Is the Social Business Gold Rush Over?

In recent months several prominent social media thought-leaders have been sounding the death knell for social business. The (multi) billion dollar question is: are they right? Back in...

Is the social business gold rush over?

In recent months several prominent social media thought-leaders have been sounding the death knell for social business. The (multi) billion dollar question is: are they right?


Back in 2010, Stowe Boyd described a Social Business as “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”. This, and other insightful quotes, set the tone for a new way of thinking about how social media could benefit organisations.

The implementation of more social – i.e. open, inclusive and collaborative – practices was set to improve internal efficiency and enhance the customer experience. McKinsey estimated that between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in value could be unlocked through the use of social technologies and that they could enable organisations to increase workforce productivity by a massive 20-25%.

The social business gold rush was on!

And it continued largely unabated for much of the past three years. But then, earlier this month the founder of Social Media Club, Chris Heuer, published a post on Brian Solis’ blog entitled “Social Business is Dead…”. Chris is a big fan of social business – playfully describing business leaders who don’t understand social as “frogs being put into a pot of cold water being slowly brought to a boil”- but in his post he confessed that “social business”, as a term, simply isn’t grabbing the attention of senior execs in large organisations.

But this isn’t just a matter of terminology, surely?

It doesn’t look that way. In July, Lee Bryant, founder of Headshift (now part of Dachis Group) described the painful process of trying to implement social business strategies within large organisations, saying “we have been banging our heads against the brick walls of corporate structures, culture and politics for too long, trying to change them from the inside, network by network, node by node, when their very structures (HR, IT, Operations, Finance, Marketing) act as a barrier to change”.

And there are other indicators that people are losing faith in the promise of social business. Rawn Shah, a former IBM social business expert, has written about the mass exodus of thought leaders from social business roles in the past year – perhaps indicating that these roles aren’t as fulfilling as they once seemed. One of the founders of Huddle has also ripped into social business, saying that platforms that only offer partial solutions are soon to be extinct. Given that, to date, the vast majority of organisations have only implemented a cluster of partial, loosely integrated social business solutions, the future looks decidedly messy.

Of course, social business still has a lot of supporters and there are some compelling large brand case studies out there (not least IBM and Burberry), but for all the hype and excitement, there really aren’t very many shining examples of social business success.

To my mind, this is probably the primary challenge for any brand considering implementing a social business strategy. Social media has never been an easy sell, internally, but at least Marketing Teams can refer to amazing social media marketing examples and PR teams can point to reputation management risks. Nobody wants to restructure and re-think a massive organisation on the basis of theory alone.

Earlier in the year I hosted two webinars on the topics of Creating an Integrated Social Business Strategy and Social Business: Moving Beyond Engagement. Both of these explored the development of social business theory – and both recordings are really worth listening to – but the elephant in the room was always about implementation, or lack of it.

So what could we do?

We’ve asked the mercurial Chris Heuer (Ahhocnium and Social Media Club), IBM’s Guy Stephens and Richard Hughes from Broadvision (who’s written some excellent posts on social business) to join us for a third webinar on 12th Nov with the express purpose of tackling this question: “Is the Social Business Gold Rush Over”.

Book your place, clear your diary and switch off all devices – this is not to be missed.

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  1. Matt Ridings Reply

    Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s just damned hard work and requires a significant amount of time. Practitioners lose patience, externally funded companies need to put more bodies to work and show returns faster than the social business implementation cycle allows, and so you end up with a lot of pivots. Culture, change management, collaboration, adoption, innovation….all without a traditional role ‘in charge’ of these kinds of initiatives makes for a really challenging space and very long sales cycle. If you’re not in this to do the hard work, you’re not going to last long.

    Matt Ridings
    CEO, SideraWorks

    1. lbrynleyjones Reply

      Yes, I was talking to one of the UK’s top social business practitioners last week and they made the point that social evangelists are great at kicking off social business projects, but often crappy at delivering them over many months or years of hard slog. It’s certainly a challenge for businesses to maintain the level of faith and dedication that’s required to get results.

  2. Frank Diana Reply

    Nice post Luke. No burning platform yet – but I think the heat will be rising – and social’s place in the future enterprise will be embraced out of necessity.

    1. lbrynleyjones Reply

      Thanks Frank. We’ll see how far we get in the webinar and publish our findings afterwards – so hopefully we’ll contribute to a clearer picture in the coming months.

  3. PhilWhomes Reply

    “Social media has never been an easy sell, internally….”

    Very true. One issue is that social media strategy and execution, done properly, can be resource heavy which results in those three big ugly letters coming into play – ‘ROI’. As marketers we are used to justifying budgets through detailed analysis of campaign results, and most routes to market allow us to do this to the decimal point.

    In my opinion you cannot measure social media like this, and any attempt to do so will result in inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims which in turn could have a negative effect when applying for budget.

    I do not believe that you should even attempt to create a ‘social business’, as defined by Stowe Boyd. Instead social should be seen as a component of business strategy alongside all other tactics, rather than a moon around which everything else orbits. Maybe by doing this, more senior execs will be willing to understand it, accept it, and resource it,

  4. Ken’s TOP 5 Information Pivot Points of Week 45 | ControlTrends Reply

    […] Is the Social Business Gold Rush Over? Join OurSocialTimes on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM GMT. Back in 2010, Stowe Boyd described a Social […]

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