Social Business 101
Jack Mason 110000QMFA firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  authenticity listening iphone ios tumblr collaboration culture social business sharing android
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Passionate People in a Connected, Collaborative Culture
Social software and networking isn't new. In fact, businesses have always required teamwork and coordination. But there is a new model taking shape for how organizations can outperform competitors by putting power in the hands of their people, individually and collectively. IBM and others are starting to refer to this as Social Business, and I wanted to describe my own sense of this emerging paradigm, as it becomes a strategic focus for the company I've seen evolve through the Web 2.0 era over the last seven years.
Social Business is an approach just taking shape for designing how organizations can operate with greater dexterity, speed, insight and intelligence. It is about bringing the capabilities of the Social Web and big data analytics into the culture and infrastructure of all business functions, from HR and product development to sales and supply chains. It is, in essence, how Planet IBM can become a smarter system of experts and skills.
It may not be evident outside IBM, but the company is already a leader in social computing and social media practices, with widespread use of wikis, blogs, status updates, instant messaging, jams and other collaborative ways of working. We increasingly aggregate and share knowledge through online communities and are innovating new ways to enable global teams to get stuff done. The deeper challenge now is becoming a fully realized social business, so that we can help other organizations follow our lead.
At the heart of this new era is the transformation of the culture of work -- shifting how we think about (and value) sharing and cooperation. The New Big Blue that I'm seeing is all about opening up to new approaches and ideas. It is also a matter of priorities: investing our invaluable time and energy in learning and practicing how to operate and organize ourselves as a more agile human institution.
Becoming a social business is not about tools and technology, but about generating new value, for the company and our customers, through new assets and techniques. Such change will itself demand an unprecedented degree of personal participation, willingness to collaborate and a passionate spirit of shared purpose. Every IBMer can contribute to this collaborative transformation.
One of the ways I'm personally trying to catalyze the cultural shift is through our Tumblr sites, including The Social Business and Smarter Planet (and their companion mobile apps for Android and iOS devices). The editorial approach for these efforts illustrates what I view as a fundamental characteristic of a social business: an authentic interest in listening and sharing.
Through the Tumblr sites, we curate, or collect, stories, examples and news from around the Web that reflect how these respective trends are taking shape. We strive to include at least two posts that aren't IBM oriented for every one that is. Why? First, the zeitgeist of the Social Web is to be less self-serving, and more responsive to the interests of others. What's more, there's plenty of important news and thinking relevant to Smarter Planet and Social Business happening beyond IBM's firewall. In fact it's safe to say that the majority of those conversations are happening across the wider Web where the other six billion plus people on the planet that IBM hopes to make smarter live.
Being inclusive and valuing that reality is just good editorial judgment, in my book. More important, this curation approach is meant to demonstrate that IBM is listening to what the world is saying, willing to share what we find interesting, and genuinely interested in being part of the conversational give-and-take that is the social in social media.
In my realm of expertise, communications, the seachange is clear: we've switched from broadcast to a peer-to-peer message sharing model.
This isn't to suggest that in this Tumblr example either IBM or my group (the Strategic Programs team in Global Business Services, IBM's consulting organization) is altruistically unconcerned about business results. Quite the opposite. Tumblr, for example, is highly viral, with users following each other and reblogging posts from each other much as people retweet content on Twitter. There's good, solid strategic reasons to engage in the kind of listening and sharing we do through Tumblr. We're also aggregating and organizing this content to help fellow IBMers learn and absorb more about Smarter Planet and The Social Business.
The key to success in this new context is that you really have to care about authenticity: marketing masquerading as social media can be sniffed out a mile away by people today, and could potentially do more harm than good. I really like what social media speaker Amber Mac has to say about authenticity (as well as bravery and consistency) in this video. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't ever share some of the world-leading innovations and developments that IBM is generating, but simply that tooting IBM's horn is best done in the context of a broader conversation. One that is more open, transparent and outwardly focused.
Becoming a social business will not be easy for any organization, including IBM, because humans are very habitual and this new kind of organization will have to rewire behavior patterns, policies and management systems. All of those kinds of cultural changes are evolutionary. But I'm confident that those business who can morph the fastest, and the farthest, will have an evolutionary (and competitive) advantage in the decade ahead.
(Finally, in the spirit of authentic listening and dialogue, we welcome your thoughts on what a social business is, should be, and how it can become one, in comments.)