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The Building Blocks of Social Business: Leveraging the Power of New Media and Human Connections to Grow Business Value

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Social media is game-changing technology. But as for any tool, it takes the right people and the right processes to make it work, as Shawn Santos explains in this chapter from How Companies Succeed in Social Business: Case Studies and Lessons from Adobe, Cisco, Unisys, and 18 More Brands.
This chapter is from the book

What Is a Social Business?

First, it might be helpful if I told you what a social business is not. A social business is not simply one that has deployed the latest social media tools, and a social business certainly does not conduct itself with the customer-avoidance service strategies and ad nauseam marketing messages that have become the norm over the past couple of decades. On the contrary, a social business is one that has fundamentally shifted the way it connects with people, inspiring meaningful, authentic—and sometimes even profitable—collaboration among employees, prospects, and customers.

The most important element of a social business is not its ability to switch on the latest technologies, but its ability to inspire and motivate people. Sure, cool technology helps—we weren’t talking about social businesses before Twitter and friends came along—but social media and community technologies are simply the tools that help build the house; they are not the foundation that social business is built upon.

Social businesses do something that previous generations of business leaders could only dream of—they break down inefficiencies within organizations and create personal relationships that inspire loyalty to the brand.

And although I’m not imploring every business to drop everything and jump headlong into social media for the sake of social media, leaders must begin to recognize and adapt to changes in the market, changes to online behavior, and changes to customer expectations.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin noted, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” It’s up to us to identify how these sweeping changes in online behavior can impact our businesses and inspire a transformation that treats this paradigm shift as an opportunity, not a threat.

For the enterprise business-to-business (B2B) companies that have shied away from social in the past, citing that it’s more of a business-to-consumer (B2C) thing, I would argue that people continue to evolve how and where they prefer to access information, unquestionably leaning toward peer-to-peer (P2P) sources regardless of industry vertical. In the new era of social, the lines between B2B and B2C have already begun to blur—when it comes to online collaboration and accessing information, people are caring less and less about whether your company sells business products or consumer products, or even whether you happen to work in marketing or support. No matter what type of business or functional group you’re in, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of fostering real-time knowledge sharing and meaningful human connections.

And even for those companies whose recurring revenue from service contracts has become critical for maintaining overall company revenue and margins (where customers pay upward of 20 percent of the product price annually to maintain a support contract), social business should be looked at as an opportunity to bolster these important revenue streams—not by replacing traditional for-pay support services—but by adding additional value streams that nurture customer loyalty with proactive outreach and timely, informative responses focused on ensuring customers get quick answers to simple questions (such as login assistance and help with features and functionality), as well as how and where customers can access more complex for-pay support—so the value of their support contracts are realized.

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