Social Business: Shifting From Noun to Verb

The meaning of the term “social business” needs to and is evolving from being a thing, an end-state, a noun to an action, a methodology, a practice…a verb. The idea that collaboration technology allows us to connect with one another and share ideas is wonderful, but there are fundamental strategies that are even more important.

In 2014, the IBM Social Business Category Management team joined forces with The Economist Insight Unit (EIU) to uncover how different thought leaders in a variety of industries across the globe are enabling social business in their organizations. Leadership driving social business change is diverse — in some cases sprouting up from management systems, in others from customer engagement strategies — but in all instances focused on true people-centric engagement.

The social business phenomenon isn’t just about tweeting and likes – it’s about something far more powerful. As Bryan Kramer explained in his book: “There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human: #H2H” businesses are starting to behave and sound like real people dealing with other people, rather than “business” to “consumer.”

We are at a unique point in time with the concepts of social business truly starting to gain a wider foothold, and as such we see companies at various points in the maturity curve for adopting social principles. They have reached their current state by taking varied paths, and yet these pioneers have one main thing in common: action. They are actively seeking information, methods, and practices that can harness the best of the people inside and outside of the organization. These social business leaders are allowing people to share their stories and forge relationships with each other and the brand – and as change agents, they’re asking the tough questions to push their organizations out of “business-as-usual.”

“The first question we had to ask ourselves is, ‘Can a bank be a social business?'” a Toronto-based bank’s vice president of social media and digital marketing said at a New York conference last year. “We’re a heavily regulated industry, and we take a very conservative approach.”

The study was launched publically about 10 months ago, and beyond the findings of the study itself, we have reflected on the process undertaken to conduct and drive awareness of the study, and have learned some details about the process itself. This effort was social from the start, when we leveraged social media to request nominations for social business leaders in one of five categories: Visionaries, Strategic Thinkers, Culture Shapers, Storytellers, and ‘Fully Social’ (Adaptive, Open, Entrepreneurial). After the advisory board finished the task of narrowing to 25 leaders and the campaign was launched, we went back to social media.

Now, the beauty of highlighting social business leaders is that they have large networks of followers, so with a social plan and content (blogs, video, memes, and more) the campaign took off.

I love when it works out that the message is the medium and vice-versa. In this case leveraging social media to reach social business leaders through a community-based nomination process that then was able to be shared and amplified through a strategic social campaign. During the campaign promoting the study we featured each of the honorees for a week, which gave us content for 25 weeks to use in our newsroom and our employee evangelism – leveraging their profile videos, creating social tiles, and writing blogs to support the leaders’ various social business successes.

Top 5 Social Business Leaders From the 25 Leaders Named in the Study

Scott Monty
Former chief of global digital communications, Ford Motor Co.
MAKING MESSENGERS: Using old values to make new connections

B. Bonin Bough
Vice-president of global media and consumer engagement, Mondelez International
FUTURE FACING: Embracing the ethos of a start-up

Gilberto Garcia
Director of innovation, Cemex
SHIFT WORK: Making communication simple within a global enterprise

Marisa Thalberg
Vice-president for corporate digital marketing, Estée Lauder
ONLY CONNECT: Using social causes to connect with customers

Chris Laping
Senior vice-president for business transformation, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
COMMUN(ICATE): Giving employees a sense of purpose and ownership

Thanks again to our advisory board for selecting such a varied example of inspiring social business leaders: Brian Solis, Cheryl Burgess, Lisa Gansky, Nick Blunden, Maria Winans, and my special thanks to Maria Huntalas for leading the project.

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