Social Business Means Cultural Change

Social business. All the cool kids are doing it. Come on, you should do it to. Why? You’ll be POP-uLARRRR!!

Like victims of high school peer pressure, everyone in the digital world is talking about how social business is the next big thing. And I’m not here to argue if it is or isn’t. Brother Armano recently wrote a great post about the evolution of digital that lays it out very nicely and talks about the natural evolution of social media into social business. It’s the next logical step, really. In fact, we’re seeing more and more businesses come on the scene that not only are trying to crack the social business nut, but are actually calling themselves social business businesses.

That’s pretty bold.

In a conversation with Chuck last week, we were discussing the state of the digital industry. It started with the obvious: that social media is just that: media. Tools. Things we can turn on and off and plug in and unplug and dial up or down  – you know, just like advertising. It’s mechanical “things” – at least the media part of it. But social business – this idea that social will come in and permeate every singe section of a company – that’s waaayyyyy different. In fact, it can’t happen unless there’s a fundamental cultural change within a company.

And therein lies the problem. Impossible? No. Hard? Very. To walk in to a company and tell them that in order to become a social business, they’re going to have to fundamentally shift the way they think about everything they do – internally and externally – is a damn hard sell. Because changing the culture of the company is no easy task. Volumes have been written about it. But ultimately it comes down to a willingness to do it from all parties involved and a push from the both the top-down and the bottom-up.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in word of mouth projects that have ignited cultural change within companies. I wish we could say that we set out to do it in the first place, but it was a result of a long-term, sustainable program that started under the PR division and then spread through marketing, advertising, HR, finance and so-on. It was amazing to watch and within 12 months, the entire company had begun to shift culturally.

So maybe that’s how you start. Small. Bit-by-bit. With something obvious that you know will begin to creep into the dark corners of a company and bring them into the fold. Telling a company of 400,000 people that everything is going to change is a lot harder than letting them see how you can take one section of a company, change it for the better and let them wrap their heads around it.

Change is hard. But when the right people (dare I say “influencers?”) within a company are dedicated to make it happen, it’s a beautiful thing. But before we go throwing around the term “social business,” let’s really be clear what we’re talking about.

4 Comments

  • May 15, 2012

    Amber

    Great post. I sometimes think that it will take the next generation of leaders for big changes. Changes in the industry (PR) have been easy for me to adapt to and I have loved them…but it is still so hard for others to accept and trust. Until then, I will be making small changes. :)

  • May 15, 2012

    Bruce Wilson

    It is certainly interesting to watch the mass blundering forward taking place in social business/media. In the aggregate it looks like a lot of people with their arms held out in front of themselves, taking cautious little steps and bumping into stuff, and each other, while each trumpets the benefits of their direction. In contrast the word of mouth projects you’ve been involved in sound refreshingly well-formed: Do you have time (and permissions) to share one or two case studies in a blog post some time?

  • May 17, 2012

    Chris Baccus

    I’m glad you ended where you did here. I agree changing an entire culture is met with a ton of naysayers, especially many who thrive in the status quo. So they have no motivation to change.

    I recall when I did a lot of research on when companies innovate. It follows a bell curve. Basically, companies that are in their infancy are entrepreneurial and thriving with innovative ideas and experimenting with their company’s culture. Then the company’s innovation plateaus.

    Innovation surges again near the death of a company, often when it is too late or the company becomes a shell of what they used to be. They get truly innovative when they can no longer coast on what made them strong to begin with so they fight to survive.

    Being a ‘social business’ is a radical change and one customers are coming to expect more and more. Though to be fair social media’s impact on business is still small, but it is growing and consumers are more and more getting online to engage with companies on many levels. Smart companies will innovate in a way you outlined above. Expecting them all to become Zappos or some other hot company who has adapted social business is as you say very hard.

    Anyway great post.

  • May 23, 2012

    Betsy Kent

    I totally “get” your point here: company culture is key to whether social media is a tool that they can or will use effectively. Often the key players look at what their competitors are not doing, and decide they don’t need to do it either. What they don’t do is simply Google search for their product or service. If they did, they would discover that their competition is whatever company is engaging well in social.
    On a positive note, I’ve discovered that if I gently move a client from point A to point B, as they feel success the culture can slowly change. But you have to have patience for that!

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