From Social Media to Social Business: The Missing ‘Social’ Link


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I am often puzzled by the way organizations and agencies tackle social media, as if conversational marketing and Enterprise 2.0 were living in separate worlds, addressing totally different issues, pursuing irreconcilable goals. Do they?

Of course, when considering the ‘media’ part of Social Media, open Innovation, co-creation, social CRM, have very few to deal with Facebook campaigns or multi-millions views viral videos. But the ‘social’ part, a word which deeply unsettles more than a few from my Enterprise 2.0 colleagues, tells us a completely different story, made up of conversations, insights, and exchange of knowledge. More than ever, I see a whole continuum taking place in the Social Territory, setting the customer’s experience at the center of business and harnessing all those conversations to get things done in a better way and gain decisive competitive advantages. Social Learning, which involves leveraging knowledge gained through informal networked flows, appears to be the necessary link between Social Media and Social Business.

More on that in the presentation below:

Thierry de Baillon
Branding & web strategist, Druckerian marketer with a sustainability and cross-culture flavour. Passionate about learning.


  1. Thierry,

    This is a great presentation and it is very close to something I am seeing and experiencing with both customers and vendors right now. I won’t debate terms, I truly don’t care if it is called Sally or Social Business or what — makes no difference.

    However, I have one small bone to pick. I loved the initial slides, all the way to the social learning. I think that social learning is a huge step in the right direction, don’t get misunderstand me, but it remains a one-way conversation the way you are proposing it.

    It is still about brands (or organizations) learning from the customer — but what is the value to the customer? where is the co-creation? the collaboration? collaboration is often mistaken for two people working together, but the last part of that — which makes it truly collaboration — is that both parties benefit. To me collaboration is a symbiotic relationship, both benefit from a seemingly wrong relationship.

    And that is what I don’t see in social-learning. I see brands learning from the customer, sure, but I don’t see the customer having decision-making power (frankly, most any other power) to change the way business is conducted. It is still up to the organization to embrace what the customer is saying and do it. Problem is, they may not do it. What is the customer recourse in this situation? sure, they can chose not to “Teach” the organization in the future — but that is the only power they have.

    A true collaborative situation where the decisions are made together and implemented by the organization is a better setup than the one you are proposing for co-creating. Co-creating has to involve joint decision making (and, yes, financial impact information should be shared with the customer so that better decisions are made) for it to be effective and all parties feel as if they created.

    Else, we go back to doing surveys and ignoring the results of them — such as we have done before.

    Very nice slides, BTW, I like the flow and the story.

  2. Thierry,

    I enjoyed the slides and agree with you regarding the importance of the social learning concept to the intersection of Social Media and Social Business. I also think the specific terms used to discuss relationships are important, though I agree with Esteban that the relationships matter most. What I don’t think makes sense is the suggestion, implicit in Estaban’s comment, that those involved in collaboration are best understood in the frame of collaborator. Esteban, for example, suggests that,

    “…collaboration is often mistaken for two people working together, but the last part of that — which makes it truly collaboration — is that both parties benefit. To me collaboration is a symbiotic relationship, both benefit from a seemingly wrong relationship.”

    For me, social learning is a way to recognize that the best customer experience results from collaborative relationships in which a business learns from customers and the customers learn from that business. In other words, social learning focuses on incorporating dialogue into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders, including employees. What either stakeholder values is key, rather than whether one or the other stakeholder controls the process.

    Customer communities provide a range of ways to provide symbolic, status-oriented value to customers, as well as more instrumental value in improved customer experiences with self-service, whether for product/service support or ecommerce incentives. At the same time, customer communities provide places in space where businesses can listen to their customers and brand advocates, and then voice their point of view on what the brand’s relationship to customers means relative to specific offerings. It is simply part of the dialogue. The key is for both parties to think and act on the exchange as a dialogue.

    Larry R. Irons, PhD
    Customer Clues LLC

  3. Esteban, Larry,

    Thanks for those great comments. You are raising important points, Esteban, and I am conscious of the organizational bias of my presentation (well, this is a business presentation, after all). As Larry states, “ learning focuses on incorporating [non modal, non channeled] dialogue into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders, including employees”, ie true collaboration. Whether this collaboration turns to one’s advantage, not necessarily brands’ one, depends on factors we don’t truly understand and master yet.

    The individual nature of knowledge
    Social learning is about harnessing knowledge flows exchanges. Up to now, in social media as well as in Enterprise 2.0 approaches, focus has been put mostly on collective knowledge exchange. In organizations’ world, this means that the group precedes the individual, and that ‘formal’ knowledge weights much more than implicit one. In France, for example, and I am sure this is the case in numerous countries, degrees are way more valued than practical experience, which puts a tremendous brake on knowledge sharing and acquisition in the workplace. However, as HR gets more involved in collaborative initiatives, organizations will begin to understand they benefit more from knowledge transfer than from mailboxes uncluttering, and that individual knowledge is employees’ main asset.

    On the other side of the fence, customers’ voice is still mainly understood in terms of influence and of communities. We are just beginning to tackle the notion of personal information as a currency. My take is that the REAL currency is individual knowledge, which will give much more weight to customers’ voice. This may lead to new forms of monetization (the most successful open innovation platforms are real market places) and will definitely weave knowledge exchange into work. At that point, customers will truly have as much power as brands.

    The decision making process
    Messy, if any. We know so few about decision making in a truly collaborative environment, that speaking of joint decision making seems quite unrealistic for now. Should we raise consensual decisions? Is customer’s experience more valuable than industrial constraints? How should we weight such different knowledge domains? Who would arbitrate those points of view? Upon which factors? Here is something I have only questions about, and I guess that there is no definitive answer, only individual case studies, where power will shift to either side as a pragmatic result.

  4. Time to throw off the shackles of hierarchy and embrace your interna enterprise community
    Watching the Social Network explosion and Social Enterprise Software scene emerge has raised interesting questions, not only in terms of the new technology as an enabler but how the enterprise makeup is going to look and operate in the future. Having been involved in many transformation programmes it always amazed me to see the same top-down hierarchical business operating models applied when redesigning the Process and IT architecture: Silo – Division – Department – Activity – Capability, they all amounted to the same rigid structure no matter how it was labeled. To a certain extent a lot of the large consultancies have sold these models for years so a business entity would hear much the same thing around their industry when looking to adopt change. Which now poses an interesting question in relation to the benchmarking of an enterprise: How can you benchmark when potentially it’s the wrong model in the first place ?
    Now in light of the new social revolution we need to carefully peel back architectures of old and reveal the hidden network of resources that operate ‘underground’ who are actually supporting the business in ways never seen or understood before because they fall outside of the strict roles imposed in a hierarchy.
    Networking is recognised as a major influence on an employee’s ability to work well in an organisation and be successful. In fact, the most successful people in the world possess the capability to influence and shape the opinions of others, which today places greater emphasis on the types of networking a person does. Internal enterprise networks have a major impact on organisational effectiveness, but more importantly these types of networks provide major business advantages for the participants.
    There are major advantages when comparing a hierarchy against a networked enterprise community, for example:
    • Formal and hierarchical divisional entities consist of areas such as Operations, Performance Management, Human Resources, Sales, Manufacturing, …They are defined by organisational boundaries so are rigid and hard to change. Within them exist work domains such as virtual or project led teams who are organised, task oriented, they cross organisational boundaries but tend to have a ‘closed membership’.
    • A networked community however is shaped informally, has common interests, is self motivated, is more innovative due to lack of constraints, has a network of experts and knowledge communities, exists outside organisational boundaries and works on an ‘open membership’.
    • The most effective enterprise networks contain high-functioning people who are extremely skilled, knowledgeable, powerful, and who have strong personal networks. The informal network without the hierarchy and bureaucracy encourages the most interaction and achieves the most positive results.
    Networking has always been an essential social skill founded on the interdependence of people. We all rely on the support and cooperation of others to achieve our goals. Networking within the enterprise involves bonding, sharing expertise and investing time and effort into others. It’s a natural operating model which has remained untapped for years because we always seek comfort in building walls between resources in order to correctly label them.
    There’s another advantage in understanding the enterprise social network dynamic. What is the impact of a key networked resource leaving the organisation. Right now it’s build on their place in a traditional hierarchy and how many people sit below and above them in the chain. Under a community operating model that span of influence could be exponential yet completely hidden. Would you really let this person go if you understood how much the larger community relied on them ? I seriously doubt you would.
    You think your business looks like a top-down organisation chart when in fact it’s more like a Twitter map.
    Social Network and Social Enterprise Software matter for a number of reasons:
    • Timely identification of Subject Matter Experts and stakeholders. Avoid duplication of efforts by finding individuals in an enterprise with experience in the topic or relevant parties to involve. Like a tag cloud in a blog, topics of interest are associated with the real SMEs for rapid location of knowledge.
    • For re-organisations to understand how the business networks interact and translate them into the formal organizational charts
    • To identify the impact of a key person leaving, both internally and externally
    • For new employees to more quickly integrate into a company by seeking expertise, build relationships and their own networks
    • To understand customer interactions and how better serve them
    • To identify the key influencers within a group

    Key differentiators for an Enterprise Community built system should be:
    • That the tool allows for individuals to set up profiles with a high degree of automation and control, meaning that the effort required by each individual is minimised
    • That any centrally held information that can be associated with an individual can be added to the profile – for example location, grade or title
    • That the profile can be amended to allow specific information to be added by individuals
    • That themes/ tag clouds can be easily searched, allowing easy identification of experts in a particular topic, as well as who is currently working on what
    • That a network visualisation tool exists so that when an expert has been identified, it is also possible to see any common contacts, which could be used to facilitate an introduction
    There are companies ahead of the game of the social enterprise software industry where they employ the mining of email information to create these networks and are considered intrusive as well as under threat from Data Protection and Privacy issues. Where the social influence is advantageous is that the technology enabler is completely transparent in how it’s deployed, and the network becomes visible to all.
    I’ve stated this is game changing in a lot of ways. Not only for the industry but how organisations will view themselves in years to come. More recently though I was fascinated to read about Lateral Communication research in the 1980’s and that in software development ‘social’ has already been happening for many years and proven to work.
    When Valve Software created Half-Life they adopted the Cabal Process, which according to Gabe Newell, President and owner of Valve Software, stated “the people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.”
    “The first few months of the Cabal process were somewhat nerve wracking for those outside the process. It wasn’t clear that egos could be suppressed enough to get anything done, or that a vision of the game filtered through a large number of people would be anything other than bland. As it turned out, the opposite was true; the people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.
    Internally, once the success of the Cabal process was obvious, mini-Cabals were formed to come up with answers to a variety of design problems. These mini-Cabals would typically include people most effected by the decision, as well as try to include people completely outside the problem being addressed in order to keep a fresh perspective on things. We also kept membership in the initial Cabal somewhat flexible and we quickly started to rotate people through the process every month or so, always including a few people from the last time, and always making sure we had a cross section of the company. This helped to prevent burn out, and ensured that everyone involved in the process had experience using the results of Cabal decisions.”
    What was interesting was that when they created the Cabal Process they threw out job descriptions because they found them too constraining (and couldn’t hire externally the people they required because of them).
    “Instead, we would create our own ideal by combining the strengths of a cross section of the company, putting them together in a group we called the “Cabal.”
    I decided to get in touch with Gabe directly following the article and find out his own opinions on hierarchy vs social models.

    “The simple answer is that hierarchy is good for repeatability and measurability, whereas self-organizing networks are better at invention,” Gabe said, “There are a lot of side effects and consequences. The lack of titles (roles) is primarily an internal signaling tool.”

    “The alternate answer is that organizations that think they are hierarchical actually don’t gain advantage by it (they actually have hidden networks), and that the hierarchical appearance is the result of rent-seeking.”

    So can we not design and define an enterprise on the same principles and see the same effect but on a much grander scale ? Is there a half-way house where both ideals can co-exist until we are ready to throw the shackles away for good ?

    What’s really stopping us apart from that old chestnut: fear…

  5. Hello Larry:

    I read with interest your comments about Thierry’s social network article and it struck me that you might be interested and qualified in being an author for Leading Edge Marketing Research (

    This a book we’re editing for Sage Publishing and one of the topics that needs an experienced author is Social Networks and Research. To that end, I hope you will look at our website in order to get a full understanding of the project and to contact me directly should you have interest and wish to talk.

    Thanks very much.

    Bob Kaden

  6. Good presentation, Thierry. What I take from this is that in a networked economy, companies (brands) are an emergent property of the sum of the actions of investors, directors, employees, customers, partners and suppliers. This complex set of relationships, by its very nature, cannot be centrally managed. However, relationships can be influenced through people’s actions facilitated by social networks. The key considerations for management are to 1) listen, 2) converse 3) co-create and 4) share.


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