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Social Business & The Cluetrain Manifesto

By Will McInnes |

May 1, 2012 | 6 min read

Social business may be a new term to many, and is something that is possibly still in its infancy. But is it imporant? Should businesses be aiming to adopt a more social approach? Some businesses claim that the model can increase efficiency, while others see it as a waste of time. Will McInnes, MD of NixonMcInnesoffers his thoughts.

Do you remember 1999? Thirteen years ago. Life was different then. No Twitter, no Facebook, no social media marketing and, looking at the Top 10 singles of 1999, not much good music either.

All that way back then the four authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger, wrote this:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

What the Cluetrain authors foresaw was a business world massively changed by networks. What we may have lost sight of in recent times is that big shift. To use business cliché, we have lost sight of the wood for the trees. The trajectory that the Cluetrain predicts has been temporarily lost under a pile of Facebook likes and ‘viral’ Twitter campaigns.

In the past five years the social web has been gradually colonised by a new guard of social media marketing professionals bringing with them the old guard of big brand clients. (I know, because that included me, my team, our clients, and perhaps you too.)

That large corporations are even engaging in the social web is a great achievement. Yay! Woot! Etc. So now they are hearing more truths more directly than ever before. They are learning about the need to move faster, and sometimes actually moving faster! They are adapting, bit-by-bit. They are creating new teams, new structures, new processes. Change is hard, so whatever our motives or feelings we should applaud this.

But let’s not settle down just yet.

What we haven’t done yet is truly transform business at its core. We haven’t yet evolved how the very innards of organisations behave to thrive in this new world. The internal bit remains of huge potential. In fact, we probably cannot get much further by tinkering with how our large organisations communicate. We probably need to work on how they think, how they see the world, how the behave, on their beliefs. It is time to get fundamental.

This is social business. The internal and the external. Employees and customers. Brand and business model. Social business is holistic - it is what happens when the dynamics of a networked, ‘social’ world influence every aspect of an organisation.

I have heard some of my most experienced peers and clients deride social business as ‘a load of bollocks’. It is not hard to empathise with them. The naming is imperfect, and as healthily sceptical professionals, it is only right to challenge the latest ‘new new’, the Emporer’s new clothes. No problem with that. But to dismiss the potential of what is meant by social business is to miss the greatest opportunity for organisations, consumers and citizens of the early 21st century.

Is it really enough for us to stop now that our organisations are having reasonably well-managed conversations with consumers in Facebook and Twitter? Is that really it?

The social business goes further and deeper. It overhauls its internal technology and processes to enable networked conversations and free people to do what they’re good at. It evolves its incentive and rewards to foster knowledge-sharing and helping rather than knowledge-hoarding and winning. It demands its leaders to engage in dialogue, to get better at listening, and celebrates authentic, honest communication. The social business has porous edges, and allows innovation and decision-making to be decentralized.

And the social business thrives. It grows stronger roots with its stakeholders (not just its shareholders) that allow it to better weather storms. It becomes more flexible and responsive, and so can move fast enough to stay relevant despite changes in market conditions. It behaves in ways that engender loyalty and patience from its customers and employees, which lower cost and increase profits. In the networked world, the social business makes business-sense.

Collectively we have made fabulous progress in just a few years. But the biggest prize remains out there – to have fundamentally equipped our organisations for the world that the Cluetrain authors foresaw back in 1999. Until then, we fight on!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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