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Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! – Chris Heuer


Guest post by Chris Heuer, CEO, Alynd (@chrisheuer)

When I heard Marc Benioff was giving up on pursuit of “Social Enterprise” as the focus of Salesforce’s marketing, I  remarked to my Deloitte colleagues that “Social Business has won the day.” I felt vindicated after being an early proponent advocating for organizations to become Social Businesses, believing that IBM’s marketing might would be the catalyst to consolidate the movement around this language and meaning.

Six months after leaving Deloitte to start a Social Business consulting network and now a Social Business SaaS company, I find myself eating my words, though we are only changing the positioning not the actual services or software concept. Through my conversations with colleagues and executives at large enterprises, the words Social Business have not struck the right chord with leaders. The movement has failed to earn their faith, trust and budgets in a significant way. While the ideas behind the moniker are invaluable in defining the future of work, most large companies simply aren’t buying into or investing in Social Business transformation efforts in more than a piecemeal sort of way

Despite having a legion of analysts and advocates connected by and promoting the #socbiz hashtag, I believe it is time to proclaim that Social Business is dead, or at least dying before our very eyes. I am not alone in this position, having discussed this at length with my AdHocnium and Alynd colleagues. In fact, while arguing that Social Business isn’t dead in a post from January of this year, friend and well regarded analyst Michael Fauscette in effect reaches a very similar conclusion as mine. While Stowe Boyd still remains an ardent supporter of the impact and power of social in the enterprise as he notes in this GigaOm post citing McKinsey’s Social Economy report, I think it’s just time for us to find a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership.

It’s not that the ideas are losing or that the goals are without merit, they are. The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit. To them, it’s about what someone ate for lunch. Or it’s that thing their teenagers do to ignore them at the dinner table. Despite the Arab Spring, the customer revolution and an increasingly connected society which turns to Twitter with every earthquake or news event, the idea of being a Social Business has failed to break through the care barrier in most C-Suites.

Indeed, as I have heard from executives in charge of billion dollar lines of business, they “have people for that”. They have yet to see the bigger opportunity to seize competitive advantage or the risk to their business. It’s as if they were frogs being put into a pot of cold water being slowly brought to a boil. It’s not so painful that they need to make a massive investment to transform their organizations. They continue to make money and operate as they always have. That is the problem. The old model of organizational design and profit making is obsolete but it hasn’t yet completely or visibly failed for the people in charge.

If you talk to the Humans-who-are-called-Resources however, you would learn that corporations failed them long ago. Those on top looking down don’t see it or feel it of course. Or maybe it’s that they don’t want to see it. They are managing by spreadsheet. The cells holding the numbers serving as lenses into their world, unaware that they are merely shadows of the true reality cast on cave walls. In the view of too many executives, people are truly cogs in their machines of profit and luxury, fungible resources that can be easily swapped out or replaced as needed. Meanwhile, those ‘resources’ feel a sad truth to the phrase ‘getting chewed up and spit out by the machine.”

While using a different lens to reach this conclusion, further support of this assertion comes from a great un-bylined post on the Enterprise 2.0 Blog which concluded “Social Enterprise 2013/14 is the twilight of the over-hyped social business story but the dawn of the management (r)evolution.”

What happened? What’s happening?

In a world that is driven by leaders seeking to create, get ahead of, or respond to market trends and the latest buzz, Social Business has never really broken free. Whenever asked to name an exemplar of a great social business, or someone doing it well, most analysts struggle. “No one is completely there yet.” “Ford and IBM are getting close.” “Most orgs are seeing a spiky success, great in one area and lacking in others.” Kind of hard to build a movement of world changing proportions without a poster child or at least a way to simply explain the key outcomes being posited.

My bet on IBM was, in part, based on its success with eBusiness. Missing in my assessment was the realization of the complexity of the Social Business story. Being an eBusiness was simply about getting online to sell your stuff – if you didn’t do it, you were going to lose your position in the market. Social Business is about being more social, more connected, more human and so much more. By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization. By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with our peers and our clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo. For others, who don’t have a clear view of what a successful Social Business looks like, its just another management fad with which they can’t be bothered with beyond the marketing department.

The trouble is, that even my description above, while better than some I have read, is still grasping at straws, or more aptly, it’s merely several statements made by the blind men describing the elephant. While true, its still about so much more, and it requires a more holistic view to truly understand the importance and value. Ayelet Baron recently delivered a great presentation on this subject entitled “Unlocking the Future of Work” that addresses the many other facets of what is needed for us to find our success in fixing what in my mind is most broken in large organizations. Hint: it’s a lot more than putting in some new social technology, and it’s much harder to ‘fix’ – it involves people!

The market leaders in the 21st century will need to focus on modernizing talent management, operational systems and organizational models for a fully connected society, where the social physics are fundamentally different than the one we lived in just over a decade ago. It starts with treating all people, especially those on the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder, with dignity and respect. It requires new systems of processed and technologies that are logical, sensible and fault tolerant. It requires leaders to govern their organizations much more transparently to earn the trust of ALL stakeholders, This is compounded by a need for the organizations be more agile, so that they may respond in real time to both opportunities and threats, and to empower employees to serve as authentic ambassadors of their brands in both situations.

The challenge is that most managers don’t trust their employees and don’t even want them speaking publicly about the company, lest they create litigation or a PR disaster. This state of affairs is a evidenced by the broken employer-employee relationship in many organizations that is in a downward spiral of distrust, resentment and passive aggressive or outright hostility as reflected in the dismal employee engagement surveys Gallup and many others have conducted.

Why would a senior executive who has made his annual bonus doing what he has always done invest a significant portion of their organization’s cash reserves into an ambiguous hard to express idea like Social Business, without a successful example, with many employees who they believe are just there for the paycheck, in a time of global economic uncertainty, when their profits and productivity have reached all time record highs against relatively depressed wages? Easy. They wouldn’t, and they won’t. At least not until an executive like Ford’s Alan Mulaly with a long term view is driven by a clear vision and understanding of the opportunity it represents instead of the words chosen to represent it.

You see, the words are problematic in even more ways than mentioned above. From the first time I used the phrase Social Business, I cringed a bit myself, knowing that the phrase, and Social Enterprise especially, was coined by Dr Muhammad Yunus of Grameen bank fame to represent an organization that had a social purpose at the core of its operations. Indeed, Marc Benioff cited this as one of his reasons for moving away from Social Enterprise at the time, having received a request to drop his attempts to trademark the phrase. This is the same point I personally argued with senior leaders after being hired by Deloitte Consulting to help lead the social media and ultimately social business efforts there.

In fact, it was that point and those conversations that eventually lead Deloitte’s then Deputy CTO Bill Briggs to coin the phrase “Postdigital Enterprise” to represent the broader concept embodied by an organization that fully and effectively deployed social, mobile, analytics, security and cloud technologies and methodologies. Sadly, those words have their own baggage and did not ignite a movement, though it is a practice area for Deloitte still. I was only cursorily involved in that Postdigital team, though I continued to advise them while sticking within the social business space and ultimately moving to engagement as my focus.

Don’t be fooled though, it’s not only a language problem that killed Social Business, it’s a cacophony of fundamental flaws in the system burdened by the very real nature of the power laws that direct our leader’s decisions and behaviors. While it would be great to blame the system and abdicate personal responsibility, it’s my fault too. And yours. And your middle managers. And your consultants. And everyone else who doesn’t raise their voice in support of fixing what’s broken.  But even then, I do understand the challenge here in assigning blame so wantonly. Few are rewarded for focusing on such nebulous matters instead of putting all their energy into meeting their key metrics that drive their annual bonuses, and their boss’ bonuses, and their boss’ bonuses and so on.

Our experiences of how things have worked in the past, both good and bad, prevent us from understanding how things can be different. With so much pain from past failures holding us down, we no longer feel the weight on our backs of how broken our organizations have become. Few if any have an inkling of the unrecognized emotional tax paid by our most important assets, our human colleagues. This emotional tax costs us much more then lost dollars, its the loss of time and unrealized opportunities which are often accepted as a cost of doing business.

Social Business was supposed to fix this problem. Enterprise 2.0 was supposed to fix this problem. Fast Company, through the vision of founders Alan Webber and Bill Taylor unleashed a wave of optimism through stories of success and failure that ignited an army of change agents to believe in a better tomorrow. To believe that we can each make a difference, every day. I, like many of us in the #socbiz and #e20 tribes, have been one of those believers. While I believe Social Business’ time has come and is now gone, I still am one of the believers. The idea, the need and the opportunity are simply too huge to ignore. Words are powerful. Words are important. But the idea is too big, the pull too strong and the need too great to be held back by the failure of two words to win the attention and budgets of corporate leaders.

Given my personal history and close professional connection to social media,  enterprise 2.0 and social business, you may be wondering what’s next? For the first time in nearly 10 years, I don’t know how to properly reference this movement or our desired end state. It’s why I supported Bill Briggs’ push towards the Postdigital moniker, it described what’s next while referencing what is now. Certainly there is a Work Revolution happening as more employees are realizing the power they have to create change in ways both large and small. This is why we are beginning to convene Work Hackers to share their stories, their hacks and their methods of success. Adam Pissoni of Yammer is developing a story of what he calls the Responsive Organization. Others are seeking to promote the Business Agile Enterprise. Still others are just talking about the future of work.

So while some of us are getting ready to attend the funeral for Social Business, many are pushing onward to what’s next. Whatever we end up calling it is not the important thing. What really matters is freeing every human asset to be free of fear, uncertainty and doubt so they may achieve their greatest potential in life and in work. A connected society is a better society, with mutual benefit from our interdependence making the world more tolerant, more livable and more propserous.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is not to get caught up in the words, but to connect with each other and figure out how to re-imagine our broken corporations and set about trying to fix them. Fail fast, fail often and find the greatest success possible. After all, it can’t be a worse failure then the current state of affairs, so why accept the status quo when you can be the change you want to see in the world?

Image Credit: Shutterstock


121 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! – Chris Heuer”

  1. Ke'Aun Charles says:

    The one question I had while reading this is: what is social business? What I got from it is that Social Business isn’t much more than opening a no pressure-dialogue between employees and employers. That’s great, truly. A lot of problems in a company can be solved by doing that. But revolutionary? I don’t think so. But maybe I’m missing something?

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Well, that’s part of it, but it’s much more. Its new mindsets, new methods and new measures for how business operates – how value is created. Or as Geoffrey Moore remarked when I got to ask him some questions a few weeks ago, its a change to the business model and the operational model….

      Your confusion is normal, it’s a somewhat abstract concept encompassing a lot of things that aren’t easily boiled down to a simple point with language that is not understood by many and therefore feels foreign. From the post above, here is how I was trying to explain it:

      “Social Business is about being more social, more connected, more human and so much more. By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization. By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with our peers and our clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo. For others, who don’t have a clear view of what a successful Social Business looks like, its just another management fad with which they can’t be bothered with beyond the marketing department.”

    • Ke'Aun Charles says:

      So what would a super-social, connected business look like? If you had total free reign to create a Social Business as you saw fit, how would it operate and what would make it different from a normal business?

      I’m not trying to be difficult, I was just never good with abstractions lol. As I understand it so far, it would be a business completely open to its employees and customers about what goes on in that business. If that’s the case, it would certainly build trust with both of those groups as long as it wasn’t doing something immoral/illegal.

  2. dpontefract says:

    Here here!

    This is precisely why I wrote the book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization (Wiley) — which (in a nutshell) decodes the bull$&#% management practices and thinking of today … ultimately prescribing open, collaborative-based behavioural leadership models as the antidote, aided and abetted by better learning modes as well as collaborative technologies.

    You don’t go to social. There is no such thing as ‘social business’.

    There is a need for leaders and employees alike to change the way they behave. There is a need for the organization to grow up and welcome itself into the 21st century.

    Fordism, Taylorism and Fayolism are relics of the industrial revolution yet our leadership attributes are shackled to such past ways.

    Personally, I’m fed up with the nonsense out there … hence the book.

    How are sales you ask? As you might expect.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Will definitely take a read. But look, the whole idea of trends and movements is riding them, countering them creates long tail effects down the line, and seldom get to the main stage at Lollapalooza. Doesn’t mean the art isn’t great, or worth every bit of the blood, sweat and tears it took to create. This is why I have always loved using the original Delicious to pivot around key tags to find what other language people were using to describe the things I cared most about. Really need that still…

      Anyway, thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • Oh I am most definitely in for the ‘long tail’ movement. I’m with you 100%. But I’m an impatient Canadian (yes, there is at least one) and I literally boil over as I read report after report after report of organizational culture larceny. I’ll send you the ePub version (or physical if you like) … just drop me a line at dp at danpontefract dot com. Cheers mate.

    • stoweboyd says:

      I think you mean ‘hear, hear!’

  3. Andy Newbom says:

    agree with all the points. the phrase Social Business doesn’t nail it. To me the core is bound up in these changes:
    1. Mobile – one screen that’s wherever you are
    2. Social – every screen gives everyone a bigger voice
    3. Advocacy Democracy – Social and Mobile are putting more power into the hands of advocates rather than only brandvocates
    4. Employee-Employer relationship – changing work roles, definitions and strategies based on the above
    5. Class Battles- The battle between the corporate oligarchy referenced in the article and the 99% in light of globality
    6. Relevancy – the power of relevancy and it’s power to make or break brands, people, stars etc

    Not sure what the ideal should be called or even if we all agree on what it looks like. But it doesn’t look like what most businesses are today.

  4. Geoffrey Colon says:

    Social business or socializing the enterprise or whatever term you use to describe flattening a hierarchy won’t happen unless employees are better educated on how social tools help empower them first and then their organization. CEOs (many who have no clue on how to use these tools and don’t use them) won’t make this move when they tie their bonus to shareholder’s rather than consumer/customer/client mind share. Organizations fail at adopting these practices because they make it part of an employees job, a commitment, something they have to check off on a box rather than a way of living. It’s like dieting and fitness. You don’t get results by doing it once in awhile. It’s a lifestyle change. A paradigm shift. We are in a knowledge based world now yet corporations act like it’s 1998. If companies approached the idea of social business where they said, “if you do this you empower yourself first as a personal brand, and in turn, our brand as a result,” many more employees would adopt the techniques because we are all individuals trying to learn, embrace change and better ourselves in the dynamic pivoting of the business world.

    In the past, organizations hired experts because they needed those experts to solve mysteries and move those toward an algorithmic process. The work of a few no longer works in a 24/7 world. It’s better to educate your entire workforce so that they all can be experts. Especially when it comes to the overall strategy and goals and vision of your company. What used to be the words of the few only has advantages if the masses can amplify, engage and discuss in rapid fashion. Consumers expect immediate results and old PR and CRM channels simply do not work. Great post here. Glad you wrote it. Happy to share and keep the conversation and never-ending engagement going (another item corporations have a hard time understanding. Just because they’re not talking about themselves, doesn’t mean others have stopped talking about them. Thus the need to have an “always-on” work dynamic utilizing proper communication channels).

  5. ITSinsider says:

    Great piece. As you know Chris, we agree here and have been working on this for a year. I’m very much looking forward to how your software can help address what’s needed to fully deliver on the promise of what’s possible in a new era based on premise of social. BTW, I have completely backed off from “social business.” I was against it in the beginning, felt I’d lost that battle so pushed forward with it, but now am happy and eager to give it back to the deserving Nobel Peace Prize winner who coined it. Also, readers of Brian’s blog may conflate internal social with external social. Two.different.elephants that happen to have the same ancestry.

  6. Gawed says:

    for the last month I have felt like that, (and it kind mixes with the AHA moment talk we had over at facebook) … but I think your conclusion is something that, like you said, the ones of the #socbiz tribe have felt for a while: regardless of the words, the concept of that we’re trying to achieve turns out to be bigger and harder to achieve than just using new technologies and telling Management there’s a new way.
    We were bit of a fools thinking they would welcome us as saviors and not just as nutheads, the lesson is learned and the road a bit murky, at least for me, doubt has filled me.

    Harder yet for the ever behind region of mine, while we are just beginning to make people notice the social business concept over here it’s already dying over there? hehe, it will be fun to explain that in the LATAM SocBiz event I organized in Colombia :S

    What’s next? a hard question.

  7. Frank Eliason says:

    Great piece Chris and so tied to our conversation today. Someone once said to me,”it’s anthropology not technology.” We have focused on the technology but not the underlying culture of an organization. Ultimately this will change as younger leaders take their place at the top of these big companies, or smaller more agile companies demonstrate the true value and the way to lead in the new world we live in no matter what we call it. I find the biggest challenge is not always the top leaders but often the layer right below. These tools if utilized properly will most likely tell a different story than most CEO’s have heard. The fact is external social media tools are already doing that to so many brands. The world around us has already changed and we have to stop clinging to our old mindset.

    • Frank, great post and I couldn’t agree more. However, as much as leadership may change, it is also (especially for larger companies) a question of institutionalization and change-resistance. Part of that is leadership/executive-based, certainly, but the larger a company grows the more that institutionalization becomes cemented. Of course it works both ways – for a growing and large tech company, change evolution may be just as much an integrated part of the corporate fabric and culture, but the vast majority of companies are not technology-focused, and those sorts of full-organism culture changes are going to be harder to realize (or, simply require a significantly longer amount of time to bring about). Those types of systemic changes require considerable resources and efforts.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Worse are the ghosts in the machine that all too many see as real, when they are no more real then the lines of a map are in the real world where it was drawn. But like that map, they manifest as signs, but these signs aren’t even posted, but part of an oral history based in a fear of what might happen if someone makes a mistake, instead of what can be learned if someone makes a mistake and what might be awesome if in trying they find incredible success.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Agreed. But middle management will soon be obsolete. OK, maybe not soon enough for many, but its clear that the checks and balances they are supposed to provide maintaining alignment in the manner they do today is often more like chains and blockages. Why? A believe that the power laws matter then the happiness curve or the true teachings of most religions about peace and love for our fellow man (and woman).

      I think you are right though, when we see a new company come along (ahem) that is able to really disrupt their market leadership, that’s when money will flow. Perhaps disrupting a big, now legacy restricted dotcom…

  8. dslunceford says:

    I wish the format here allowed you to use the final paragraph as a pull quote, to highlight that takeaway even more….

  9. Keith McMean says:

    Maybe we can change ‘Social Business’ to ‘Connected Business’ as thats what were all aiming for…right?

  10. I am with Keith McMean – connected business is what we should be calling it. The purpose of business is not to be social – it is to create customers and profits. The power that comes from this thing we call the social media revolution is really the power of connection – connection between the parts within a business or between a business and its stakeholders and also the power that consumers or customers can create by connecting with each other – something we shouldn’t forget. It is quite possible that the real stimulus here will be created as business are forced to adapt in order to terms with increased connection between their customers. The connected customer is a scary thing!

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      When Salesforce was seeking to move beyond Social Enterprise, that is what I advocated to my friends there to call it a Connected Company movement….

  11. Lux says:

    Well said Chris. Many of us are sensing a change coming. I’m not sure where we are going but it’s clear that the next stage of evolution is underway.

  12. JDeragon says:

    Chris, Your title got my attention and an Amen finally. Speaking of Amen much of the “Social Business movement” reminds me of evangelistic movements for religious organizations. Business leaders look at themselves as well business leaders not religious leaders caring for the souls of their flock. Many of the folks in the social space promote all things social as the end all to any and all business problems yet few have actually run any business of significant size.

    The problem is that each “social preacher” brings a different twist to the message. Some speak to the tools and their value relative to organizational functions such a PR and marketing. Others speak to organizational transformation like it is a “born again experience. And even more simply keep repeating the success of a few well known organizations whom have been well established even before “social” yet point to social as the success factor.

    We all know that social is a philosophical shift that requires a transformation of beliefs which is as close to a religion as you can get. Yet selling it as or like a religion dooms it to failure..

    In my humble opinion there is a larger shift happening globally that is being fueled by social and that is in the arena of identifying, measuring and evaluating the value of intangible capital which has been avoided for decades. However is now front and center on the global stage. Most Countries are now measuring intangibles as part of GDP, the S&P 500 clearly deomstrates that 80% of the value of the top performing stocks come from the intangibles. What is all this social business stuff all about? The intangible: Human, Strategic, relationship and structural capital and that is in the language of business.

    Oh well….just my two sense from given my observations and experience. Well done with your article

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Yes its evangelism, a manner of story telling intended to convince people to adopt a set of beliefs.

      Hadn’t thought about the dynamics of the need for so many evangelists to develop an original twist, or hook, to stand out from others and how the cacophony of thousands of self proclaimed experts serve to further confusion and dampen the very movement they sought to grow. I likened this the other day to liberals being willing to accept and debate nuanced aspects of the grey world in which we live while many conservatives get lock step into the a very black/white sort of view on their policies.

    • JDeragon says:

      Thanks for responding Chris, that in itself if a lot of work :). Someone who taught me a lot, W, Edwards Deming once said “Learning new tools is easy. Learning a new philosophy requires a change in beliefs, That is the problem.and the solution. Change would be easy if it weren’t for all those damn people 🙂

  13. Yoshee says:

    Great commentary Chris. Truer words have never been said. The reality of any concept comes down to the ability to prove its value. When you ask an organization to increase margin or top line revenue by 10%, and their response is ‘social business,’ your natural reaction is to say ‘prove it.’ And as you mentioned, no one has proven it yet. We believed customer service was transforming business through the success of Zappos and Amazon relentless approach to customer service from within breeds success externally. We all believed e-business was a no-brainer. Yet, we haven’t seen the fruits of social business in the enterprise make its mark. I believe social business needs to be broken up and digested in smaller quantifiable chunks like social responsiveness, marketing automation and even big data. There’s more but it’s a start, and it’s something c-levels can see through the forest of acrimonious word play.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      What it comes down to in my view, is that it isn’t about any one of those things, but all those things and more. We have to be able to hold more then one strategy in our corporate brains at the same time – I call this excelling in Key Areas of Distinctions, a qualitiative equivalent to KPI’s and closely connected to new measures. From my perspective the real key is as I described in the Engagement Curve, pursuing and maintaining REAL Relationships to develop a competitive advantage and capturing the maximum economic value through an understanding of CnLTV (Customer + Network Lifetime Value).

      So here’s the thing. That’s all my way of encompassing some really complicated insights with an efficient use of language as I can muster. And it means absolutely nothing to most people, and everything to others… I’ve had plenty of folks say its just buzzword buillshit, but when people really know what I mean, it’s a great way of connecting with each other and going beyond those concepts to much deeper, more meaningful and original insights.

  14. Jochem Koole says:

    Thank you for writing this article, Chris. I’ve read it with great interest and have to admit, it made me sad and a little angry at first. It felt like you (and others) were giving up on trying to change companies for the better. But in the end, I think you’re right. At this moment, there’s a lack of urgency for most established companies to evolve into anything that resembles a network organisation, social business or social enterprise.

    I somewhat hate it, but probably have to agree on the fact that there’s no such thing as a ‘social business’ or ‘social enterprise’. Then again, the whole concept of a business, enterprise or organisation is shifting. Newly founded companies are (almost) all technology / online driven. They don’t need expensive office buildings, IT infrastructure, or middle management. I see companies with less than 10 professionals successfully work on large projects.

    It might be better, to start talking about ‘social professionals’; people that not only understand the concepts and ideas behind social media and how these affect the way we do business, but are also able to use social media to the benefit (both financial and social) of the company they happen to work for or the business they run themselves.

    Not everyone is equally social, not every job requires people to be equally social, not all companies will be social. Most new enterprises will be largely social, some established organisations will change, some completely, some partly, and some will disappear.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Hopefully you realized that we aren’t giving up at all, just looking for a better banner to ride under as the ideas, and the language evolves.

      We see how WordPress is organized in “A Year Without Pants” and my AdHocnium model is a network with no employees.

      With Alynd, we are building a system for collaboration and communication that takes a truly holistic approach, informed by social principles. I personally intend to continue to invest my life in creating a better future, to help as many people as possible live better lives, at home and especially at work.

    • Jochem Koole says:

      Thanks for the reply! I realise, you’re not giving up. Glad to hear 🙂

      I’ll be more than happy to ride under that same banner, as I try to better people’s (working) lives here in the Netherlands. Like I used to do for the past two years at Deloitte and now as an independent social business (I’ll just keep calling myself that for now…) strategist.

  15. Kymberlaine Banks says:

    Great post, Chris. I fear you’re preaching to the choir but appreciate all of the gems of wisdom here. Most of all thank you for ending with a Gandhi quote.

  16. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) said it best.

    Of New Princedoms

    And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event. The result, however, is that whenever the enemies of change make an attack, they do so with all the zeal of partisans, while the others defend themselves so feebly as to endanger both themselves and their cause.

    But to get a clearer understanding of this part of our subject, we must look whether these innovators can stand alone, or whether they depend for aid upon others; in other words, whether to carry out their ends they must resort to entreaty, or can prevail by force. In the former case they always fare badly and bring nothing to a successful issue; but when they depend upon their own resources and can employ force, they seldom fail. Hence it comes that all armed Prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed Prophets have been destroyed.

    Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) said it best. The Prince.

  17. Karin Wills says:

    Change takes time. Language is more powerful than we sometimes acknowledge. Technology is advancing far more rapidly than our triune brains are able to adapt. We need to recognize the adaptation deficit common to many humans and manage accordingly. We need to remember thatt change takes time. People who are visionaries, innovators, early adopters are generally far ahead of the curve and need change liaison facilitators to bridge the gap. What we saw yesterday, others will see tomorrow. Change takes time.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      And as Shel Israel shared with me, its power is often overestimated for the short term, and under estimated over the long term…

  18. 4chrisheuer says:

    For those of you who might not have realized, Brian was kind enough to publish my post on his site to help it get read, something that I don’t get much at my site given my lack of regular blogging. If you know me personally, you know that these thoughts above are what I have been talking about for years. I’ve been fortunate to be friends with Brian, most of the Altimeter Group team, and many of the other insightful leaders of time, driving forward toward a shared vision of a better future for our society and our economy though a new generation of leaders, in new organizations.

    When Bran, Robert Scoble, Tom Foremski, myself and several others argued for embracing the phrase Social Media over alternatives, there was fierce opposition. A practical linguistic world war of words. Ultimately we thought the distinguishing characteristic of it being published and shareable by people, in a peer to peer manner was most important to define it differently – in effect to help reshape the mindsets of marketing and communications leaders towards honesty, true engagement and generally investing in key activities that create the most shared value, and in my view, the most sustainable long term profitability.

    Fast forward to today, and social media is not thought of in such lofty terms by those outside the inside. SNL parodies, and Jimmy Fallon #hashtagHatinButReallyLaughingBecauseItsTrue and way too much #tmi for most people’s tastes. Point being, the ideas are the same, but the language isn’t connecting well with senior leaders. Maybe its that it isn’t connecting “YET” in the deep meaningful way we originally and still intend. It really helps to be able to have more convenient short hand that is simple to understand as a concept… oh, and it needs to be catchy too.

    But the language of business is the language of value, problem solving, cost savings, profit margins, growth, innovation, development, efficiency, productivity and resource utilization. When we sold succesfully with The Conversation Group, we didn’t talk about blogs or wikis, we talked about improving communications and collaboration. The language Altimeter uses to express the underlying meaning and opportunity of Social Business, is generally spot on – open leadership, engagement, holistic org models, dynamic customer journeys, integrated experiences and more facets describing the future of work and pulling major corporations along with them.

    One blog post does not a movement end, people will continue to talk about Social Business, just as people today still talk about Web 2.0. I like the language of the dynamic organization Brian mentioned to me the other day at Pivotcon as one strong alternative, but that’s the point, generating alternatives. It’s time for another conversation like the one we had about social media. With all the bright minds who are connected around this, I am sure we will find a strong and appropriate banner again…

  19. 4chrisheuer says:

    Thanks for the great feedback and kind words!

  20. BernieBorges says:

    I’m not so ready to give up on Social Business. It appears that big business is not ready to embrace it for the wrong reasons. My blood boils each time I hear that big business executives don’t understand the value of the social enterprise. There are plenty of examples to prove the case for social business.

    The reason I like the phrase Social Business is because it has “business” in the phrase. Social Media has become synonymous with that thing teenagers do. The issue is exacerbated by the hype that social media is not measurable, even though that isn’t as true as many believe.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Social Business. I’m watching IBM. If they move away from the phrase, I’ll reconsider.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      I should point out that I did not make a call to action for others to abandon Social Business or that it has become worthless. I simply think there is a need to convene another conversation about what we really want and what words best represents the outcomes we are seeking. So yes, please continue to use it. I do not pretend to be the arbiter of what is proper, just making the case for what I have seen and that I am personally moving away from it as my central focus in pursuit of what’s next.

      I’m looking forward to connecting with some of my IBM friends like Luis Suarez, Sandy Carter and others in the weeks ahead to hear their perspective too… Their investment in Social Business is too big, so I don’t expect them to move away quickly if at all, but they are well positioned with their product brand and their JAN conference to seize on another facet of it that speaks to me as the core value proposition – to shift to The Connected Company, which to me means relationships, flow of information and ability to have a smarter organizations.

      I should note I am working on some ideas about bringing people together to discuss this further at an unconference in the near future. More to come…

  21. 4chrisheuer says:

    When debating the merits of the phrase Social Media in 2006 we hit on the fact that Social Media is not so much a noun as it was a verb, the sharing of media. In the end though, for many reasons I’ve shared elsewhere, it really seemed to be the phrase that rung as truest and had the most appropriate affects.

  22. Among other things I’ve written related to this topic is a piece entitled “‘Social Media’ is SO 2009! 7 Proposed Digital Terminology Upgrades.” Here’s the two-paragraph excerpt related to “Social X”:

    Social Business, Social Enterprise, Social Learning. All three terms accurately convey their intent; unfortunately they all also have distinct meanings that have no specific connections to social technologies. Both Social Business and Social Enterprise, for example, along with Social Entrepreneurship, are used to refer to for-profit businesses that have charitable or socially-oriented missions. And Social Learning is most strongly connected to social learning theory, which was developed in the late 1970s.

    We could argue that we need to find better language to reflect the phenomena these terms refer to (perhaps Digital Enterprise or Digital Learning?), but I might suggest that we should simply stop trying to use them. Over time, as social and digital technologies become more integrated into all aspects of organizational life, the “social” qualifier will become redundant and unnecessary. This applies not only to the terms above but others like social intranet and social recognition.

    Didier Bonnet and other folks at CapGemini are using the term digital transformation, which I rather like for at least three reasons: it reflects the importance of digital beyond social technologies, and it emphasizes the potentially dramatic shift that organizations and their leaders have to undertake, and it underscores the importance of change.

    One of the reasons we rebranded earlier this year was to move away from attaching our identity to social technologies, for many of the reasons you have discussed here. I believe it’s ultimately more effective to lead the discussion with a focus on digital technologies more broadly, and introduce social (or perhaps interactive if you will) technologies as a communication and collaboration solution that ties to the achievement of existing objectives.

    In conjunction with that, I’ve also proposed taking a “Judokan” approach to change that focuses on leveraging new technologies in a way that fits with how organizations operate today rather than trying to make or expect dramatic changes in operations to fit the technologies (esp. where people and culture are concerned). Instead of looking for certain leadership and cultural factors as antecedents (e.g., openness, egalitarianism), it might be ultimately more effective to look at them as outcomes.

    I could go on – and I have – for years! Like others, I’m in this for the duration. It’s a long-term play…

  23. Kristen Williams says:

    I am currently in a social media marketing class at my university and we don’t have a textbook because the world of social is just constantly changing. Once a book is published, it would be almost immediately out of date. This is a great blog post in that it shows that we are always moving forward as a society even if e don’t have a name for it yet. Social Business may be dying, but there are other things waiting to take their place and change things again. As a marketing major who hopes to have a job in the field one day, I love that this position is constantly changing and that we have to find new and innovative ways to get to the consumer. I’m excited to see where social goes in the next few years and perhaps what replaces it.

  24. Provocative title 🙂 I like the article and would agree in principle that for many the “social” and “business” are contradictions in terms. Social brings with it a lot of baggage from the public world of social media, baggage which it now appears is impossible to drop.

    I also agree with your point that about the value of the underlying principles that underpinned the concept, at least for the more progressive companies. So while “social business” as a moniker may be dead, the basic principles that underpin the concept will not die and will continue to evolve over the coming decade. I also firmly agree with Dan’s comment below that “no-one goes to social”. Sharing, collaborating, transparency, … is a state of mind and not a place you go to. It will become an integral part of all business applications, of that I am sure.

    So the next question is… what’s going to be the next moniker that folks use to describe this new open, collaborative, transparent business environment? Everyone loves their hashtags 🙂

    FYI: I had a similar discussion a few weeks ago when a number of analysts in London, but unfortunately we were also unable to come up with a new one.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Not sure about the next banner we will fly under, but happy to see the conversation is happening and we are coming together, even with divergent perspectives and differences of opinion. We need more respectful dialog that is not demeaning of others, but rather is focused on earnest discussion of the merits of the vision and the language we choose to represent it.

  25. Gonzalo Navia says:

    Great piece, Its a real issue that new media marketers have to struggle. I still believe that is a new channel that will be as necessary as traditional marketing. But I still believe that everyone as marketers are still learning on how to use this new technology, a new one will appear and the cycle will start again.

  26. Pete Burden says:

    Great post.

    We have been using the term Conscious Business inside businesses for a few years now.

    And Conscious Capitalism seems to have some traction as something to describe the broader political and economic systemic shifts that are going on.

    We chose the term Conscious Business because in our view consciousness is ‘above’ everything – including ‘social’ activity.

    Consciousness is a way to integrate different viewpoints, and leads to creativity, innovation, resilience etc. Consciousness is how we develop better sustainable, relationships with others. Consciousness is connected to conscience and ethics and looking after the planet. Consciousness is also connected to the transparency etc that social media and other technologies can provide.

    Consciousness is what all humans seek – at work and elsewhere – unless they are seeking unconsciousness of course 🙂

    The term Conscious Business sounded strange to us and others at first. But now it trips off the tongue.

    Are C-Suite leaders conscious? Some more than others perhaps – but consciousness and conscious leadership is actually a process not a thing. And anyone can join in by attempting to become more conscious, and helping others become more conscious.

  27. Sam Fiorella says:

    Chris – in my consulting and tactical practice, I’ve had the opportunity to have this conversation often. As a result of our experiences, we’ve decided to drop the “social business” banner from the “our service” offerings. In fact, website is being revamped as I write this.

    I’ve successfully sold social business consulting, but the cost of acquisition (the cost to educate, convince, re-educate, re-convince, handhold, buy beers, re-educate, etc.) is simply too high. Seven out ten times, the exercise was fruitless, I could not convince the executive to invest in change. The three times in ten I was successful, when it came to execution, while the executives were game (really, often, just one visionary), the internal culture or structure of the organization was not adaptable to the change required. And so the consultants are hung out to dry.

    The point is, the moniker or flag we erect to champion the future of work might be irrelevant if traditional corporate cultures and protectionist, “siloed” operational practices are not addressed first. I know it’s handy to have a banner that we can all rally around in this effort, but as your post illustrates, often it’s just a distracting icon. An obstacle in the way of progress.

    • 4chrisheuer says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and affirming the same experience I and many others have had Sam. Emanuele Quintarelli was driving home this point earlier on Facebook and in my private messages with him – that we have to talk in the leadership’s terms, which I totally get, but also that they want what they want, which is bottom line results from revenue growth and cost reduction – not change. I understand this perspective, but think it is still short sighted and ultimately they are missing out on an opportunity to create some real space between themselves and their competitors – to improve the whole of the company, its contribution to society and its people too. To truly be all they could be instead of simply being as profitable as they could be without understanding the need for both qualitative and quantitative success.

      Anyway, its good to hear that some people read it all the way through and understood my real message was not about choosing new empty words to replace the old ones….

  28. Andy Steggles says:

    Chris, this is a great, refreshing article. At my company (Higher Logic), we believe that engagement is the key to any successful venture. Relationships are at the core of any organization’s long-term success. Relationships that are forged between like-minded individuals in a secure environment spur idea and knowledge sharing on subjects and issues relevant to the broader community. And relevance builds trust. When organizations and businesses are trusted by their constituencies, these constituencies will likely be more engaged, supportive and motivated. As you stated Chris, it’s really not about the semantics, it’s what you do that makes a difference. fyi – if you’re interested, I did write a blog about how i see the social enterprise broken up into 4 quadrants… Although, it sounds like I may have to change the name of my blog!

  29. dominiq says:

    Great Post Chris,

    In my experience when dealing with leadership it is better to talk about “networked markets” (or tribes) than social business. You can then position the “social business” as a response to networked markets.

    Networked markets are a fact. People used to see the world into “flat markets” i.e socio-demo (women 20-30, 2 dogs, divorced, urban) or “discrete markets” (people googling “i need an iphone”).

    We have evidence that when people got empowered to connect and to converse, they are in effect building new markets: the markets of people who want to save the planet, the market of people with specific opinions/shared interest that were invisible before blogs and social networks. The thing is, when people converse, share experience, they expose ideas, and potential benefits that can be turned into products. These are ingredients for new markets, new services and new products.

    So the new reality is “networked market”, “conscious consumers – they know they are in this together and they know they have power as a group” and “experience economy”.

    I guess, leader can get that, at least some of them.

    Then the question is: can you really address a networked market with a pyramidal organization? and the answer is Social Business.

    Hope to see you soon and continue the dialog

  30. Susan Kuhn says:

    Wonderful synthesis and honest conclusion. Time to broaden the social discussion out of the marketing/advertising space. Social technology is profoundly disruptive of large corporations and not always in ways that have a happy ending. When the road ahead is murky, it’s time to start following your own instincts about which way to turn. I believe it’s time to stop expecting that a “movement” or moniker can guide your steps. Social business was a pretty linear extrapolation of social technology, and, as you so clearly state, that is not what is unfolding.

  31. Leon Benjamin says:

    Sometimes I think a lot of us lose sight of an end game which to me has been obvious for over 10 years. Social business is about a dramatic, irreversible shift in the nature of work

    1. The unit of work is no longer a whole job

    2. In our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.

    In the future, there will be no jobs, no careers, no corporations, no institutions …. There will simply be things that need to be done … And the right people coming together to make them happen.

    …or as Thomas Malone put it some years ago…

    “Imagine organizations in which most workers aren’t employees at all, but electronically connected freelancers living wherever they want to. And imagine that all this freedom in business lets people get more of whatever they really want in life – money, interesting work, the chance to help others, or time with their families.”

    That’s an idea worth spreading!

  32. Felix Brown says:

    Good post. I like where your head is. Social Business – in whatever guise it takes – is far from dead. I hope,more and more people come to realize social media are not the magical solution
    to all of their challenges.

  33. William Rogers says:

    It is 8 months later. Where are you and the socbiz folks on this topic? Are we dying, storming, forming, norming…

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