The Confusing World of Social Business

June 27, 2011
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I have the privilege of working with two gentlemen that put most “thought leaders” to shame.

I am referring, of course, to Emanuele Quintarelli and Sameer Patel.

I have the privilege of working with two gentlemen that put most “thought leaders” to shame.

I am referring, of course, to Emanuele Quintarelli and Sameer Patel.

They are not only very bright in their perceptions of Social Business, but very active in helping make the changes that matter.  While I spend my time figuring out how to write about “the convergence” (later dubbed social business) and try to make sense of it for my clients, they are in the front lines at their companies (Sameer as a partner at Sovos Group and Emanuele as a partner in OpenKnowledge) making Social Business happen.

A large part of what they are finding and doing every day made it into the events they put together the past few weeks, both of which I was invited to participate.  Emanuele is in charge of the International Social Business Forum in Milano, Italy and Sameer led the Sales and Marketing track at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  Having attended both gave me some great insights into the current state of Social Business, which I wanted to share with you.

First off, the label social is not good.  It does no justice to what we are doing.  This is not about being social; this is about creating collaborative platforms for users and organizations to co-create value.  There is nothing social to that (well, maybe you can label the interactions social – but if so, what were they before? anti-social? immature social?  Interactions have not changed; the value derived from having them is what has changed).

The value of what we are building is NOT in the engagement or in interacting, that goes back many, many moons.  I have been working in Customer Service for 25 years, as far as I remember – we had interactions. Social interactions.  We are building value in collaboration, not in being social.  The whole purpose to “being social” is to collaborate, if you don’t see it that way – you are in the wrong place.  I have been endorsing the term collaborative enterprise, it is not mine, but I like it.  It identifies very well, IMO, what we are trying to build – an enterprise where collaboration makes things happen.

That brings me to point #2, and one that I have been espousing for some time, Enterprise 2.0 is a used, old term.  It does not identify or represent what we are trying to do anymore than Social Business.  This is business, or enterprise, evolved.  Call it Evolved business if you need a label, or just plain business.  And drop the idea that collaborating should only happen inside the organization – that is rubbish.  This is about collaboration that crosses the membrane, which brings business users and customers together.

I guess Social Enterprise is a bad name then – right? Yes, terrible – but we will address that later… something tells me in early August we will have plenty of time to go into those details.  Intuition if you may.

Third, the most important point: business users are getting it.  Truly.  I have had many, many conversations in both forums (as I had last year) and the conversation is finally shifting: we used to talk about collaboration and tools exclusively, now we are talking about business value and strategy.  We used to talk about inside-out concepts only (company in control), now we are talking about outside-in as well (customer-centric).  These are not conversations with vendors and fellow pundits, those always had the element of bet-I-can-predict-more-than-you-can to then, but the conversations with the end-users, the organizations that are deploying these collaboration networks.  This is what we were aiming for: enterprise users that are tying it all together.

Case in point: during the event Clearvale put together, “An Evening with Paul Greenberg”, we got to hear a lot of the traditional questions – what is SCRM, how does it work, who sells it — but this time around they were uttered by end-users, those people that would’ve consider buying them.  And there was a lot of conversation generated around those topics as well – interesting conversation talking about compliance, use-in-business, proven business value.  It was great to see people that are getting past the hype and telling me that even though they did not purchase (or did purchase, in some cases) technology to support their efforts they are doing some very cool projects. More on that to come.

Finally, vendors are piling up on the concept of Social Business (and now even Social Enterprise).  Just a quick look at my inbox, which is mostly press releases these days thanks to other communication tools available – thank you, shows me the names of the largest vendors in Enterprise Software talking about their “Social Business” this or that.  Among the startups and newcomers, those that are not dealing with Social Consumers are focused on how to incorporate Social into the enterprise.  Of course, there is no possible way that all these vendors are right – or wrong – so where do we go from here?

Here is my take.

The evolution of business, propelled by the customers becoming more interested in participating in communities, led organizations to the point of having to decide: should they make the move to work closer with their partners, prospects, employees, and customers to build better products that meet expectations now – or later? Make no mistake; there are very, very few (if any) corporations out there that don’t believe this Social evolution will affect them.  It is not a matter of whether, but when.  Smart organizations that recognized these societal changes for what they are investigating, testing, or deploying new platforms and infrastructures to allow freer collaboration.  The few that don’t know they will have to do it in the future.  This is one of those very interesting times in Enterprise Software that is marking a fundamental shift in the WAY we conduct business – not in business itself.

The adaptation to that new way of doing business is what is going to make it very interesting for the two-to-five years.

Know what I mean?