Let's face it. Great brands need to be thinking about what's beyond social business.
You might be thinking, "Wait a second...the social business era has just begun!" And if so, you'd be correct...
- 2003 - 2006: Early Adoption. Professionals viewed social media with curiosity and kept an eye out on the trajectory of corporate+consumer engagement. Despite early brand experiments like Randy Baseler's Boeing blog, most companies were skeptical of the long-term impact of this emerging media/technology. However, some unlucky brands would eventually have no choice but to participate, as detractors used new outlets to broadcast their dissatisfaction - and mainstream media amplified the discontent. Early adopters including Charlene Li, Steve Rubel, and Robert Scoble explained to the world what needed to be done.
- 2007 - 2009: Early Majority. Brands decide to get involved. They're getting educated, listening to consumers using new technology, rolling out internal collaboration platforms, and starting to consider how to integrate "social" into existing operations. However, as the global financial crisis caused the world to slide into the Great Recession, budgets were slashed and program momentum stalled. The silver lining to financial meltdown? Brands had to get clever with what they had on hand and also had time to think strategically about integrating social into their businesses. Thinkers like Jeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Chris Brogan help move brands, big and small, put pieces together and move forward. I identified over 300 brands using social media marketing.
- 2010 - 2012: Mainstreaming. Budgets start returning to brands and technology adoption starts to hockeystick. The term "social business" becomes increasingly adopted and companies go on record to report return on investment from their initiatives. The pace of social technology acquisitions and IPOs picks up as investors seek to monetize their bets. Social business leaders including Scott Monty, Michael Donnelly, Richard Binhammer, and Bonin Bough have pioneered the creation of corporate social media teams and the presence of this construct is now common for most brands.
So what now?
Social business certainly still has a way to go. Many brands still lack coherent strategy and tactics for coping with two-way engagement, not to mention internal change management. However, the trail has been blazed by pioneers like IBM, Coca-Cola, and Dell for others to follow. The mainstreaming of social business will continue throughout 2013, as brands focus on scaling programs externally and internally. Emerging challenges like SoMoLo (social/mobile/local) will occupy attention even further. Most approaches are focused on building four of five capabilities outlined by Umair Haque: singularity, sociality, spontaneity, and synchronicity. I see this playing out primarily in employee education and consumer engagement, with a focus on training, tools, and measurement.
But what's next?
Solving for social at scale requires determining solutions for today, not tomorrow. That's delivering on mainstreaming.
Along the way, the concept of "social business" risks losing meaning, similar to the reductive definitions placed on originally expansive concepts like BPR and CRM. Is the pinnacle of social business success equal to the presence of robust two-way communication? That's difficult for many brands and a step forward for sure, but ultimately limiting. It's only focused on plateauing on the top of the social media S-curve.
However, I became a free agent to jump to a new S-curve. Serendipitously, I discovered an organization that has been thinking along very similar lines: R/GA.
It turns out that R/GA has been in the process of reinventing itself as part of thinking through the next nine years. Recognizing the value of "functional integration" for brands is very much in line with my thoughts around owning experience ecosystems. In a world of increasing connectedness, brands must employ a holistic point of view with regard to consumer relations, employee collaboration, and value chain management. This requires thinking through communications and how they're aligned with products and services.
"Social" describes everything we do, but technology always underpins the change. As Deb Schultz has said: technology changes, humans don't. The rise of social business has not been about figuring out humans - it's been about how people and companies use new technology to communicate, transact, and entertain.
Being ready for what's next means taking today's social business investment and expanding into a broader approach to functional integration.
This is why I joined R/GA. The company has been working with emerging technology since 1977. The talent pool is deep and R/GA has won almost every industry award. And R/GA isn't just theorizing about functional integration - it is helping clients make this a reality working on products like Barnes & Noble Nook, Google Wallet, and Nike FuelBand. I'll be writing more specifically about "business transformation" in the future as I collaborate with Barry Wacksman, Chris Stutzman, Jeff Mancini, and others to develop this integrated capability across R/GA's operations.
I'm thrilled to be part of R/GA as we embark on the next nine years. Want to join us?