The illusion of individual vs. institutional control

The Physical Space

Many of today’s physical office spaces are designed with a panopticon-like layout. In most spaces, seniority dictates who sits on the outer edges of the office, with junior people closer to the center. This classic Japanese style and most workspaces follow some variation. Managers occupy offices around the outer edges of the workspace, just as foremen occupy desks high above the shop floor. Thus, workers in the center can never be certain if or when they’re being monitored.

Spontaneous opening of some bottles of bubbly in meeting room 3

Same goes for conference rooms, which are technically shared spaces. Most companies will nickname a conference room “the fishbowl” because of transparent walls and prominent focal location. Physical layouts are often described with adjectives like “collaborative,” “open,” and “flat, just like our org chart.” What they’re really designed for is institutional control.

Let’s go back to The Story of Grand Central and the Taming of the Crowd:

“This design…preserves the Crowd in a central area, providing raised balconies from which there are plenty of opportunities to people-watch. Being placed on display is not lost on the subconscious of the Crowd: what appears to be hustle and bustle are manifestations of many synchronizations happening at once…These items add perspective to the Crowd and diminish its psychological power as an uncontrollable mass.”

How often do you hear an executive throw out the “people are our greatest asset” cliche? Humans run every business out there and the larger the company, the larger the crowd that needs to be controlled.

The Virtual Space

But we’re in the social business era now and corporate office environments are evolving. We have coworking spaces, hotelling, and telecommuting. Emerging software enables online collaboration and enterprise evangelists encourage everyone to “work out loud.” That is – increase operational efficiency by using tools that facilitate collaborative publishing and editing, getting valuable content out of woefully siloed email inboxes, “where knowledge goes to die” as they say.

Empty inbox

Most companies consider the Crowd to be external to their payroll. The unruly masses are the billions of social media users who seek customer support, get excited when a brand tweets back, and have the power to make campaigns go viral for better or worse. The external Crowd is impossible to control and many companies thus restrict their employees from participating in social media, even when wholly contained inside the firewall.

By doing this, companies lose opportunities to not only drive productivity gains but also manage more effectively by exterting greater control. Not all employees relish the chance to work out loud – they’re the ones who are wary of being monitored. Other write this hesitation off as paranoid – working out loud is liberating! Exciting! Collaborative! 

Managers would be wise to tap into this zeitgeist and build a business case to support blissful ignorance. By putting an internal Crowd control design in place via process and technology platforms, the organization would better prepared to mobilize towards common outcomes rather than allowing behavior to evolve unchecked.

ACL 2010: Day 1

Put another way, which is preferable: having employees burning hours by skulking off to coffee shops to vent with colleagues, or having data and analytics available to provide quantitative employee insights or safe, well-lit places out of the public eye for employees to vent qualitative concerns – before they hit Glassdoor or other word-of-mouth sites?

It’s a manager’s job to control the crowd. Bad managers attempt this using brute force. Good managers understand how individual vs. institutional roles should be orchestrated to best effect.

Aggregate or be aggregated

Functional integration of ecosystems is emerging as the path towards maximizing value creation within our increasingly digital world. To own an industry leadership position, you need to own the experience.

The more your products and services are integrated, the more money you make by offering a superior experience, and the less your competitors will be siphoning off user eyeballs, affiliate clicks, or active users. Brands typically establish barriers to exit, such as API limits or decreased data portability, but these actions lead to walled garden status, creating vulnerability to more open, extensible services.

When planning and building your ecosystem of products and services, you need to remember this principle:

aggregate or be aggregated

This concept has roots in the portal wars of the mid-1990s. During the rise of e-commerce, comparison shopping engines like MySimon and Froogle fought for attention as one-stop product information aggregators. More recently, enterprise tool providers like Syncapse and Sprinklr have been aggregating user generated content for analysis and response.

Aggregate or be aggregated. Keep this in mind as you encounter offers to publish and syndicate your content, explore new opportunities for customers/members/users, and consider how your relationship will be monetized by the company that’s helping you out.

The Social Businesspeople Archetypes

The Architect

These professionals deliver the theory, helping make the case for social business and identifying best practices being created as the industry evolves. They are typically found in roles like industry analyst, author, public speaker, or thought leader. Architects the ones that can help brands avoid ending up with structures like this:

Supposed to be the tallest hotel ever

and instead get something closer to this.


It’s important to note that not all architects weight form and function as equal in importance. That’s where you’ll see emphasis on social media and communications or enterprise 2.0 and technology.

The Builder

These professionals apply theory to infrastructure, helping renovate and remodel existing culture, process, and tech infrastructure. They typically have the title consultant or adviser on their business card. Builders apply methods that assess situations

Johari window

assist in creating process flow


and put the right platforms in place.


The Manager

These professionals are responsible for social business efforts within brands and are held accountable for their success. Managers typically come from marketing and communications functions, but all usually have experience with technology — a critical experience set in the current digital age. You can increasingly find professionals with titles like social business manager as the industry mainstreams. In any case, these client-side professionals are tasked with keeping the trains running, orchestrating internal departments, business partners, and increasingly demanding consumers.

Victoria rail departures


Those are three key roles — surely there are more to be added as we see the space evolve.


Whither social business?

Consider this consulting question:

“If I were re-creating this company today, given what I know and the current level of technology, what would it look like?”

Sounds like a contemporary social business question, right?

It could be, but the original context predates “social business” by two decades. It’s the key question from “Reengineering the Corporation,” a classic business text. Its subtitle? “A Manifesto for Business Revolution.”

You probably know what happened with reengineering. It quickly gained a negative reputation for being a management fad and excuse to lay off staff. Not exactly business revolution.

But no question, social business seems to ask the exact same key question of organizations today — with an intent of corporate revolution.

Whither social business?


Facebook: That was then, this is now.

This week as reported by TechCrunch, Facebook users have been hearing rumors that private messages – written in 2009 and earlier – were showing up on public timelines. Facebook investigated the claims and found them to be false and technically impossible to be true.

But users are scrolling down their timelines and revisiting old posts on their timelines…and getting nervous. Why? Out of context, these public messages seem private. For example, here are some messages I posted on other timelines in February 2008:

  • “Thanks and congratulations! Looking forward to getting coffee with you next time you’re in Boston…choose a warmer time of year though. :)”
  • “Hi – delivering another iMarketing session right now in Istanbul. Sorry you’re not here – but I hear you’ve moved on to bigger and better things! Hope you’ve been well.” 
  • “They used tissues not knives – this ain’t Morocco! Sounds confusing, will explain in person. Thanks for the thoughts, biggest concern is the personal data loss.”

At the time, Facebook had between 50 and 100 million active users. Today it’s close to 1 billion.

Monthly active users woldwide (in millions) – Source: facebook

The public nature of social media hasn’t changed a bit; what has changed is the audience size, from potential to actual. The numbers have driven most of us to alter our online behavior, pulling personal activity a bit further away from the public spotlight and more often only showing people what we want them to see – which makes those old messages look so exposed when viewed out of context. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, we have prepared a face to meet the broader range of faces that we will meet – whether friends, extended family, colleages, or industry acquaintances. 

This “dulling of the personal” was prerequisite for brands to participate fully in social media. No one really wants to be friends with a logo. But the platforms wanted and needed brands to get active and spend money to support “2.0” business models. So now that platforms have scale, users start to look like one another and can be grouped into segments and targets and…guess what? Social media, with all of its promises of 1-1 engagement, starts to look a whole lot like traditional mass media.

So that was then and this is now.

  • If you want to clean up old posts on your timeline, here are instructions and discussion shared by David Berkowitz.
  • If you want to clean up old posts that you’ve made on other people’s timelines, go to[your_page]/allactivity?log_filter=cluster_11 and start scrolling back in time.

It’s quaint to look back and consider the corporatist vs. purist debate that seemed so critical at the time. That was then and this is now. If you haven’t already, clean out your social media closet and prepare a face to meet the faces you will meet.


Own the experience, own the future

In the Web 1.0 days, the world was transformed by the introduction of online businesses. Although many of them ended up as spectacular flame outs, many business models have been reincarnated in the Web 2.0 world. Group buying from Mercata and Mobshop are now Groupon and LivingSocial. Online grocery shopping with Webvan didn’t work out, but today you can buy groceries online via Peapod. Scanning print ads for more information with the CueCat was short lived, but now print ads include QR codes with links to more information online. Some businesses like eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist thrived, while others like Napster pivoted their models in order to survive. The sector that drew the most media attention were the portals: AOL, Excite, Altavista, Lycos, Yahoo, Google, among others. Some referred to the dot-com boom as the “Information Revolution” or the “Digital Revolution” — but hindsight now shows us that 1996 – 2001 was only a small preview of what was possible and what was to come.

All of these 1.0 businesses had something in common: they did not create consumer products and were not end users; instead, they played a facilitation role to connect sellers to buyers, writers to readers, and producers to consumers. Their models were designed to reduce the friction of traditional commerce and monetize units of activity through direct and indirect participants, e.g. buyers and sellers or advertisers. The most successful companies inserted themselves as a welcome virtual wedge between two parties; welcome, because the new middlemen were faster and frictionless compared to the old ones.

As the Web 2.0 world has started to reach maturity, big data has exponentially expanded the opportunity available to digital middlemen. The social web shows us what’s available from a connected world, beyond simply accelerating sales processes of brick-and-mortar stores. Predictive analytics, semantic connections, and the internet of things enable emergent possibilities for improving individual lives and revealing new opportunities for commercial business models.

We are nearing the end of the early days of Web 2.0 and the Information Revolution is now truly upon us. And just as we saw a small group of leaders break away from the digital peloton at the end of Web 1.0, a small group is making a move to emerge on top of this current market. The key consideration this time around isn’t user eyeballs — it’s ownership of the user experience. Why does that matter? Users create content in many different forms: by recording and transmitting text, such as a tweet or product review; by engaging in online activities, such as clicking a like button or having a cookie from an advertising network store surfing behavior; or through physical activity that is digitally recorded, such as logging on to a computer or walking around with a GPS-enabled device.

“Owning” the user experience is easier said than done; these platforms require massive capital investment in platforms and brand building. Three early leaders exist in today’s race to own the experience ecosystem and its underlying big data assets: Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Each company has created pathways to offer hardware and software, the platforms of digital value creation. Competition is evolving around six key platforms: browsers, operating systems, peer-to-peer messaging, mobile devices, inquiry data, and personally identifiable information (PII). To see a graphic estimate of competitive positioning, see Figure 1. Big Arms Data Race


  • Microsoft has never received a lot of love from the Web 2.0 world. However, it has a huge installed base of users and its bases are covered with key offerings: Internet Explorer, Windows, MSN Messenger, Nokia/Windows Mobile (and the new Surface), and Bing. Microsoft doesn’t have a strong source of PII (Passport isn’t/wasn’t the answer) and could use help with mobile devices and its browser.
  • Google‘s broad range of experiments may be confusing to consumers, but there’s a method to the company’s madness. Chrome, Chrome OS, gChat, Android, Search, and Google+ complete a formidable offering. Emerging offerings like self-driving cars, Google Voice, and fiber optic networks hint at the totality of what Google has in mind when owning the Experience Ecosystem.
  • Apple operates Safari, OS X, iMessage, and iPhone/iPad. Although they have no search engine and Ping is a niche experience, the dominance of its existing components can’t be denied.
  • Two companies sit at the head of the pack that could easily join these three. Facebook may only have user PII, but they have over 900 million active users worth of it as well as a mountain of cash to get competitive quickly via acquisition, for example by buying or building a browser or search engine. Amazon faces an uphill battle with consumer devices and its OS, but it houses loads of user data from consumer transactions, the infrastructure of AWS/S3, and the A9 search engine still exists.
  • Yahoo!, RIM/Blackberry, HP, and AOL all had their chances at one point in time, but seem unlikely to join the breakaway pack.

As competition between ecosystems grows more intense, the ability to normalize and compare data across increasingly closed platforms will present an integration challenge. Application providers will face the biggest challenge, needing to make their services interoperable across platforms. That’s why an innovative company like Facebook, now flush with cash, needs to get competitive quickly to compete in the new world order. Otherwise, it risks becoming beholden to one of the big three gatekeepers for long-term success.

The race to own the future is on. Open and closed are merely a matter of perspective and competitive positioning. Brands must choose carefully and hedge their bets by working across emerging ecosystems.

Credits to Rachel Meyerson for research support and Scott Matthews for graphic assistance.

The definition of social business

After months of discussion and debate with my Dachis Group colleagues Jeff Dachis, Kate Niederhoffer, and Ellen Westcott, in January 2009, I was the first person to publish and use the phrase “social business” in a blog post. That post, titled “It’s Time To Transform,” touched on the fundamental need for a new concept—something that would get us past incremental changes in marketing and technology, and would unlock much greater value creation for businesses.

(Note: The phrase “social business” was in use prior to January 2009 in reference to the work of Professor Muhammad Yunus. That definition is quite different than our use of the term as applied to evolutionary marketing and technology strategies.)

Later that year, with David Armano and Jevon MacDonald on board, we wrote about the concept of Social Business Design, which explained what social business is, why it matters, and where to apply it in the organization.

In brief: Social business draws on trends in technology (e.g., powerful mobile devices, widespread availability of high-speed Internet access, low cost of data storage), work (e.g., always-on culture, globalization), and society (e.g., propensity to share). Companies should care about social business because they can improve business outcomes (i.e., increase revenue or decrease costs). The core principles touch on all areas of a business, whether for business-to-customer engagement, employee-to-employee collaboration, or supply chain optimization. Making social business work requires focus on a company’s culture, connections, content exchanges, and measurement and analytics.

Let’s pause for a second. As you can see, the definition of “social business” is already unwieldy.

Why You Should Care About the Definition

Here’s where we get to the part that explains why you should care about the definition of social business.

The thing about social business—and what is true to its original definition—is that it’s a BIG IDEA. Again, go back to that original blog post, and see that social business intends to transform marketing and technology. Companies have always listened to customers and have empowered employees. Companies have also been exploring new media and implementing new technology for decades.

But here’s the difference: Social business harnesses the trends in market today, helping us change business models of yesterday and driving brands forward into the operating modes of tomorrow.

Dion Hinchcliffe and I wrote a book called Social Business By Design to explain how to make social business work. A graphic model for thinking about the concepts in this post is included below.

Social Business Design

View more documents from Dachis Group

Social business is huge, and it’s not going away. Three years after the phrase “social business” was coined, at least 101 examples of social business ROI exist. Momentum is building. Companies are using the core social business principles to create competitive advantage and drive business results.

I cringe a little bit every time I read a post that tries to “define” social business but ends up marginalizing the concept. Social business stands for what companies need to become—not a description of an incremental feature or business function. And now that you know what “social business” really means and why it matters, you need to preserve the integrity and expansiveness of the definition.

If you can stay true to the big idea, you’ll have the blueprint to transformative success that others clearly have a tough time grasping.

With Facebook IPO, Social Business Becomes Key


Originally published by CNBC on May 16, 2012

When Facebook becomes a publicly traded company in the very near future, the financial event will be remembered for many reasons, but we view it as a watershed moment in the evolution of social business.

Six years ago, we took an industry analyst briefing from Mark Zuckerberg to discuss some “big news”: Facebook had secured $25 million in funding; mobile access was now available, and “Facebook Alumni” was being launched acknowledging that many users would soon graduate college. At the time, the site had 7 million registered users, and some wondered if the company would survive the shift from being a niche community for students to an open-registration social network for the general public, moving into direct competition with the industry-leading juggernaut: MySpace.

Today, Facebook has over 900 million active registered users globally, and has thrived at the expense of MySpace and other social networks worldwide. Facebook mobile now has over 425 million active users. And some of the world’s largest brands are spending in the range of $25 million each to create consumer engagement opportunities through Facebook. With this, a newfound sense of maturity has arrived as about half of all companies that invest in social media now see positive ROI according to industry analyst firm Gartner. Most of the rest will soon find their way.

As part of this exploration of potent new forms of global communication, brands have learned that an investment in the Facebook ecosystem isn’t like a traditional media buy. Consumers expect direct, rapid contact with companies, and the resulting volume and pace of conversations can quickly overwhelm brands that are unprepared. As a result, companies must evolve traditional approaches to marketing communications, customer service, and measurement in order to engage at scale.

We characterize this emerging mode of operations as “social business” — harnessing fundamental tendencies in human behavior via emerging technology to improve strategic and tactical outcomes. Using Facebook effectively comes from a deliberate, holistic approach to strategy and operations — that is, approaching the Facebook platform by design. We have identified 10 key tenets to social business success, and these three below are key for the Facebook ecosystem: 

  1. While participation is self-organizing, the focus is on business outcomes. Businesses may not be able to control how consumers respond to messages, but they create the experiences to engage consumers and drive business results. Those brand experiences influence the future of Facebook — the IPO signals the importance of advertising revenue to the platform. That revenue comes from large advertisers like Procter & Gamble, which announced earlier this year that it would make major shifts in its massive advertising budget from traditional to digital channels. One of the first launches after this announcement was the global “Thank You, Mom” campaign, the biggest in P&G’s history. The campaign was launched in digital channels 100 days prior to the start of the 2012 London Olympics, and is integrated across all media channels, using Facebook as a centralized engagement hub.
  2. Listen and engage continuously. Participation and engagement require a full-time focus on community engagement. A brand doing this particularly well is Red Bull, an early adopter of the Facebook platform — little surprise, given the overlap in usage by college students. In 2007, Red Bull launched the first branded game on Facebook called “Roshambull” — an adaptation of the classic rock-paper-scissors game long before the first crops were ever planted in Farmville. Another Red Bull program called “Stash” utilized Facebook as a CRM backbone, connecting online and offline activities in a massive field marketing program. Red Bull was one of the first brands to convert its fan page to the new Timeline format, and continuous innovation keeps it consistently ranked as one of the largest brand communities on Facebook, with over 28 million brand advocates ready to respond.
  3. Integrate deeply into the flow of work. Businesses need to change the way they operate in order to maximize return on Facebook opportunities. At wireless service provider US Cellular, the first corporate use of Facebook was as part of an integrated marketing campaign. Consumer responses were handled by a volunteer force of 55 associates with plenty of enthusiasm, but ultimately not enough hours in the day in addition to their full-time jobs to sustain ad-hoc engagement at a service level acceptable to USCC standards. The company has since created a dedicated social media management team, armed with tools, policies, and process to engage at scale and drive customer acquisition and retention.

Some bystanders may downplay the Facebook IPO as a mere financing event, but it’s an undeniable milestone for social business. The multi-billion dollar public market validation of Facebook should leave no doubt in even the most skeptical manager’s mind that social business is real and has changed the way that companies think about consumer relationships and public positioning. Social business is here to stay as a fundamental new way of working. We now clearly see that success with it requires a strategy crafted by design.

Peter Kim and Dion Hinchcliffe are co-authors of “Social Business By Design: Transformative Social Media Strategies for the Connected Company.” Peter is chief strategy officer and Dion is EVP strategy at Dachis Group, a provider of SaaS-based products and services. Dachis Group is a Facebook Preferred Developer Consultant and Preferred Marketing Developer; P&G, Red Bull, and USCC are clients.

Reviews of Social Business By Design

And on Amazon:

  • “Earlier books I’ve read about social media — Groundswell, The Social Organization, Get Bold and others–seemed more forward-looking about how social media could change organizations based on early findings and early case situations. Social Business by Design feels a little further ‘down the road’…” – T. Sales
  • “In a field where snake oil consultants offer vague prescriptions and poor advice, this book rises to the level of “must read.” – Michael Krigsman
  • “If you’re looking for THE book to help you understand and explain Social Media’s impact on business, look no further.” – Todd Defren
  • “Technically, I compete against these gentlemen, so if I’m willing to come here and give it high praise I hope that would give you confidence in making this purchase.” – Matt Ridings

We’ve also done Q&A with Fast Company and Social Nerdia.

If you’ve bought a copy, thank you! We’d appreciate if you would share your thoughts on Amazon.


If you haven’t yet read the book and the early reviews haven’t yet convinced you to buy a copy, we’re happy to share parts of the book with you in this excerpt in Fast Company, a download of Chapter 5, and an opinion piece on CNBC. You can also read the first chapter free on Kindle.

Finally, we’d like to engage with you in person! Keep an eye on our speaking page for where we will be around the world.

Being: Peter Kim