The marketing services industry is firmly entrenched in the social business hype cycle. Firms are repositioning themselves as experts in social business strategy/consulting/design and preaching the need for social business transformation now.

While it was Dachis Group that coined the term “social business design”, an armada of agencies, technology companies and consultants have joined the fray over the last two years, and the bandwagon continues to grow.

As buzzwords enter our lexicon, we should be reminded that these buzzwords are a little like folklore. Once you tear away the hype and mystery, they are rooted in reality and based on real world need and business implications.

So let’s start with a concise definition of “social business.” In recent years it means the application of social technologies and processes to both the external (ie: customers, partners and supply chain) and internal (ie: employees) needs of an organization.

Social media behavior, a key catalyst

Of course, social media and social tools are transformational both within and external to an organization. Developing and nurturing relationships with consumers on social platforms has played a major role in fueling the resurgence of digital brand building and consumer engagement.

Likewise, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing within organizations using “social business platforms” is revolutionizing the way we work. However, in practice, many businesses have a difficult time changing their culture and workflow and therefore struggle to actualize the benefits of cross-functional involvement in consumer engagement, nor the formal collaboration platforms available today (hence the onslaught of social business firms).

As companies mature digitally, this will change, and social tools will facilitate effective collaboration and workflow within organizations of all sizes. There is clearly a need for social business tools and processes. But this statement alone misses a much bigger picture.

Developing your “digital operating system”

An organization cannot become a social business without first, or at least simultaneously, becoming a digital business. Plugging digital roles into legacy silos does not a digital business make. This common practice yields an inefficient retrofit rather than the transformation required to compete in today’s attention economy.

Companies must periodically revisit the org structure, capabilities, and resources allocated to all facets of digital integration across the organization. This ranges from strategy, to development and production, brand, content, and creative, data, analytics, and CRM, media, mobile and social.

Redesigning the org structure and processes, and the change management associated with shifting the corporate culture to adopt to the connected and empowered consumer, is an essential step in the evolution of business today. Look at it as developing a basic digital operating system for your organization.

We are all change agents

The shift of consumer attention to digital channels has been a significant catalyst of change for marketers. Historically, the change has been reactionary rather than systemic. Organizational transformation is no easy feat.

It requires executive level commitment, financial investment, and venturing into new waters. Execution requires new ways of working, acquiring and nurturing talent, developing new capabilities, and driving innovation.

In short, social business is just a cog of a bigger organizational transformation. Some companies have made incremental changes, some languish in legacy, while others blaze ahead. How digitally mature is your organization?

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