Social Business Is Dead . . .

But don’t order up a casket quite yet.

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Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
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The King is dead … Long live the King!

Signifying an immediate transition of power, this phrase is used to commemorate the passing of power from one royal leader to his (or her!) successor.

We are at a transition point with respect to social business. The old regime is passing away and transitioning to something new. I’m not predicting a demise of any of the major social business players, but the rules of the game are changing — and social business professionals should be aware of these changes.

The first sign that something important was changing in social business came during my interview with Blake Chandlee of Facebook. He intentionally referred to Facebook as a digital company, not a social one. When the 600-pound gorilla of the social media world begins to think of itself as something more than just a social business, something important is going on.

Data Analytics

Another important signal came from the results of our 2014 social business report. While this report showed that businesses were beginning to derive value from social business initiatives, this value was directly tied to the company’s social business maturity. The single biggest driver of social business maturity, however, was whether and how the company used and analyzed data from their social business initiatives.

In other words, the key to social business success was not necessarily something related to social business directly but involved how companies used data and analytics to understand social business. This connection between social business and analytics is further underscored by Twitter’s recently announced partnership with IBM to deliver better business intelligence from social data. Key social business companies recognize they also need to excel at analytics.

Mobile and Wearable Technologies

In another important sign, Taco Bell recently shut down its popular Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts (temporarily) to announce its new mobile app. The move is symbolic of companies looking beyond a simple social media presence to find more direct ways of connecting with customers. Such direct connections allow the company to offer a richer customer-service experience through mobile devices, such as customized orders, location awareness and unique customer profiles. Of course, since the Taco Bell app encourages customers to connect through a Facebook account, this experience is intertwined with the customer’s social media presence.

The integration of social and mobile has been ongoing for years. Today, nearly two-thirds of Facebook revenues come from mobile devices. Eighty-three percent of monthly active users use mobile at least some of the time, and nearly 35% use Facebook on mobile devices exclusively. Microsoft is rebuilding its entire strategy around mobile devices and their cloud counterparts.

The march toward mobile devices will likely continue unabated as hardware companies begin to develop new wearable technologies, such as the recently announced Apple Watch or futuristic implantable technologies. While smart watches may or may not eventually catch on, technology continues to become smaller and an even greater part of our routine daily lives.

This increasing sophistication of mobile devices provides novel opportunities for companies to relate directly to the consumer. For example, the increase in people sharing share health and fitness information online through wearable technologies with biomedical sensors has led the healthcare company Kaiser Permanente to explore ways to integrate this data into patients medical records. Companies have greater freedom to customize the customer experience and collect data on how to improve that experience by directly interacting with customers through mobile devices.

Automated Algorithms

Another change: our social interactions are no longer necessarily connections with other people (anonymous or known). Automated algorithms or “bots” now drive over 60% of Internet traffic, and represent about 9% of all Twitter users. While one may typically associate these bots with unwanted spam messages, researchers are exploring how to make these bots more influential in the social sphere for good and for ill. Bots have been working effectively on Wikipedia for many years to improve the quality of article content. Even the extremist group ISIL is using a network bots to amplify its message as part of an extremely sophisticated social media propaganda campaign. Just as users are beginning to rely on intelligent personal assistants on their smartphones (such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now), we may soon intentionally seek to connect with bots as a part of our social network.

Bots can also assist our decisions on social media platforms. Facebook and LinkedIn currently recommend people you may want to connect with, but intelligent agents might analyze our behaviors to recommend connections that would help an individual’s career or improve the performance of work team or business unit by providing needed knowledge, skills, or connections.

Toward the Next Chapter of Social Business

It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of social business separately from other digital trends, such as analytics, mobile or wearable technologies and automated algorithms. Only a short time ago, companies could tentatively step into social business by assigning a few employees to staff a Twitter account or Facebook page.

Today, being effective at social business is requiring greater sophistication across multiple digital domains. Companies must have the talent necessary to make sense of the data generated by social platforms and the operational infrastructure in place to respond quickly to real-time events; they’ll also need to leverage automated support for engaging in an increasingly complex social environment. Social business isn’t just about social business anymore, but it is converging with other emerging digital trends to generate a “perfect storm” of digital disruption.

As a result of these changes in the social business landscape, we plan to shift the focus of our social business initiative to address broader digital trends in the social and digital business landscape over the next year to help managers understand and navigate these increasingly complex digital disruptions of which social business is a part. Social business — as we originally knew it — is dead… so long live social business!


Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

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Comments (2)
Gratus Devanesan
I think this article uses Social Business interchangeably with a Social Media Business. The way I understand it, similar to the comment above, Social Business is businesses engaging in social activities - businesses whose profit model hinges on people/community successes - profit by preserving the ecosystem as opposed to exploiting it. 

The idea of a successful social media company was always just a bump in the digital media wave. Social just two way nodes with the web as a platform to connect two people, as opposed to just throw content and people. In that it is correct that Facebook is a digital company, and companies such as MeetUp are even blurring the digital line as they create digital opportunities for physical connections. They are companies that build digital platform that enable social interactions - to call them social businesses would be incorrect as they are not specifically tied to the overall well-being of their consumers.
Philip Sheldrake
I'm not sure this article can make as much sense as it might without defining what you think / thought social business is / was. For example, I like to define social business with a question:

Do you help all the individuals associated with your organization (employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders, etc.) build worthwhile relationships with each other and others, coalescing by need and desire, knowledge and capability and shared values, to create shared value?

I don't believe you're suggesting such a provocation is passé. Moreover, while we're considering the sociotechnical, it appears perhaps odd to celebrate the technical / digital ahead of the social / human when for many years now we've been attempting to reframe social business in terms of the human rather than the technology, to close the gap. I appreciate it's some time since Andrew McAffe asserted "it's not not about the technology", but I wonder if it's not the human facets of business that now need to catch up with the technological.

A quick test. Compare the human and technical architecture of business now with twenty years ago. The tech is hardly recognizable, whereas the human is all too familiar; unchanged and unfit for the 21st Century.