The Far Reaching Implications of The Social Business Model

Have We Stopped Dreadfully Short Of The True Potential Of Social?

For some time now I’ve been suggesting that social media as we’ve come to address it over the last few years doesn’t really matter anymore because it just is. We’ve given up on seeing it as some separate practice and accepted that it’s simply a function of marketing that must be integrated.

Lately I’ve begun to wonder if social behavior, not social media, is actually much more than we’ve made of it.

We’ve bolted certain socially enabled practices on to our businesses to provide greater reach, customer service and the pretense of connection, but I wonder if we’ve stopped dreadfully short of the true potential of social.

Even those that preach social strategy are generally talking about finding ways to use social tactics to support existing business strategies and models.

My belief is that the real opportunity is to build a fully social business model, one that addresses the total picture of social behavior. One that moves beyond social tactics to a place where social is the business, is a part of every consideration.

First off let me suggest that we’ve always had social behavior, in some cases we’ve had it in our businesses. People have always been attracted to people and causes they believed in and connected with. We’ve always joined forces and collaborated in ways to effect change and grow. We’ve always belonged to communities that supported and nurtured our basic needs and our needs to be social animals.

The significant evolution over the last decade is that technology has allowed us to behave in this manner without the constraint of geography. We are now free to find, join and coalesce around shared ideas no matter where we are. That dynamic has impacted the world of business in ways that I don’t know that we’ve all come to fully appreciate.

Connection is now possible with anyone. Collaboration is now possible everywhere. Community is now possible with everyone. The true social business model involves anyone, everyone, everywhere.

So, if we were to fully embrace this idea we would begin to think of social as something far beyond marketing. Were we to treat this idea as a business model, then we would have to apply core social tenets to every element of the business.

Social Purpose – To start with we would lead with the single-minded reason or why we do what we do as our core point of differentiation. (I wrote about this extensively in my last book The Commitment Engine.) It would be our story and cause and it would the thing that attracted people who wanted to join the cause. Non-profit organizations have leaned heavily on this practice because they had a compelling cause and often lacked other means to attract. Leading with purpose has now become one of the most attractive attributes of the for profit business and social behavior has dramatically increased people’s desire for connection with ideas and stories they can believe in.

Social Products – Gone are the days when we developed products and services based on market research and gut feeling. The social business model suggests that we create products and services with our community rather than for it. Collaboration is a central element of the social business model and one that benefits smaller organizations greatly. What if you put your ideas out freely and openly and asked your customers or a Google+ Community to help you develop them.

Social Hiring – One of the greatest benefits of throwing of the constraints of geography is that we now have access to a world talent pool. We no longer need to even think in terms of hiring people as we are free to acquire work completed by people with very specific skill sets in ways that we can apply as needed. Of course consistently leading with purpose is an amazing way to attract for fit when hiring someone internally.

Social Sourcing – Everything we need to run and grow a business is out there in our community. The social business model suggests that we source expertise, advice, resources, partnerships and supplies by simply asking, referring and listening.

Social Research – For some time now smart marketers have been using a new set of tools to listen to their markets. All too often this simply meant listening for mentions and responding. The real potential here is the ability to listen to for unmet needs and substantial market opportunities. Organizations that become very skilled in this behavior will gain significant competitive advantages. Listening in the social business model is part sociology, part innovation and part anthropology.

Social Finance – You need look no farther than the current rash of crowdfunding services to understand the impact of social behavior in the finance arena. Private funding and the coming changes in equity investment have made social finance an important element of the social business model. This area is poised to move beyond the novelty stage and into a significant mainstream funding model.

Social Marketing – I’ve saved the obvious for last because until we move social outside of marketing we limit the idea of the social business model greatly. Marketers get the need for connection, collaboration and community as inherent traits of good marketing, but stop at fully engaging social behavior. Every element of marketing, research, development, creative, content, can be crowdsourced and co-created. Every person in the organization must educate, serve and sell. In the social business model marketing in no longer a department so much as way to express social behavior, purpose and community.

I plan to explore the various elements of this idea in future posts and welcome your thoughts and opinions on the implications of the social business model.

Comments

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  1. Great article John.
    You’re right about social media creating the ‘pretense of connection’ but like any other aspect of social connection in the real world, successful socialising is all about how much ‘love’ you put into it! People can see or sense it right away. Social media will never compete with pressing the flesh in terms of it being the ‘real deal’. What it does have is REACH. Social opportunity and potential are there in spades if we want to grab them. Yes, of course we’ve come to be casual about the ways we use social media to leverage content and our pseudo-connections – but so what?! If it works, let’s have more of it. In a B2B context, the trick is to create compelling content that generates ‘likes’, ‘re-tweeets’ and viral online conversations around a topic or brand. It’s propbably true that we haven’t as yet realised the full potential of social media, but things evolve. They always do – especially online. I suspect that where we’re at right now is on some kind of space station where everything is in place to take off into undiscovered territory. ‘Lift off’ may come via new technology or innovative thinkers a la Mark Zuckerberg. ‘Online’ will always be a new frontier. We live in exciting times.

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