IBM executive Sandy Carter has just published a new book - Get Bold: Using Social Media to Create a New Type of Social Business. I know Sandy well, having worked with her at IBM for over a decade in various initiatives. She is now Vice President of Sales for Social Business and Collaboration Solutions, as well as one of IBM's key Social Business evangelists and strategists.
IBM announced its Social Business initiative in the Fall of 2010. Its basic definition is simple and practical: A Social Business embraces networks of people to create business value. When I first learned about Social Business, I thought of it as the natural evolution of IBM’s Internet and e-business strategies. Let me explain.
When first announced in 1997, the basic definition of e-business was equally succinct: Leverage the Internet for Business Value. So, as Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications emerged several years later, it is natural that e-business would have now evolved into something like e-business 2.0, continuing to leverage (the more recent advances of) the Internet for business value. But, as Sandy observes in Get Bold, Social Business goes way beyond its Web 2.0 implications.
“While this book focuses on the value of becoming a Social Business, I don’t want to downplay the importance that social technology has played in my personal life. Social media has become a way of life throughout the world. With more than 500 million people on Facebook, and 200 million blogs being updated daily, the power of numbers and of experience has taken over the world. It is growing faster than anything we have seen in the past. Grandparents are talking to their grandchildren, leveraging social media just as clients are impacting companies’ products using the same tools. . .”
“A majority of the social concepts that I will be writing about were born from early pioneers in the consumer space. These innovative pioneers opened my eyes to the power of connecting with friends and family. They also opened the door for large and small companies to leverage these social technologies - in essence, becoming a Social Business.”
She then goes to to define Social Business:
“A Social Business is a business that embeds social in all of its processes, connecting people to people, people to information, and data to insight. It is a company that engages its employees and clients in a two-way dialogue with social tools, is transparent in sharing its expertise beyond its four walls, and is nimble in its use of insight to change on a dime. It is different from Social Media, in that Social Media primarily addresses or focuses on marketing and public relations. (That’s where the media comes from.)”
“. . . Social Business leverages all the social tools and techniques of Social Media, but expands the usage and efficiencies beyond ‘media and marketing’ to all of a company’s processes, both internal (such as human resources and talent management) and external (such as customer service, supply chain, product development, marketing, communications, and more). Just as in the Internet era, when many companies proclaimed that the tools were only for use by kids and universities, we are seeing a repeat of history. Some company leaders think social is just for kids and universities; however, we know better. We at IBM have lived Social as a Business and know its power.”
“. . .Social Business is different from Social Media in its breadth, impact, and returns. To truly capitalize on social collaboration, it must be fully integrated into existing business processes and tools. This requires a coordinated, three-pronged approach, with leadership driving the initiative, human resources supporting the necessary cultural change, and IT providing the necessary tools. This will result in a new kind of process.”
Sandy’s words particularly resonated with me, having just returned from LinuxCon in Vancouver, where I participated in the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Linux. Being at LinuxCon reminded me of the power of well organized social communities and how much they can accomplish. Trying to better appreciate Sandy’s descriptions of Social Business, I consulted another highly accomplished social community, Wikipedia, and looked up its definition of business.
It reads: “A business (also known as enterprise or firm) is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both.” After looking up organization, which is defined in terms of social group, I put it all together in the following definition: “A business is an organization or social group which collectively engages in the trade of goods, services, or both.”
What strikes me about this definition is that there is no such thing as a non-social business. Business, by its very definition is social, or as Sandy writes: “people are at the heart and soul of every business and relationship. Businesses are evolving and differentiating themselves internally and externally by going back to the future. In other words, they are focusing on relationships with their clients, partners, citizens, and employees by engaging new technologies and platforms that powerfully and easily connect them in trusted and experiential ways.”
So, what is the big deal? Why are we now so focused on the human aspect of business? Why are we going back to the future?
The answer, in a nutshell, is technology. Beyond social media, the last few years have seen huge advances in mobile devices, cloud computing, information analytics, smart everything, and so on, all essentially connected via broadband networks. Digital technologies have been penetrating just about every nook and cranny of private and public sector institutions, as well as the economy, society in general and our personal lives. Social media is a major ingredient of this continuing Internet evolution, but there is now a lot more. That is why I now think that we have gone way beyond e-business 2.0.
For business, these technology advances create major opportunities as well as challenges. As Sandy and others point out, it is not enough to deploy the technology. To achieve the desired productivity and competitive advantage, companies need to make sure that the technologies are properly aligned with the overall business, including its people, operations, organizational structure and strategic objectives. She references a study by the London School of Economics that concluded that continuously aligning business and IT increases overall productivity by around 20%.
In Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy, published two years ago, authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Adam Saunders reach similar conclusions:
“Although some say that technology has matured and become commoditized in business, we see the technological ‘revolution’ as just beginning. Our reading of the evidence suggests that the strategic value of technology to business is still increasing. . . . The companies with the highest returns on their technology investments did more than just buy technology; they invested in organizational capital to become digital organizations. Productivity studies at both the firm level and the establishment (or plant) level during the period 1995-2008 reveal that the firms that saw high returns on their technology investments were the same firms that adopted certain productivity-enhancing business practices. The literature points to incentive systems, training and decentralized decision making as some of the practices most complementary to technology.”
Sandy and her team at IBM have defined an AGENDA or framework to help companies understand how they can become a Social Business. Their AGENDA has six key dimensions: Align Organizational Goals & Culture; Gain Social Trust; Engage through Experiences; Network Your Business Processes; Design for Reputation and Risk Management; and Analyze Your Data. The book devotes a chapter to discuss each of these dimensions in detail, and to explain how they can applied in both mature and growth markets.
Sandy Carter has taken a somewhat mysterious and scary subject to many in business, social media, and explained in clear language why this is something no business can afford to ignore: Social goes to the heart of what it means to be a good business, namely, building strong and trusting relationships.
In the very first sentence of Get Bold, Sandy introduces herself by writing: “I am a Vice President at IBM, mom, wife, and a Social Business evangelist.” And, a prolific writer, I might add. This is her third book in the last four years. I wish her much success.