Social Business: Hype or Reality?

In this second excerpt from his recent White paper on The Future of Social Business, Our Social Times founder, Luke Brynley-Jones explores the hype around social business. This...

Social Business Hype

In this second excerpt from his recent White paper on The Future of Social Business, Our Social Times founder, Luke Brynley-Jones explores the hype around social business.

Social Business Hype

This white paper is based on a webinar discussion that asked: Is the Social Business Gold Rush Over? You can listen to that here, or download the full report here.

One of the key challenges for those seeking to implement social business projects is dealing with the hype – and, as Chris Heuer [who took part in our webinar discussion] explores in his recent post on Brian Solis’ blog, there has been significant hype around this particular buzz-phrase in recent years.

On the one hand, there is hype surrounding the need for improved collaboration within organisations and the potential benefits of delivering even quite modest improvements on the current state of play. In 2012 McKinsey published its Social Economy report, which included headline-grabbing statistics such as: the average worker spends 28% of their working week answering emails and 20% looking for information. The report concluded that: “improved communication and collaboration through social technologies could raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 percent”.

On the other hand, it’s possible that your board will see social business as just another strand of social media – which many still see as a bubble waiting to burst – and discount any investment into such a project. Assuming, though, that your board is keen to explore social business, it’s likely they will identify one of the established case studies for #socbiz and seek to emulate it’s success.

This can prove counter- productive, as Guy Stephens from IBM points out: “we have these poster companies we hold up. An example I often hear quoted is giffgaff [the UK-based mobile operator]. What we need to bear in mind is in order to create a giffgaff it takes a special set of circumstances that most companies will not have. It happened to giffgaff because it could. Companies put pressure on themselves with these unobtainable goals”.

It’s also possible, that your board will decide that there’s value in being seen to be a social business that is open and inclusive and perhaps, by association, ethical and transparent, but there’s also folly in that direction. Richard Hughes, Social Strategy Director at BroadVision, makes the case against, saying: “I think it’s important to remember that a social business is not really the end we are aiming for, it’s the means to achieve that end. The end we are aiming for is better communication, better collaboration, serving customers better, informing employees better so they can be more efficient. The end game is not ‘look we are all social businesses’, the end game is that we are serving our customers, partners and employees better”. It seems likely that an organisation that isn’t open and transparent, merely trying to appear so, will at some point come unstuck.

We might all agree that the results of social business theory appear worthwhile, but which organisations are actually thinking along these lines? As Guy Stephens says: “what I say to people is ‘when was the last time you, as a company, got round the table and defined what these terms [openness, transparency, collaboration] mean within your organisation?’ We never talk about it. We make all these assumptions but we don’t really try and help each other along that journey.”

There is a nagging belief in the industry that hard-pressed, profit-driven, management teams simply don’t have the luxury of theorising about the benefits of instigating greater openness and collaboration. Our webinar on the topic featured two consultants and two solution providers, prompting Guy Stephens to comment: “it may well be that these conversations are only being had amongst people like us”. Yet the substance of our discussion, I believe, offers some very practical lessons for organisations that are looking beyond the hype towards making genuine improvements in their ways of working.

Next week’s excerpt will explore the question: Does Social Business Start Outside or Inside the Organisation? To read that now, download the full report here.

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