In Social Business, Businesses are the Care Bears

Summary : Either externally with customers or internally with employees, one the pillars of any “social” or “2.0” project is people’s need for more closeness, even intimacy with the enterprise and between themselves. This is the reason why organizations started focusing on engagement, social networks and communities. But is this lever so relevant ? It seems that even if communities have a role to play, organizations and customers don’t agree on the role each of them should have inside and even of the legitimacy of a brand joining customer communities. Ditto for employees who seem to have more desire for efficient work tools than for approaches aiming at bringing them closer one to another. In the end, people seem to be more pragmatic and realistic than businesses. A call for these latter to move toward more operational and pragmatic approaches ?

Among postulates that underlie many social or 2.0 approaches, one is so ubiquitous that seems to be taken for granted by everybody. According to this postulate people, either outside the organization (when they ar customers) or inside (when they are employees) have an irrepressible desire to strengthen their ties with business, to tell them things, to feel valued, to “be a part of something” that will bring them together. Businesses, that are “by definition”, aloof, malicious and inhuman, have to listen to this cry from the heart, facilitate and join communities where attention, passion and even love between participants will make amazing things happen.

We could have believed that businesses with their cold and rational logic would have stepped away and stand their ground…but they did not. They dove into the social world, often in a ungainly way, dreaming of internal and external communities, of being as one with passionate and engaged people in a win-win relationship. With uncertain results.

Some weeks ago, an IBM study dropped a bombshell. It shows that, even if businesses need to be closer to their customers, they don’t understand what customers are expecting.


Customers are looking for promotions and information to make the right buying decision. Nothing more. Being connected to the business ? Being a part of a community ? Not at all. This is the argued demonstration of what I observed in a more empirical way : “customers don’t care about you and only want you to keep your promises“, “businesses see communities where there are only groups of people“, what is a threat to real communities with a real risk of leading the concept astray. In the end, if many businesses can join existing communities, very few can claim they have “their” communities.

Of course, a more qualitative presence on the net may make businesses look more human, more likable, attractive and may make things change. But be realistic : except for some of them who make people dream and have an emotional relationship with people, Mrs. Anybody don’t wan’t to be friend with a brand and spend hours conversing with it and other customers. It does not mean that some won’t join some communities of interest but numbers show they don’t feel that the place of businesses is in their communities and even less that the subject of the community should be the enterprise. Not surprising as we can see that the web is full of vibrant communities but that few of them are enterprise-managed. Bottom line : the real issue in not community management but the legitimacy of businesses in a world of communities.

So, customers are much more pragmatic than we can think and even if their are dreamers or Care Bears in this world, they (surprisingly) have to be found on the business side.

I would love to see the same kind of study applied to employees. Of course, in the workplace, sensemaking and belonging are very real issues that will impact the numbers. But beware of traps for the unwary : tools are not a replacement for a voluntaristic HR plan and won’t help to avoid asking the right questions. At best they will support the plan (provided it exists). Here again, seeing communities everywhere is the best way to overlook those that really exist. I can see this gap everyday : in the one hand organizations that want to turn anything into communities (while sometimes they should rethink how teams are workgroups are doing things) and, in the other hand, employees who say “we only need simple tools to do our job efficiently, find answers and stay focused”. And when asked about engagement and things like this they say : “if things were like this IRL and had effects online it would be great…but sense and motivation are not a matter of tool”. It’s been only a short time since managers and executives started to understand that “social” and “2.0” are not only about conversations and communities but an organizational approach that should lead to more effectiveness. I still can see, too often, the surprised, pleased and reassured face of people answering me “ah ! it can bring more effectiveness in people’s day to day work ?”

The passionate and human nature of people is too often put up against the pragmatic rationalism of organizations. But, in this case, it seems that the more idealistic were businesses and the more pragmatic were people. And I let you wonder why…

Anyway. The time has come to become aware that, in this evolution process, there’s a need to go beyond the simple will to be attractive and bring people together and that it’s impossible to avoid tackling execution-related points. Of course it will raise questions that many would have prefered to kept unaddressed because it’s less about being appealing that having an objective look at how work is actually done.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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