formal component of business processes—revolves around understanding how your customers or stakeholders connect to your business and how you reshape your business to understand, accept, and innovate based on their involvement.

Social business is about integrating all of your business functions: customer support, marketing, the executive team, and more. It means doing this for the purpose of creating collaborative innovation and engagement at meaningful, measurable levels tied clearly and directly to your company’s business objectives.

Social Businesses Are Participative

Ultimately, social business is about participation with and by your customers and stakeholders in pursuit of an organization that is strongly connected to them through participative and collaborative processes. As a result, a social business is often better able to respond to marketplace dynamics and competitive opportunities than a traditionally organized and managed firm.

This may occur through participation in a social community, a support or discussion forum, or any of a variety of other social applications and contexts. The efforts leading to the creation of a social business often begin with identifying or creating an opportunity for participation with (or between) customers, employees, or stakeholders within community or similar social applications.

Build Around Customer Participation

Regardless of who the community is intended to serve, strong communities are best built around the things that matter deeply to the members of the community: passions, lifestyles, causes, and similar fundamentally aligned needs.

This applies whether the audience is primarily business—B2B communities like Element 14’s engineering community or Dell’s “Take Your Path” small business owners community form around very specific shared needs common to small business owners—or a personal-interest B2C or nonprofit or cause related community

The core elements powering a social business in any case need to be something to which the community members (customers or potential customers, for example) will spontaneously bond, and that as a result will encourage them to invite others to join. In the case of Dell’s “Take Your Own Path,” the common element is the unique set of challenges faced by small businesses.

If you’ve ever met a small business owner, you know how passionate they are about what they do. Dell has found a very effective way through the practices of social business to tap this by identifying and serving the needs of the small business owner—for example, by encouraging discussion about finance and investments in business hardware.

Participation Is Driven by Passion

Further, how will the employees of that business rally around the needs of your customers? At Southwest Airlines, employees are bound together in service of the customer, through a passionate belief for the freedom to fl y being a reality for anyone. So much so that when times are tough or situations demand it, the employees don the personas of “Freedom Fighters” and literally go to work on behalf of preserving the “right to fly” for their customers.

In Search of a Higher Calling

The surest way to avoid this trap is to appeal to passion, lifestyle, or cause—in other words, to anchor your initiatives in something larger than your brand, product, or service: Appeal to a “higher calling,” in a manner of speaking, one that is carefully selected to both attract the people you want to associate with and to provide a natural home or connection to your brand, product, or service.

Last word

Social media takes this practice to the next level. Social media inherently revolves around passions, lifestyles, and causes—the higher calling that defines larger social objects to which participants relate. The social media programs that are intended to link customers to communities and shared social activities around the business, and thereby around the brand, product, or service must themselves be anchored in this same larger ideal.

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