Now that we’re all on Facebook and Twitter at home, the cry is going out for business to get more social. Everyone from McKinsey & Company to IBM is hailing the coming social business revolution. As head of marketing and product at Meltwater, where social is our business, I am firmly and confidently on the bandwagon. Social business is coming. The social networking technologies that have helped us connect more effectively in our personal lives offer equal opportunity to connect in our business and consumer lives.
Social business offers innovative new approaches to enterprise collaboration. More importantly, social business creates new ways to build relationships outside the enterprise with customers, vendors, investors and all the stakeholders of a company’s social business network. But having lived through my share of technology revolutions, I’ve found that it is of great value to pause, shut out the hype, and take stock of why we do what we do. I believe we make technology to make the world a better place to live, so here are five social business rules of engagement to keep us on the enlightened path.
Social business is about people, not technology
Information technology is a great enabler, but it is always only that, an enabler. It automates and accelerates actions that require information, but it can never eliminate the inherently human elements of those actions. For example, a customer relationship management system might make your sales team more efficient, but it can’t eliminate the salesperson’s role in managing personal relationships with your customers.
Be it profit, professional, or personal, there is always a very human purpose that drives our actions. Automation can only facilitate its fulfillment. Social business is first and foremost about people, socializing business people, not social media technology. Technology is a tool, a tool that we can choose to use wisely or poorly. So when you are laying out your social business plan, focus on the purpose of the people first and the technology last.
Real social business networks reflect real-world relationships
As a technologist, whenever I come across a new social business technology, I try to peer through it to the underlying system logic. For example, what exactly does it mean to “follow” someone on Twitter? Technically, it’s a bit of data that links your Twitter handle to the Twitter handle of the person you are following. All these links together create the social network that we call Twitter. It’s supposed to represent a real-world network of people, the same way an account in your accounting system represents a company with which you do business or a contact in your CRM system represents a customer.
Real social business networks reflect real-world relationships. When you link with someone on LinkedIn, it’s a shallow model of your real-world relationship with that person, or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. Like any system, social business networks are subject to the age old problem of garbage in, garbage out. A Facebook like is meaningless if your customer doesn’t really like you. If you follow people on Twitter, but you don’t really plan to listen, share or speak with them, then your follows are simply social spam.
Reciprocity is the currency of social business
Ages before we had money and markets, we had sharing. Sharing is in our DNA, trade is not. Markets satisfy our need to eat, but they don’t satisfy our need to share a meal. While the final goal of social business must clearly be profit, the means to that end will always be sharing. Sharing builds relationships through reciprocity, that good feeling you get when you give someone a gift and the responsibility you feel when you receive one. Reciprocity in turn builds trust, because when you share a gift, there are no contracts to guarantee you will ever receive one in return.
To succeed in social business, you have to believe in Karma. When you publish a business blog, you are sharing your wisdom with your followers. When you retweet, you share an author’s content with your network and your network with the author. Those with which you share should find value in your actions, so that you are building social capital through reciprocity. Ideally, your social capital will ultimately convert into real capital through social business Karma, and prospects that read your blog or follow your industry influencers on Twitter will buy your product.
When we put too much emphasis on social media, social business stops being social
I often feel that the term social media has completely clouded our thinking about social networking with advertising concepts. Media as a word means a channel for communication, a way to shuffle around information. However, we don’t really think of our phones, email, or the air that carries our voices as media. They are media, but we don’t generally think of them as media. Our common use of the term media is not just for any kind of communication channels, it is for broadcast communication channels.
Social business networks are not broadcast communication channels. They are sharing communication channels. When we put too much emphasis on social media, social business stops being social. Sharing useful information is overridden by communicating selfish messages. The chain of reciprocity breaks. If you treat social media as a broadcast channel, you will waste your real-world capital, because it won’t translate into social business capital through the currency of reciprocity.
Social business spam is not only annoying; it’s risky
Beyond the legitimate uses of social media lies social business spam, intentional garbage in. It takes the form of fake Twitter accounts, Facebook pages that nobody likes, boring corporate blogs, and intrusive sales messages on LinkedIn. Social spam is the unwanted “gift.” That necktie you got for Christmas that shows the giver doesn’t really know you. It’s the thought that counts, and the thinking is zero. How do you feel when you receive an unwanted gift? Betrayed. How do you feel about the unwanted gift giver? Angry, because reciprocity nags at you guiltily and unfairly.
Social business spam is not only annoying; it’s risky. Unlike email spam that drops into your inbox like a telemarketing call, social spam arrives across what should be a trusted social business relationship. It’s a thoughtless, unwanted gift. Like every unwanted gift, it has the exact opposite effect of a desired gift. The unwanted gift undermines trust and weakens relationships. Spamming your prospects or customers on social media is risky social business, because spam is bad social business Karma.