Alistair Rennie idealizes the social business

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Alistair Rennie, IBM’s general manager of social business, defines social business this way:

Alistair Rennie, What’s the Difference between Social Media and Social Business?

What is a social business? It’s an organization that integrates social technologies with critical business processes to improve the productivity of its workforce and create exceptional customer service.

For example, in a social business, employees are smarter, more loyal, and engaged because their organization uses social networks, collaboration systems and shared messaging services. A “social” approach enables employees around the world to tap into each other’s expertise and connections. Companies can attract top talent and give employees the social tools they need to work together. Executives can layer analytics on top of social technologies to make sure their companies have the right skills and expertise to meet market demands.

A social business is also one where customer service is exceptional because the company reaches out to customers through social networks, Twitter and blogs in innovative ways and acts on the insights it pulls together about consumers. That way, customer service teams have the insights and the analytics they need to predict and resolve problems before they happen. Companies can dish up more targeted offers to customers and respond more quickly to their problems. R&D can gain new sources of inspiration and insight from customers and employees so that the products customers want are the ones that get to market.

I disagree with Rennie’s definition in part, because I don’t buy that a social business is inherently more productive or will have better customer service out of the box than non-social or pre-social businesses. We shouldn’t confuse the aspirational end goal with the defining characteristics of social business, because the desired outcomes of social may take a while to be manifested.

Which brings us back to the core aspect of Rennie’s definition of a social business, leaving aside the hoopla: a business that integrates social tools and techniques into its business processes.

The critical impact of this integration — the magic of social — is that basing work around social networks leads to increased social density, and that tends to lead to a happier, smarter, more effective, and ultimately more productive workforce, one with increased interaction and connection with customers. But social magic does not happen instantaneously, as many companies have discovered, and which IBM has extensively researched. It appears that only 22% of respondents to a recent IBM study believe that middle managers are prepared to leverage social tools in their daily practices, for example. So, we are going to have to wait a few years before the promise of social is realized in many companies.