Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

Back in August I posted Let’s Stop Talking about “Social Business” where I made the following statement:

Doing and managing business has always been “social.” Business has always involved people working individually or in groups. Creating a synthetic concept called “social business” to promote technology-enabled processes, collaboration, and information sharing among customers, employees, and business partners might be a valuable short term marketing initiative. But sometimes it smells like it’s just being used to promote software sales and consulting. (I should know!)

I was reminded of this by reading an excellent post by Michael Brito titled The Social Business And The Social Brand. Brito compares and contrasts the concepts “social business” and “social brand.” In a nutshell, this is his theme:

They’re different—and the same. For starters, there needs to be consistent alignment between the two to generate true business results.

It’s a good read. It reflects some of what I’ve learned about enterprise collaboration and communication in my own research and consulting related to internal and external enterprise communities. Basically, brands and businesses need, as Brito suggests, to be aligned in order for the enterprise to be successful.

Complicating this need for alignment, unfortunately, is the complexity involved in aligning the processes, technologies, and governance practices associated with communication and collaboration. As Brito points out in his piece, the “siloing” we see in traditional organizations poses a challenge to such alignment.

I wonder if the popular current practice of focusing on the concepts “social business” and “social brand” may be a mistake for reasons related to what I suggested in my own earlier piece: businesses and brands have always been “social.” The fact that we have more sophisticated and easy to use communication and collaboration tools, for example, can exacerbate siloing Brito refers to.

This can happen, for example, when two or more “camps” emerge within an enterprise in terms of the collaboration tools they support. As usage of such tools spreads through the organization and people choose “sides” by investing time and energy in building profiles, usage patterns, and relationships via one toolset or another, the possibility emerges that the concept of “siloing” will extend beyond organizational or departmental boundaries to boundaries defined by tool use and loyalty.

Enterprise social software standards may solve part of the problem that relates to system integration barriers. But I suspect standards won’t be enough to overcome siloing related to different groups’ competing governance priorities. I am now wondering if this may be another problem that focusing on concepts like “social business” and “social brands” may be exacerbating.  Deep-seated issues related to governance and organizational alignment aren’t going to be solved by making transactions more “social.” Real alignment will only occur when management and staff work together in support of corporate goals, regardless of whether the tools and processes they use are “social” or not.

Here’s a relevant experiment. Go back to Brito’s article. Copy the text out to a text editor. Do three global replacements:

  1. Replace “social business” with “business’
  2. Replace “social brand” with “brand”
  3. Replace “social customer” with “customer”

Now read the article. Has the meaning changed? If your answer is “no” — as mine was — think about what that means.

One of the things it says to me is that we need to be focusing on the goals we’re working toward and the processes that support these goals. The tools we use to support our work, including the tools we use to support our communication and collaboration, should be subordinate to these processes and goals.

Focusing on making a business or brand “social” without first thinking about goals, processes, and governance can take us down the road to focusing on technology first. That may not be the best way to serve the needs of the customer — or the employee.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald

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