We’ve been exploring the Social Age from a number of angles recently: Social Leadership, the Social Contract, Social Technology. Today, as i sit on the train to London, i’m reflecting on the Social Business. What does a social business look like? How does it behave? How do social businesses respond to change and how fit are they for the market and a changing market? What relationships does it have with it’s community, it’s owners, it’s staff? Is your business Social, or just social enough.
Being a social business isn’t about having a conscience or a great environmental policy: it’s about being engaged with the realities of the Social Age: an age when the fundamental relationship between employer, employee and customer is changing. An age when change is constant and our ability to form alliances, build trust and remain agile is key. An age when technology isn’t something that sits in a server room and needs air-conditioning: it’s something that sits in your pocket and makes you more capable. It’s an age when traditional hierarchies of power and authority are crumbling. It’s here today and we all live in it. Even if we’re not yet ready for it.
Social business have conversations: they talk to and listen to their staff, because their culture is co-owned, not just inhabited. They are unafraid to define spaces for experimentation and understand risk: not how to avoid it, but how to use it. Social businesses recognise that they exist in formal spaces, that they own and control, but largely in semi formal and informal spaces, which they don’t. Their behaviour and conversations in these semi formal spaces largely defines their future potential.
Having effective conversations means you have to trust people, empower them to talk on your behalf, because, as far as the customer and community are concerned, the person talking to them on Twitter IS the organisation. This devolution of brand power and identity to individuals and out into the community is a key feature of the Social Age. Organisations still need process, but they don’t need scripts: they need relationships with their teams that demonstrate trust and integrity, both things that build over time and form part of the new social contract.
The social business responds: not just when it likes the news, but when times are tough. A social business is proud to be right, but unafraid to say when it gets things wrong. It knows how to find out what the ‘buzz’ is, because it has it’s ear to the ground, and it builds a reputation for responding honestly and meaningfully. A ‘company philosophy’ has no meaning: responding to my Tweet does. Listening to my concerns and responding is more powerful than just acknowledging that i’m annoyed. Social businesses respond in a timely manner, whatever the story.
Technology forms a backbone of social businesses, crossing both formal and informal types, but above all, it’s used to facilitate experience, not purely for command and control or logistics. It’s used for communication (both internal and external, to facilitate individuals to engage). It’s used for collaboration (for formal and informal communities). It’s used for facilitation (to deliver scintillating customer journeys, learning journeys, development journeys and employment journeys). It’s used to support products and services with active engagement in communities and to respond to challenges. It’s used to support excellence and there is a mindset for technology, not just policies.
The social business is magnetic to talent: it not only grows it’s own social leaders and socially engaged teams, but it’s viewed as a place to be. It’s reputation precedes it, in the labour marketplace as well as the consumer one. Being magnetic to talent isn’t about being a Silicon Valley giant: it is about trust and integrity, about equality, about flexibility, support and freedom of expression. It’s about living values, not capturing them in a handbook.
Agility in relationships is important too: internally, recognising that careers include raising families and taking holidays, but externally with suppliers, partners and associates. We recognise that, in social businesses, not everyone vital to our success is within these four walls and that not everyone wants to be here forever: it’s about sailing on the high seas but knowing who else is around you, and maintaining good relationships with as many as possible. In the Social Age, people come and go, but networks and relationships persist: your ability (and the ability of the organisation to maintain these relationships) is a key differentiator.
And most of all, social businesses can learn: they make mistakes and learn from them, they experiment and learn from it, they listen to their teams, their communities and their customers and they respond. They are bold and they are agile: able to create meaning today and to do it again tomorrow.
The social ecosystem is complex: individuals operating in open communities, engaged with various business in varied ways, supported by social technology and delivering innovative goods and services to a client base that ultimately owns the brand. Building trust with these communities, especially for big businesses like banks that are bruised, is tough.
Organisations need to develop social mindsets: they have to understand the ecosystem and be able to operate at the speed and with the agility required to thrive. They have to cultivate meaningful relationships, social contracts, with their employees. Because if they don’t, they won’t be here tomorrow to feel the consequences.