Let's Stop Talking about "Social Business"

By Dennis D. McDonald

Let’s stop talking about “social business” as if it were some sort of change in how organizations behave. By promoting the concept we might be creating as much confusion as we did when we popularized the vague and ill-defined phrase “Web 2.0.” 

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!)

If we’re really interested in improving how businesses operate we can’t just focus on the technology. We have to integrate technology improvements with changes in governance, communication, business process, training, finance, and whatever it takes to improve how people do business. Making businesses “more social” misses the point, as does “socially enabling business processes.”

Yes, sometimes it does make a lot of sense to incorporate more technology support for collaboration and information sharing in some business processes. Helping people do that is one way I make a living.

But sometimes it won’t or will be very, very difficult to assess. Improving business by making business processes more visible, accessible, and/or participatory will depend on factors like how open and transparent a process really needs to be, on how much input we really expect and need from the involved “community,” and on how integrated, structured, and goal oriented we really need corporate technology applications to be.

Being “social” is just one of many factors to consider in changing the organization.



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Reader Comments (2)

I like your site, and you have many relevant posts. This post deserves further discussion, so if I may, let me argue the contrary position for the purpose of discussion.

What makes you think that is isn't "some sort of change in how organizations behave?" That is precisely what is happening. New modes of communication (afforded by social technology) is allowing new forms of organization. Your organization will not gain the benefit if you continue to operate the way you have been for the last 50 years.

You making the point that doing and managing business has always been social. I agree with you that social interaction is a natural form of human interaction, but this has NOT been the dominant way of managing business in the past century. Scientific Management appeared (Frederick Winslow Taylor) (see and promoted a mass production approach to the office place. Companies became organized by function, with forms to fill out, procedures implemented, which had int he end the effect of eliminating social aspects of work. The goal of such organizations were purely centralized management, with the idea that the thinkers (brains) would figure out what to do, and deliver as orders to the workers (brawn). Thus was born the extremely top-down organization.

Social Business Software (a.k.a. Enterprise 2.0) allows people to connect and network in ways that have never been possible before. (see This is an excerpt from my article “The Quantum Organization: How Social Technology will Displace the Newtonian View” which is published in the book: “Social BPM: Work Planning, and Collaboration under the Impact of Social Technology.“ These are new styles of organization.

I completely agree with you that "we can’t just focus on the technology." Funny, but at this point you seem to take the position that IS about changing the organization behavior. Definitely there is more to it that just "being more social". But I would like to hear your response to the position that we ARE talking about a change int he way that organizations behave.
September 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Swenson
Keith, thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful comment. I'll check out the links you supplied when I have some time.

There are at least two reasons I don't buy the "social is transforming business" argument I hear from so many evangelists, even though I myself am a passionate user of social media, social networking, and collaboration technologies.

The first is simply that informal communications and relationships have always existed in business whether we are talking about assembly lines, executive suites, or piece work farmed out to local domestic workers. Yes, modern technologies give much more reach, immediacy, and discoverability, but there are still 24 hours in a day, and people still have only two eyeballs and two ears.

The second is that in many organizations the "culture" includes a wide range of users from early adopters and geeks to died in the wool technophobes and anti-social types. Add in layers of bureaucracy and changing how processes are performed can get to be quite complex especially of these groups are mixed together, which is not an unusual situation at all.

For me as a consultant I'm less interested in being an evangelist than in getting paid to solve practical problems, so I try to focus on what's practical.

Anyway, thanks again for the comment. I've moved much of my online engagement to Google+ so it's a pleasure to see attention paid to my blog!

- Dennis
September 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald

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