Social Business is Not Enough

Many of us who use social networking platforms in the professional world know that it can be difficult to get “old school” leaders to understand the power of these approaches for business.

Say “social media,” and they think of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube (and all the baggage that goes with them). Let’s face it – those platforms weren’t designed for, nor did they take flight because of, business. Their roots are in personal publishing and sharing.

The new buzzword making the rounds is “social business,” and while this is an improvement, it still gives a very incomplete picture of the new world of connectivity we’re now part of.

Let’s take a step back and look at the entire mural. At the risk of over-simplification (bear with me, stories are best told in simple terms), we have seen develop, over the years, several “internets.”

The internet of media is what we think of when we look at the early (and current) web of URLs containing informational media.

The internet of commerce (business) is when the web matured to allow us to, more directly, buy and sell and conduct business transactions digitally.

The internet of people can be thought of us as the era of social media – making people connections more readily.

The internet of things, about to explode into far greater significance, is the soon-to-be-endless streams of data coming from objects (sensors, readers, etc.) that will be accessible over the web.

That’s how it looks conceptually. But in our digitally connected world, this is how it is increasingly looking:

Stay with me here, because you’re already guessed where we’re actually heading, haven’t you?

What we’re looking at is an inexorable and rapidly-growing cultural and technological movement toward full digital connectivity at every level. It’s not just social stuff, it’s not just media, it’s not just mobile, and it’s not just business. All of those things are subsets of something far greater, something every CEO needs to recognize. This is the era of real-time connectivity.

Sure, we want to help other professionals understand the revolution being brought on by digital networks. But by “selling” the big picture, we create buy-in for the pieces of it – the strategies and tactics of social media/networking/business as we now practice it (click to biggify ——> )

To further explain, let’s use a very relevant example, something that we all use: the architecture of the Internet. The internet was built as an expandable series of servers (nodes), each with an address (IP address numerically – we usually use the URL or web address). In this architecture, everything is connected in real-time – it doesn’t matter if one of the nodes is in Romania, and I’m accessing it from New Zealand. All (public) nodes are accessible:

Got it? Now, just expand the idea outward to include – well just about everything! Simply think of the nodes as consisting of people (and groups/communities) and servers and devices and supply chains and products – all connected in real-time. You remember years ago when you saw the first evidence of this – when UPS first rolled out those digital pads that tracked the delivery of packages to your door? That was just the start. Just today, when a Proflowers order I made was delivered to my mother’s door, I got an e-mail almost instantly telling me that the transaction has come full circle. And, if she wished, she could have shown them to me 1 minute later on Skype video.

Yes, we are rapidly moving toward a time when everything and everyone will be an IP address.

Real-time connectivity. Inside the office, behind the warehouse doors, back-and-forth with customers – it’s all becoming one universal digital web.

So – while there’s a place for talking about specific apps and platforms, we really need to escalate the conversation to the high-level drivers that are shaping all of global society – impacting everything from supply chains to PR to marketing to internal comms to location to data streams and much more. All of it is being incorporated into real-time connectivity, through a variety of always-on/always-present devices.

We need to step back and educate business people about the unstoppable trend currents that are re-shaping all that we do. It’s not merely about putting up a Facebook page, or even putting social approaches into every level of business. It’s about something much bigger. Something VPs and Presidents and CEOs cannot consider optional.

It’s not about “social” something. It’s about the reality of a real-time, universally-networked world.

I will be so bold as to predict that whole new business models are going to emerge, based on the principle of ubiquitous, every-level connectivity. Where these things all merge together, there will be an endless array of services needed to make sense of information and connections (and take advantage of opportunities).

What would it be like if new and existing businesses started with this perspective at the center – we MUST build (and re-build) everything we do around the real-time digital connectivity that will soon surround us at every level?

Guess what? Those will be the business that survive for the long haul. Because that’s the world we’ll be inhabiting. “Social business” is not enough. This revolution is far grander in scope, and we have the privilege of painting the entire picture. Let me know what you think we should call it…!


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

22 Responses to Social Business is Not Enough

  1. Pingback: Social Business is Not Enough | Social Media Tips for business |

  2. I agree completely, Steve. And speak of this often. The businesses and business leaders who get this will be the ones who not only survive, but who thrive. If you’ve not yet read The Mesh by Lisa Gansky, do it. You’ll enjoy it!

    Happy Holidays, my friend!


  3. There you go again surfing the trend currents and peering into the future, albeit too far into the future.

    Most organizations are still focused on external ‘social communications’ yet can’t share information across their own organization/silos. What good is embracing external communications if you don’t have a process to manage it internally?

    Businesses must break away from traditional hierarchy in engagement and enable teams of internal/external stakeholders to congregate around ideas/comments/concepts rather than fixed business roles & processes.

    Wishful thinking? Maybe, but it’s also inevitable.

  4. Shawn Murphy says:

    I agree that the trend is heading in some direction similar to what you describe. I wonder how today’s executive who can barely keep track of what’s in front of them will look up long enough to begin shifting their organization to create a competitive advantage using the technology advancements available with social technology and our ultra-connectivity opportunities.

  5. Joe Sabado says:

    I’m just barely beginning to think about social business and how this concept is applied in higher ed and I’m glad I came across your article. I think you’re right on the idea of real-time digital connectivity. The idea of external/internal communication for improved customer service, internal collaboration using technologies available now should prompt org leaders to re-think beyond the traditional means of doing business. I’ve been in the IT world long enough to know that this shift in thinking requires more than the availability of technology, it’s a culture shift.

    Pardon the title of this blog “Student Affairs as Social Business”:) as like you said, social business is not enough but the point I make is that institutions, including higher ed, should consider how to harness the power of collective network inside and outside of their organizations in real-time using technologies available to us today. Please let me know what you think. Thank  you.

  6. Nick Kellet says:

    A 4 bucket view of the world is really interesting. I can totally see the 4 melding and connecting as your Venn Diagram predicts. They are all accessible, addressable and relatable.

    Media, People, ECommerce & Things is a powerful model. A really useful simplification -> A lens with which to view the world.

    Today’s tools/systems feel like stovepipes. (as you mention were built for consumers) Taking on board your idea opens up new thoughts about displacing (or integrating) technologies.

    I’d been thinking a lot about online URL / offline IRL (and their pending fusion) , but I like your model more (less abstract). Thanks. Now you have set my mind racing.

    As to a name. Wow I wish I knew. I’ve been pondering what this new age if called since I first read The Dream Society by Rolf Jensen. Many have tried to name it so far, but nothing has stuck.

    Dan Pink (Conceptual Age), Sun/Schwartz (Participation Age), Florida (Creative Economy), Pine/Gilmore (Experience Economy)

    I sense it keeps shifting too fast for any name to feel right. Ages have always had a longevity to them. Perhaps now we’ve shifted to a Genrational Model. Boomers mapped well to the Information Age, but Gen X/ Gen Y/ Millenials seem to be morphing faster than any semantics.

    Great question. I wish more people were asking what is this age called!

  7. Barry Dalton says:

    Nane it? I think you just did – “real time, continuously interconnected business”. Spot on perspective.

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  10. Great post, Steve. I’m all for raising the level of discourse. Businesses are not social, people are social. But businesses communicate.

    For what it’s worth, I call it “pervasive communications.”

  11. What if we just called it the Web? Old school and New school can talk and understand this. New school can talk about how we are connected and our personal and professional lives are now woven together. I know tons about professional contacts thx to Twitter and Instagram. Old school will at least have a frame of reference when we say Web.

    Thx for the graphical representation Steve. It gives a simplified way of explaining complex topics.

    Cheers – Patrick

  12. Yeah, I agree.. IT consulting also important, not only social bussiness 🙂

  13. Steve,

    Really — when we step back and think about it, we’ve always connected to other people, information, commerce and the media. We’ve just, depending on what decade it was, connected in a different way.

    To me, it’s not that we are connecting or participating that makes this era unique. I think there are two aspects of today’s modality that make it different from all the others. First, it’s that everything is happening in real time that makes it different.

    Second, it’s that almost everything we do is both archived and to a degree, shared among both friends and strangers.

    I have no idea what the name of the era is….but there’s both an immediacy and a permanence that gives us both huge opportunity AND huge risk.


    • Drew, I think what makes the difference is that we’ve now entered an era where ALL this stuff is connected DIGITALLY (which is what makes it real-time, widely accessible, and archive-able). Business leaders need to embrace this big-picture reality – then “social media” and other tactical-level stuff will make sense. I fear that often, people see a particular tree or two and aren’t really seeing the forest…

  14. Pingback: My Business Vision « Connection Agent

  15. Great post Steve. You used a good phrase “a real-time, universally-networked world” which naturally makes me think of a hyper-connected world. Instant access to both others (1:1 or 1:many or many:1) and information (the answer to the question “how much data is available on the web?” isn’t a number, it’s the phrase “it’s organized the wrong way”).

    Combine these two together and you get what Alan (@berkson0) mentioned above – pervasive communications (check out his post on it, a major component of instant everything that has invaded every aspect of our lives. Even when I tried “unplugging” over the holiday, my sons would bring me the phone – “Here Dad, somebody just sent you a message…”.

    But I think you’ve hit on something. Something big. And the task in front of us isn’t to run from it, but embrace it, learn to harness it and (like a nice steak) learn where to trim it to the point where it works for us, rather than against us

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