Social Business: Not How, But What And Why

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In a Forbes blog post titled 10 Strategies For Building A Successful Social Business, the author lists what he calls “strategies” for building what he calls a “social” business. Here are a few of them with my take:

#1: Replace Traditional Marketing with Content Marketing

“Traditional marketing via TV, radio and print is…failing because consumers are tired of the one-way broadcast. People want interaction and the chance to develop a relationship with the brand. Enter Content Marketing. Content created on SlideShare, YouTube, Flickr and corporate blogs is easily shareable and interactive. TV is not. Smart visionaries are publishing high value content directly to its database of customers and in turn their social networks.”

My take: A misunderstanding of the role of traditional and content marketing. First off, forget the term “traditional.” There are different channels, or media, that marketers can use. Some have been around longer than others. Regardless of their age, some channels are better suited for different marketing objectives than others.

If you think of the customer lifecycle, or funnel, as consisting of awareness->consideration->preference->purchase->engagement, then it becomes clearer that TV is not particularly good at engagement. But Slideshare or corporate blogs may not be particularly good at generating meaningful improvements in broad consumer awareness.

Content marketing doesn’t replace traditional marketing — it supplements it.

#2: Recruit a Chief Social Evangelist

“Every company needs a Robert Scoble. Scoble personifies the type of individual every company should have onstaff. His formula is simple. Produce or share quality content with his legions of followers in order to create what psychologists call the herd effect.”

My take: If I had a nickel for every consultant who recommended the creation of a Chief Fill-in-the-blank Officer position, I wouldn’t have to work anymore.

There are three problems with this particular recommendation: 1) Scoble is Scoble because there aren’t a lot of Scobles out there who can produce high quality content about being or becoming a social business; 2) No offense to Scoble, but I really don’t think that there are a high percentage of CEOs — the people who can bring about a transformation towards becoming a social business — in his legions of followers. What this means is that the content produced by the Scoble Clone is likely to be read by the converts, not the heathen; and 3) What the hell is the “herd effect” and how does that influence senior executives to transform their companies?

#5: Chief Marketing and Sales Officers will be Social or Become Obsolete

“Earlier in the year I surveyed the Fortune 100 and found only 15 of the CMOs/CCOs had twitter accounts. Unfortunate, since the primary owners of Social lay with the marketing team. Social absence also appears to be the case for VPs of Sales and Chief Revenue/Sales Officers. The reason CMO’s need to be social is because traditional marketing has become less effective as people search for dialogue, and it will eventually be replaced with content marketing, brand communities, social campaigns and thought leadership. They’ll need to adapt quickly.”

My take: Individual executives do not need to be the ones using Twitter or Facebook if there are other people in the organization with better skills for those tools. Would you agree that the quality of a product is important? Of course you would. Does that mean that the CEO needs to know how to use the lathe on the machine floor that produces that product? Of course it doesn’t.

Second, I’m not so sure that people are necessarily “searching for dialogue.” A CMO Council study found that people are looking for “free stuff” not necessarily to “be heard.”

#10. Re-focus Human Resources on Human Experience

“Employee problems are dysfunctions of the corporation, and if left without correction, become degenerative diseases. But for the social organization, and, above all, for human resources, they represent a major source of opportunity. Here’s how. In the future workplace, human resources will focus more on developing internal communities that are supported by a social business platform. HR’s role will be to ensure the platform’s user experience, aesthetics, and collaborative elements support the HR mission of employee recruiting, satisfaction and retainment. So if analytics and sentiment about employee discontent is trending, HR can take meaningful steps to stop or learn from it.”

My take: Degenerative diseases? HR will develop internal communities? HR will ensure the social businesss platform’s “experience, aesthetics, and collaborative elements”? Huh?

Conclusion. The author concludes by saying:

“The top 10 strategies for building a social business represent the most frequently cited transformations occurring within the world’s most visionary organizations. Of course, mobile will be important; so will cloud computing. Interestingly, policies around the ownership of social information created on internal social business platforms is something the visionaries are just starting to think about.”

My take: No discussion of the “social business” would be complete without at least one gratuitous mention of mobile and cloud computing, would it? But who exactly are these “visionary” organizations that represent the “most frequently cited transformations”? I don’t recall seeing a single mention of them in the Forbes post.

BOTTOM LINE: In addition to the strategies being questionable in and of themselves, the Forbes post suffers from two serious flaws:

1. It doesn’t define exactly what a “social” business is — and isn’t. There’s a construct I’ve used when writing that was hammered into me when I worked at Forrester. I call it the “Stuart Dopey Graphic.” It was named after…wait for it…Stuart, who was anything but dopey. Stuart’s contention was that in describing something new or different, that we (as analysts) should have a chart that so clearly differentiates the current situation from the future, proposed situation that even a dope would get it.  In this Forbes post — and quite frankly, it pretty much everything I read about the “social” business — there’s little clarity about what’s really different in the social business other than having a Twitter ID, Facebook page, and posting YouTube videos. 

2. It doesn’t define why any business should become a social business. God forbid you should walk into your CEO’s office and tell him/her that you have 10 strategies for becoming a social business. First thing s/he’ll say is: Why the hell do we need to become a social business? 800 million people on Facebook is not a reason. “Strategies” for “how” to become a “social” business are useless if the rationale for why a company should become one is missing.

And you wonder why I think Social Media Gurus are DOA? 

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