The Social Business And The Social Brand - InformationWeek
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Michael  Brito
Michael Brito

The Social Business And The Social Brand

They're different--and the same. For starters, there needs to be consistent alignment between the two to generate true business results.

There's some confusion in the marketplace about the difference between a social brand and a social business. First, a couple of quick definitions:

A social brand is any company, product, or individual that uses social technologies to communicate with social customers, their partners and constituencies, or the general public. A social business is any company that has integrated and operationalized social media within every job function internally.

Social business planning is internal; a social brand is external. But more important, there needs to be consistent alignment between both internal and external programs and initiatives to generate true business results. I have always been a firm believer that an organization cannot and will not have meaningful conversations with the social customer unless it can have meaningful conversations internally first.

Here's my logic and one example that illustrate my point:

John is irritated because he dialed in to a customer support department and was put on hold for 30 minutes. No one ever answered his call. He goes to the brand's Facebook page and leaves a comment expressing his anger. No response. He then tweets at the brand's Twitter profile. No response. So he writes a blog post criticizing the heck out of the brand and shares it all over the social Web. Still no response.

In most organizations, a corporate Twitter handle is owned and managed by someone in PR. And because of organizational silos that still plague businesses, the PR folks probably aren't talking with their colleagues in customer support.

So here's a situation where a social brand is unresponsive and is pissing off the social customer because its internal communication is lacking. Now, let's take a different angle. Assume the PR person did send an email to customer support, which took care of John's issue so he's happy now. And then the same thing happens with Mary, Chris, Steve, and several other customers, and the support team realizes it needs to shift internally to address all of these online inquiries. Progress, for sure. Happy customers are a good thing.

But a true social business will go above and beyond addressing isolated customer support issues. It will take that feedback (because its people are communicating and working together internally) and fix the root cause of the problem.

Another quick example is when companies create products with their customers, giving birth to innovation. Take Starbucks' Splashstick. In creating a product with its community, Starbucks changed the coffee-drinking experience for millions of customers and solved a vexing business problem: hot coffee spillage.

Of course, I'm oversimplifying the issue because situations like these take time, a commitment to change and new processes, and the establishment of governance models. But Starbucks provides a good example of an organization reaping the benefits of social brand and social business alignment.

But here is why a social brand and social business are completely different:

-- A social brand focuses on external communications. A social business focuses on internal communications.

-- A social brand is all about engagement with the social customer. A social business is all about engagement with employees.

-- A social brand is owned by marketing. A social business should be owned by the entire organization.

-- A social brand is measured by clicks, impressions, reach, Likes, comments, RTs, etc. A social business is measured by organizational change.

-- With a social brand, budgets are usually allocated toward agencies, community management, Facebook applications, blog development, etc. Most investments in social business initiatives revolve around internal communities, social technologies, and training.

And here's the one reason they're exactly the same:

-- They serve the same purpose and underlying goal: creating value for the social customer.

The social customer, in turn, is creating value by offering insights and opinions (both good and bad) about his or her brand experience. The social brand creates value with the customer by listening, engaging, and solving problems, and it shares those insights, feedback, and best practices internally. And finally, the social business is creating value for the social customer by listening to the collective feedback of the community and innovating its products, services, policies, and processes--creating a cycle of value creation.

Michael Brito is a senior VP of social business planning at Edelman Digital, where he provides strategic counsel, guidance, and best practices to several top global tech accounts. Michael just finished writing his first social business book, "Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organizations." Contact him at [email protected].

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2011 | 12:54:59 PM
re: The Social Business And The Social Brand
A great article, Michael. The distinction between Brand and Business is an important one and you have articulated it well. There is so much focus on the Brand that it is putting the Social Business in the shadows and creating the impression that Social is irrelevant to B2B organisations. The aspiration should be towards a socially engaged workforce in genuine dialogue with it's community of customers and your piece adds important principles to that movement.
Alison Broomall
Alison Broomall,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2011 | 6:11:12 PM
re: The Social Business And The Social Brand
Overall I agree with Michael's succinct differentiation between a social business and a social brand but I do believe that ultimately the direction that we will be heading in is the merging of these two worlds--in essence, the mash-up of external social data with internal social AND non-social (i.e., enterprise) data. I think this is the ultimate goal for businesses and represents a more holistic model for leveraging all data assets in support of complex set of business and marketplace goals. I think the realization of this is still months or possibly years out as the effort to realize a true social business is enormously complex and requires a good deal of semantic intelligence. There are some very forwarding-thinking companies that are leveraging semantic technologies to harness and bring structure to relevant external social data in support of internal enterprise and social business needs, but they are still in their infancy.

I do love the fact, however, that "social business" is finally becoming part of our social or even just business vernacular because the term "social media" has unfortunately fallen victim to a very limited set of interpretations.
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2011 | 10:32:57 AM
re: The Social Business And The Social Brand
I think this is a great piece, Michael. So many companies think they have done their social due diligence by slapping up a Facebook page or Twitter handle and calling it a day. To be a true social business requires a big commitment, a purposeful plan to pull in and engage all internal stakeholders, and solid goals and performance metrics.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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