Social is all about collaboration and sharing, right? As we move into social business, perhaps it is useful to examine what that means for your brand by changing the term for a moment – ‘sharing business’ or ‘collaborative business.’ This is a tighter definition of social business then I used on my 6/19 post Getting the Horse to Drink. While I think for the uninitiated that definition works, for those in the trenches I think this might work better.
Using that framework, social business is a business that allows sharing to be at its core. Not only allows it, but promotes it. As you integrate social, or sharing, into your products what does it really mean, and what are the risks. While sharing and collaboration may be near each other in a thesaurus, I want to draw a distinction between them for the purposes of this discussion. Let’s say collaboration is more asked for, while sharing is something that happens organically.
My vision of a collaborative business is one that accepts ideas for products and enhancements from a variety of sources, inside and outside. The buzzword these days is crowdsourcing. While the definition of crowdsourcing is slanted towards external sources, collaboration is really about all sources, equally. I think most people focus on external because they feel that internal sources are too tied to what is commonly held.
One of the reasons why collaboration works is that a heterogeneous mix of people is inherently more creative than a homogeneous mix. If you don’t agree with that, take some time to read Creativity in Heterogenous Groups by Vlad – Petre Glavenau from the London School of Economics. If that doesn’t convince you, head on over to Heterogenous and homogeneous groups in the innovation process by Daniel Hess. In both papers, the authors looked at the creativity boost that non-traditional thinking can bring. Removing a participant from a group discussion for even a limited period of time boosts the creativity of a group, according to research by Katherine Phillips and her colleagues.
So as you integrate collaboration into your business remember to be open to all groups, internal and external. Being a social business not only means the face you paint for the outside, it also means the face you paint to the inside. Using social concepts and collaboration on your internal networks will boost productivity. Using those same concepts in whatever innovation efforts you have underway will also boost their productivity.
Now that I have extolled the virtues of internal voices, let’s look at external voices as well. There are inherent risks associated with leveraging external sources. These mirror the risks associated with user-generated content that I talked about on 5/13 in Free Labor, with one additional twist. You need to secure ‘hold harmless’ claim and stronger indemnification provisions. This is Legal mitigation. Practical mitigation can be done with focused discussions and effective moderation. The latter is something you are doing in all your social platforms, right? The former means more of a challenge-response system. At any rate, you can mitigate these risks and build a great crowdsourced platform for new ideas.
My vision of a sharing business is one that makes it easy to share information from consumer to company, and between members of that company. One that reduces the friction of sharing and the speed of sharing. It also accepts the risks of inherently informal conversations between consumer and company. Make it easy for your users to access and request resources regardless of platform, regardless of product. Are you responding to questions about your sugar water effectively? Some of those questions may be problematic. But if that is your business think about how much easier it might be than the company that deals with life insurance claims.
This may mean nothing more than a wall, or timeline, on your product page. The more you control the interaction, the better you can deal with the risks. Build in the infrastructure to share across multiple locations so that relevant discussions appear where they should.
4 Risks Associated with Social Business
- Ownership of Ideas. If you are worried about the ownership of the ideas you receive from folks, take steps to secure your rights to use them. If you aren’t worried about the rights associated with those ideas, stop reading this blog for a moment and go talk to an attorney who understands intellectual property.
- Effective interaction. Effectively interacting with folks, whether it be for new ideas or existing services requires people that are trained to deal with people. That doesn’t mean hiring Tom Smykowski.
- Alphabet soup of regulation. What you say and how you say it, including how you deal with your user’s speech is under fire from a vast panoply of regulatory agencies. While doing the right thing will be able to guide you properly, it isn’t a panacea. Find someone who understands your business, get’s social and understands the compliance land mines.
- Scaling. The biggest problem is scaling operations to deal with success. It is one thing when you have 1,000 consumers. What happens if your product or service takes off and now you have 10,000 users commenting daily in your social portal. Do you have the people to do the proper care and feeding? Do you deputize your super-fans? Think about how to scale for success, or that success will be followed by failure.
Engaging with Consumers is the Key
Social business, whether I call it sharing business or collaborative business, is all about engaging with consumers in manners acceptable to them. Therein lies the rub and possibly the genesis of all the confusion about what social business is and what it can be.
I don’t think any of us know what social business will really be. I mean the kind of certainty associated with the sun will rise tomorrow. Are you paying attention to what consumers are saying? Pay attention, they will tell you what they want. It is your job to fast follow them there. Those that fast follow will be the winners.