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Is 'Social Business' The Right Choice Of Words?

It's never in your best interests to try to convince executives to support terminology they're uncomfortable defending.
For the past five years that I've been working in Enterprise 2.0, social media, or whatever you'd like to call it, people have been trying to put an all-encompassing label on their efforts to deploy Web-based tools and processes to improve collaboration, communications, and efficiency.

In the past year or two, individuals have pushed forth the notion of calling it "social business," assumedly in an attempt to highlight the fact that they want employees, and therefore organizations, to become more social entities. We've seen software providers use the term, and organizations and agencies even label their affinity groups "social business," but is this really the right choice of words?

I don't think so. The goal isn't to make organizations more "social" entities. It's to get people to share more information, knowledge, and ideas in order to enhance processes, save time, and produce business results. Some might argue that I'm splitting hairs, but words do matter.

Just about every executive I've talked with doesn't care for this "social" terminology, because it doesn't speak to goals--the real business outcomes that would justify the initiative in the first place. It's the same reason many organizations still ban employees from using social networking sites at work, even Facebook and Twitter: They perceive them as not producing business outcomes. The word "social" implies lack of work and productivity.

Agree or disagree, this is how a lot of business leaders see it, so we need to adjust our nomenclature if we want to see continued adoption and use of these tools and technologies to produce positive business outcomes.

Sure, a certain amount of education is still needed to convince the unconvinced that social networking sites and employee communities do change business processes and produce tangible cost savings and other business outcomes. But is it really in your best interest to try to convince executives to support terminology they're uncomfortable defending? That's like marketing to your target customers using a set of keywords they never use. (Oh, wait--we see businesses doing that all the time, too.)

It's high time that we consider our audience when making the case for enabling an organization to become more collaborative, communicative, and efficient. Trying to force our audience to adopt a description that makes them uncomfortable will never work.

So what should we call it? It really depends on the organization and culture. Understanding the culture of the business is the first step in setting strategy. Work with your executives to understand their pain points and business objectives, and go from there. Using their language and providing a means for them to discuss the initiative in a way they can really get behind will expedite the path to a truly collaborative organization.

What do you think? Will your senior leadership buy into the notion if your organization calls it "social business"? If it has already, was it a hard sell?

Jamie is vice president of social media at AMP Agency, where she leads the development and execution of strategic social media solutions for clients across a range of digital and social channels. Contact her via Twitter @JamiePappas or at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are Jamie's alone and do not reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans, or strategies of her employer.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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