Originally posted on Harvard Business Review.

For a clue to social media’s future, we need not look much further than Washington. On the one hand, you have “Weinergate,” former NY Senator Anthony Weiner’s Twitter fiasco, which was essentially user error. He failed to negotiate the thin line between digital communication and social communication, between private and public.

On the other hand you have President Obama’s announcement that he will do his own Tweeting. I’m fairly confident that while Obama may be the one that hits the “Tweet” button, it’s highly unlikely that his tweets will go out into the wild without planning and, for the lack of a better word, design. He’s no Anthony Weiner.

These two events signal the shift that’s coming. The age of social media as something spontaneous that reflects how we behave in the real world (the Weiner approach) is coming to an end. We are entering an age of social business: a purposeful, planned, orchestrated, and integrated way of doing business in a social context which may feel personal to the outside world but combine complexities internally within organizations that will need navigating. As further evidence to the shift, one can look to technology for yet another clue.

Over the past several years, forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the value of monitoring conversations, so they have purchased software licenses from platforms like Radian 6. Recently, Enterprise software behemoth Salesforce acquired the startup, sending the signal that listening to social conversations is only one slice of the bigger pie for business. The true opportunity lies in scaling and operationalizing “social.” If the next phase of social media is operating as a scalable social organization or business, then expect to see an explosion of activity in the following areas:

  • Organizational Design: While social media is focused on parts of an organization or business where communications and marketing demand social media tactics, a social business is redesigned as it moves through key phases of its evolution. All business functions have to undergo several iterations of change. Looking at your organization from a social business lens means looking at it more holistically. For further proof here, we can look to Facebook, where business and brand pages deal not only with customer “likes” but also with complaints and attacks from activist groups such as Greenpeace. Corporate Facebook pages are great examples of the need for marketing, PR, customer service, and even HR to all figure out how to work together because users on Facebook don’t make the distinction behind which department is running what. To them, a company page represents all departments.
  • Social Business Intelligence: The rise of social media led to a gold rush in technology solutions, which allowed organizations to eavesdrop on conversations happening across multiple social ecosystems and digital public spaces such as the blogosphere, message boards, and Facebook. Organizations that have become accustomed to listening in on conversations are now positioned to take the next step and convert listening into organization-wide business intelligence. Dell, for example, has a “social command center“, a baby step in the emerging area of social intelligence. Socially intelligent organizations will not only be able to adapt to conditions in their environment, but they will eventually be able to predict and plan for future scenarios.
  • Cultures of Collaboration, Co-Creation & Shared Value: Perhaps the most significant recent business case, which illustrates the business side of social, comes from a notoriously anti-social brand. When Apple first designed the iPhone, it did not plan for phones to be jailbroken and applications to be developed ad hoc, but that’s what happened. The App Store was born by an early understanding that certain aspects were out of Apple’s control and therefore a system needed to be planned and designed if Apple were to extract value in the long run. The end result is what’s commonly known in the business world as an ecosystem in which value is entered into it and extracted by multiple stakeholders for mutual gain. An ecosystem, by definition, is sustainable.

The tenuous relationship between social media and social business represents a chasm that must be bridged. On one hand, the public desires authentic interactions in social spaces from real people. There is now an expectation for real-time response. On the other, a business or organization requires a system to be in place that coordinates activities. In short, it means knowing that Obama is pressing the Tweet button at times, but making sure he’s not Tweeting anything inappropriate. The shift to come is moving from a focus on external media consumption to the internalization and business integration of what it means to become social or connected. Organizations that integrate social into how they do business will embrace social as a layer that’s woven into the fabric of each business function over time. In the era of social business, external media will always play a role, but it will be the tip of the iceberg.

 

Image credit: opensourceway

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