Social Business is not the answer but the question

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In short : the use of words like “social business” or “2.0” often lead to ready-made answers that prevent businesses to really think about their project. We should rather use these words to built a questionning intead of  deducing hasty preconceived ideas.

Don’t worry. That’s not an umpteenth try to define what enterprise 2.0, social business and all their avatars are but a thought on the meaning it has in our day to day life. If there’s as many definitions as there are practitioners, experts, businesses, and vendors, this must be for a reason.

What if what matters was not the definition by itslef but the only fact the word exists ?

Social Business : a catalogue of preconceived solutions

I’ve always be quick to react to what I wall the social / 2.0 mess. Is there an HR issue ? Let’s do HR 2.0. A marketing one ? The answer is marketing 2.0. Is your intranet crappy ? You need a social one.

It implies that we had to do things in a new way and that this way was to be invented. But things went wront when the confusion between anything 2.0 and the tools of the same name quickly overshadowed questions related to work practices and the context of implementation. And businesses stop wondering what the “new way” was. Without this too easy shortcut, the focus would have come on “what does it mean to me” instead of “how to drive tool adoption”. This would have led to a new model, not a generic one but the one that would have work for a given organization.

Moreover, if we have a closer look, we only hear the words “social busines” and enterprise 2.0 in organizations that have not find their answer yet, that have not found their way. Others talk about management, HR and intranet. Period.

Who did use the social/2.0 word to name what’s being done at HCL ? No one at HCL but external observers. There’s nothing more 2.0 than Support Central at GE. But, for them, it’s only a tool that helps people work better and since they designed it long before the 2.0 era, Support Central have been one of most unrecogized social success. No buzzword misuse here. And when IBM talks about social that’s more to put a flag on a question et make strategies converge because, as a company trying to get social, they designed their own tools for their own use, aligned with a new model that did not start with the social frenzy but with Lou Gerstner, 10 years before. The list is long.

Buzzwords disappear when businesses find their way

Social is the name of the unfound answer. The name of what one feels it exists but don’t understand the nature yet. Using the word “social” should not make us adopt redy-made reasonnings but, on the contrary, wonder what it means in a given organization in a given concept.

As a matter of fact, once the solution found, it gets trivialized, becomes natural and obvious and the buzzword loses its raison d’être. Until a new one emerges to symbolize the next step and brings new questionnings. Because change is a continuous process.

Claude Levi Strauss said “The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.” Remember that buzzwords, to lead you somewhere, must make you question your organization and the way things are done. Wonder if “if I should rebuild my business from scratch today, would I build it as it is today”. And in no way it should mean a ready-made answer. Without deep thinking it will lead to nowhere, often to failure.

Businesses use Social Business when they start or when they struggle. Once things work they forget it and the good old vocabulary is back on track.

So when you’ll be asked “what’s social business”, ansewer “It’s the question you should ask because you are the only one to have the answer”.


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Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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