SuiteWorld and the great social business debate

17th May 2012

Day Two of NetSuite’s SuiteWorld conference and attention turned to the concept of the social business in a roundtable debate between four leading industry analysts.

Participating in the discussion were: 

  • Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter (BS) 
  • Ray Wang, CEO and founder, Constellation Research (RW)
  • Esteban Kolsky,  Principal and Founder, ThinkJar (EK)
  • Martin Schneider, Research Manager, 451 Group (MS)
Some highlights of the session included: 
What is social business?
RW: It’s a series of design principles and processes that people start thinking about in terms of communicating and engaging. It’s one channel in terms of reaching out to people as part of a wider strategy. 
EK: It’s business evolved. The purpose of social business channels is not to socialise and engage but to create value for the business and the customer. If you can do that then you are a social business. 
BS:  If you look at the Wikipedia definition of social business then it is counter intuitive. Social business is about technology and philosophy. It’s not about having a Facebook account or a Twitter account. It’s about having a more adaptive framework and infrastructure. 
RS: It’s more about breaking down silos. That can be internally or between internal and external silos. People collaborate in different ways. It’s about breaking down barriers from data, information and format perspectives. 
What’s the biggest hype around social business?
EK: The biggest hype is around thinking that because you have implemented a social business channel like Facebook or Twitter you become closer to your customers. That’s nonsense. We’ve deployed hundreds of channels in the past and never become closer to the customer. You need to realise that your business has to change.  
RS: It’s thinking that this is just about technology. People talked about social CRM as though it was going to change everything, but CRM fails because people don’t use it properly. You need to understand people and process and behavioural change. Social business technology is super easy and there are a lot of benefits to it in terms of value, but it still requires a huge investment in behaviours. 
RW:  Sometimes hype is a good thing. You can take advantage of hype around something in order to get people to adopt it. But it does need to have business value. People are tired of how we’ve done things for the past 15 years.  Hype is the result of people asking for something to get excited about again. 
BS:  A lot of businesses believe that if they have Twitter installed for customer service and Facebook and YouTube, then they have a social business. Social business has such tremendous hype because of us – we get excited about it as people. Typically leadership inside a company doesn’t use these tools. These are people who don’t read their own emails! They need reverse mentoring. 
Where will Facebook be in a year’s time?
RW:  In the Bahamas!
EK:  Facebook has no place in a discussion of Social Business. Facebook tried to get into business and it failed. You don’t go onto an online network to be sold to. You are there to interact with your friends. General Motors has just withdrawn from Facebook It’s not for enterprise business and it’s not a social business topic. 
BS: Businesses failed at ‘F-commerce’ because they f-ed it up! Look at GM’s ads and you see that GM has other issues beside Facebook. In ten years time you have a millennial generation in the workforce – ask them what they do with Facebook. 
RS: Facebook is going to make a lot of money. That’s what we can learn.
Will Social channels diminish the value of traditional channels?
RS: There’s all kind of meshing and mixing. Channels are merging in some interesting ways. We’re very much on the front end of that and learning how we can use channels to treat accounts as people. That’s what’s really cool, how we morph things into new experiences. Social business isn’t about social media, it’s about using the way interact in new ways. 
RW: We go through waves of which channels are hot. The big change is that we went digital and that meant we could measure things. B2C and B2B are dead. There’s a shift going on towards People to People. You play different roles in life and so many different dimensions. The shift from transactions to engagement is big and requires a different way of thinking. As we move into engagement we’re having conversations and our systems can’t capture that. The danger is that we end up with ‘fatal fatigue’ over social. 
EK: We have been adopting new channels for as long as we can remember – phones, SME, chatrooms, kiosks. Every single company has tried a channel of some kind and go back and say ‘that didn’t work’. You can do that.  How long does a Twitter flame last? United Airlines can break guitars and get Twitter-flamed, but they didn’t lose a single dime in value to stakeholders. 
Are legal departments getting nervous about social media?
RW: We are leaving massive trails of discoverable information. All that location-based data doesn’t go away. You are leaving so much information for discovery.
EK: Fedex took two years to put together a social strategy because they spent two years wrangling with legal and compliance. The FDA has promised for years that will publish rules to follow, but they haven’t because they can’t do it.  For any bank in the world, the compliance rules say that if you have knowledge of a problem you have to solve it. So if you have Bank of America customers complaining via Twitter and you respond saying you work for the bank, then you just made Bank of America responsible for addressing that complaint. 
RS:  It’s less about the legal side and more about the balance that companies are going to have to strike between the personal branding aspect and value to the business. You want to have highly productive superstars rather than 150 Foot Locker employees who don’t care. 
BS – There are precedents now where someone leaves a company to go elsewhere and they have to purchase their Twitter handles because they have value attached to them.  Some companies are hiring and trying to insist that you have to have x-amount of Twitter followers – which is just insane!

What’s your personal experience of social business?
EK: I used to have a Cloud Score account but I’ve deleted it. As a customer of a certain telco, I used to be able to tweet if I had a problem and someone would call me back in a minute. Now I tweet and who cares? If you follow the rules of the customer service channels and you do all the things you’re supposed to do, then companies pay attention to you. 
BS:  I have only tweeted negatively about a company once.  I couldn’t get a mobile signal at Los Angeles airport so I fired up my MiFi and tweeted at the telco that the fact that I can’t get a signal at LAX is unacceptable.   I had a response in minutes. The telco took it offline which was smart from a PR value point of view. So I’m feeling special. But I got a great series of responses then silence. So I check back in a couple of days later to see what action’s being taken and I get nothing – never heard back. So I came close to feel paternal about social media, but then it breaks down behind the scenes because the business infrastructure isn’t there to fix it. 
RS: I tend to try to buy products that don’t suck. There is a correlation between good products and good service. I tend to ask more question than just complaining. United Airlines sucks – who cares? If you point out that the premier line at the airport merges with the crew line, that’s something specific that gets fixed. Be more constructive. You get people just saying negative things so that they can queue jump for attention. My response rates have been quicker and more positive experiences when I isolate what’s wrong. 
EK: It’s early days. Remember in the early days of ecommerce when airlines used to sell tickets online, but if you wanted to make changes you had to use the phone. Everyone – except United – has fixed that. So the problems we see with Social Business are exactly the same as we saw with ecommerce in the early days – no difference. 

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