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If people are naturally social, what’s the point in calling your business “social”?

Today we often hear talk of businesses going social – but what, really, does the “social” in social business mean?

Humans by their very nature are social creatures: We talk to each other, we converse on the phone, we have relationships with people, we make friends, we are often interested and drawn into the conversations of others, and as parents we work together, collaborating to raise our children.

But let’s face it – how people interpret the word “social” depends on the context. If someone says, “Our holiday location has a great social nightlife,” many people would see it as a positive attribute, but for someone looking for a peaceful vacation, it could mean a nightmare.

Similarly, in business, the secret is knowing how to apply social technology to make it valuable – and not a hindrance. What a business should aim to do is harness those human characteristics to improve the way it operates.

How to apply our social instinct in business

The same human instinct exists in a business context that exists in life outside work. If you’re walking around a room, you’ll gravitate towards conversations that sound interesting. You want to contribute – take part in the conversation – and sometimes you just can’t help yourself. And that’s what a social business needs to capture and leverage – the tendency for people to be social and to interact.

Labelling your company as social doesn’t mean that your job is done

The challenge, though, is to harness that tendency in a way that returns value to the business. Social technology, in other words, needs to focus people’s passion for social interaction into new and better patterns of working.

Many earlier social solutions have made it easy to have conversations – but having a conversation around the results of a football match or politics doesn’t return value to the business, and that’s why so many social implementations have failed in the past.

Likewise, labelling your company as social – whether by implementing a social technology or creating a social presence on Facebook or Twitter – doesn’t mean that your job is done. A social technology or presence alone doesn’t mean your company or employees are ready to speak or can converse appropriately. You need to create a foundation – both cultural and technical – before you can expect the right results.

Two vital components to success

First, to ensure adoption, you need to align the organization behind your social environment by helping people feel that they have a voice and giving them the confidence that all ideas, feedback, and input are valid. While it’s important to have the right security, controls, and guidance in place to reduce risk, it’s equally important to have confidence in the instincts and conscience of your employees to interact appropriately. When you make it comfortable and safe to pipe in about a subject to which employees want to contribute, adoption will occur.

Next, to solve real business problems quickly, you need to embed social technology within business processes. Research shows that you can’t just deploy a social tool in isolation and expect to gain value from it. Social technology needs to be implemented in the context of something that matters – something that can make a difference to the individuals involved and bring results.

True social businesses harness the human instinct for social interaction to solve real business problems

You need to combine the intelligence of experts with relevant business data and up-to-date content to drive conversations that focus on results. For instance, you could use social to bring people together to think about the design of a product or a new marketing campaign or HR initiative. Interested people will naturally want to be part of the discussion and provide value. If you give them an easy way to provide that input, you’ll gain richer knowledge and you’ll also get more buy-in for the decisions that are ultimately made.

This formula of taking a goal or context that’s important to your employees – and connecting it to their ability to contribute, wherever they are – is what will help you break down organization silos, overcome geographical boundaries, and shrink the isolation of distance. In the end, you’ll capture the attention of your employees and focus it on discussions that provide value.

Think about it this way:

Social + Nothing = Nothing

…while:

Social + Business Context = Business Value

The companies destined to become social businesses are the ones that do find a way to harness the human instinct for social interaction to solve real business problems. To achieve viral success, you need to blend a real business opportunity with our natural craving to engage and contribute. If your company does this, you’ll find that problems are solved faster, relationships are stronger, satisfaction is greater, innovation is better, efficiency is streamlined, and more and more people want to join in.

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