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What it means to live in the social business age

These days it’s less a case of social media for your business and more a case of social media in your business.

It could be that social networking in the business world will far outstrip the time we spend on social media. We will run team projects, talk to customers, collaborate, and make decisions as if we live in a permanent social universe. There will be no blur between life and work.

But this time, it will nurture, not crush us. The boom in social business software is clearly here, and the benefit for any company is obvious. Your teams communicate better with each other, silos are broken down, and your customers are more directly engaged via social tools that extend out to them.

For SMBs, social business will increase their agility and enable them to get to know their customers, allowing them to be more responsive, and scale up quickly by building a strong personable brand. In this new age of micro-entrepreneurship, the art of winning business is driven by your ability to make your offering connect with people on the web.

That means your own staff must connect more efficiently with each other. Indeed, big bets are now being placed on that future. Microsoft has made its move, reportedly splurging $1 billion to buy Yammer, an enterprise social networking platform that allows employees to connect, collaborate and share ideas. Experts say they will tack it onto their Office, Sharepoint, and Exchange mail software.

Businesses get social

Salesforce has also recently bought Buddy Media, which helps businesses run marketing and branding campaigns across social networks and other online destinations. And, software giant Oracle has just swallowed Collective Intent and Virtue, which will enable it to build a social relationship platform for businesses. As social has invaded our personal lives, so the corporate world follows.

This is not a technology story anymore, however. It’s about getting the most out of your human capital, and enabling the creative classes to get your business to innovate. After all, business is ultimately a people management challenge, and staff want to have a social system that makes it easier to get their tasks done. The challenge is to work out what you need to do to get a social business set up inside your company that benefits staff, and allows you to network better with current and new customers.

Products like Yammer allow organisations to offer staff Twitter and Facebook-like functionality in the workplace. They let employees set up profiles, blog, participate in forums and receive social stream updates about what their colleagues are doing.

The promise of these social tools is that they are more dynamic and creative than traditional tools, such as email. They can be integrated with other business applications.

Social and the cloud

The unique convergence of mobile devices, cloud computing and other technology platforms, is driving this revolution. They are also causing whole sectors to question what value they offer to their customers.

In her recent State of the Internet report, veteran US technology analyst Mary Meeker said the internet is now changing everything we do. Meeker calls it “the re-imagining of everything.”

This is being driven by faster connectivity, new devices, and beautiful web user interfaces. That re-imagination, Meeker points out, has changed the way we write, store and share information, take and file our photos, access our music, and of course, communicate. So why shouldn’t this creative unleashing provided by new technology make our work functions more fun and fulfilling?

The corporate world is aiming to achieve that. Definitions of social business are numerous, and new phrases such as the social enterprise, or social customer, are filling column inches in analyst reports. This time, the hype seems real, and the trend enduring.

“The social business is alive with energy and big ideas. You might call it a Renaissance of the Information Age,” said Dachis Group, an early leader in the social business consulting space. “After decades of mechanistic, de-humanising, process-oriented management dogma, progressive organisations are waking up to the disturbing truth that they’ve squeezed all the creativity out of their business. When companies embrace organic, passionate, socially savvy activities, they bloom.”

Communication and sharing

The foundation of a social business is an internal social platform for communication. A plethora of technology companies have sprung up to meet that opportunity. The social business movement is being enabled by the new lean web, as exemplified by the stripped back design chic of online storage offerings such as Dropbox, and Asana, a workflow software provider aiming to change the way people collaborate.

We all found that social networking made it easier to connect with our universe of friends. It makes sense that now we can communicate instantly via online tools, the workspace would also adopt these ways of being. The biggest impediment to business efficiency is email. It drowns us, wastes our time, delays decision-making, and doesn’t meet our communication needs.

Consultancy Magnet 360 has defined a social business as one that uses networked platforms to connect people, processes and systems in order to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time. Put simply, our work tasks and activities will flow to us like our social streams do.

As Magnet 360 point out, “traditionally, when businesspeople log into their tools and systems, they have to go find what they’re looking for. The social business lets important content and information find the user, based on their profile and preferences.

All about the conversation

In the social business world, individuals jump into conversations, communicate and swap ideas, creating an environment that is impossible to achieve via the static world of email. There is no latency, and social channels can create better interactions with customers and strategic allies.”

Furthermore, companies have spent large in previous generations to try and reach new customers and build a loyal audience. By creating social channels with those customers, businesses can get instant feedback, and improve their services.

This marks a shift away from old transactional systems that retain a distance between the company and its customer. Those days are in the past.

“By getting rid of outdated company policies and conservative hierarchy structures, a company can use social media tools to connect to its client base, bond its employees, and give its customers real people to talk to,” said Christoph Schmaltz, a consultant at Headshift, a unit of Dachis Group. Bottom line, people want to connect with other people, not companies.

The good news is that SMBs stand to win big, and grow faster than large monolithic organisations if they get it right. The lessons and behaviours on the consumer web are significant.

Many of us now use online news aggregation services to filter the information we want to get. We share and curate content on our personal social networks. We swap ideas and pose questions.

In the new attention economy, where everybody is shouting to get their message heard, we are now applying the same behaviour. We digest other people’s innovation and try to apply it to the way we present and sell our services. The web is the platform for us to disseminate our business message to new audiences and customers.

We are constantly redefining and fine tuning those messages and stories, and uploading fresh content to stay relevant and interesting. The only way to stay creative and stand out is to give social tools to your teams to allow that innovation to happen.

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Nathan Brumby

Nathan Brumby

Nathan Brumby is CEO of Australian company Deputy.com, which helps companies become more efficient by running daily business operations in the cloud.

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