The Anatomy of Truly “Social” Business

A {grow} Community Week Contribution by Kneale Mann

There is increasing discussion these days about developing a “social business.” The vital word to remember in this name is business — real work tied to a bottom line.

The social business doesn’t start or end in the digital space but rather in the human universe. It includes the creation of a true collaborative, two-way exchange that embraces internal and external customer connection and service.

Labels such as social media, social networking, and social marketing are often misused. Social media are a collection of channels. Social networking is interaction between people through myriad digital and human channels. And social marketing embraces many channels to achieve social good.  Channels are simply options.

So How Can You Make Your Company Social?

First it requires superior products or services. Creating an environment where it’s fun to work that has nothing to offer clients is a not a business. We can get distracted by the temptations of the social web and allow emotion to rule the day when we use words such as media and social. But without business, it’s a hobby shrouded in theory. Our customers don’t care how many blog subscribers we have or who visits our YouTube channel. They may ‘like’ our Facebook group but that does not constitute a relationship, yet. They bought our stuff and they expect it to do what we said it would do. So we need an actual business that has customers or the potential of customers before we can build a social business.

Communications and marketing in a truly social business are not necessarily departments; they are tied to every function everyone does every day.  Teamwork in a social business does not consist of butt covering, “good enough,” or that isn’t my job declarations. It embraces an understanding of the strengths of each and every person and how they complement the rest of the team. Building a social business is hard work but can be the single most important tactic you can employ to increase profits.

People Buy from People

The construction of a social business requires the realization that human beings build the bottom line, not websites or slick messaging. It is also an environment where stakeholders understand we are all suppliers and we are all customers. We all live on both sides of the counter.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where the person serving you seems to have the best job in the world? Think about the last time you met a convenience store clerk who smiled, made eye contact and meant it when they wished you a good day.  The little things are often the biggest things that can make your company social.

Different Things Different Results

Mark or any of the wonderful people in the {grow} community can help companies build on past success and increase their chances of future success. But that begins with the deep desire to look at the way they’re doing business inside and outside of their organization.

It means they may feel uncomfortable for a while but they’ll be in good hands because the goal is to improve, not point fingers or increase workload simply to keep busy. The clear focus is to create an environment where both stakeholders and customers want to be great … and that is how sustained growth is achieved.  Building a social business goes well beyond channels and websites.

How can building a truly social business help your bottom line?

Kneale Mann has worked in media and marketing for 27 years. He is the owner and digital marketing strategist, writer and speaker at YouIntegrate. Mann helps medium to large sized organizations improve their digital presence and revenue. Kneale can be reached by email at Kneale’s website is and on Twitter he is @knealemann

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  • This is an important post Kneale, thank you for writing it. The “people buy from people” is the key to understanding a “social” business. Even before Social Media this was one of the very first points I’d try and hammer into early stage or start up company CEOs and sales teams. I’ve heard more than once a salesman say……. “they buy the product from me, not the company…… they could care less about the company it’s me, they want to do business with me!”  ~ If you analyze what the Salesman did in the past to get this kind of relationship with the customer, you’ll find it quite inline with helping people create and maintain a “real” social business today.

  • I’m definitely with you and @CASUDI:disqus on this one: it’s the people that matter, no matter the channels. 

    You raise an interesting point when mentioning how Mark can help businesses get to grips with social in a business setting; however, the consultant is a facilitator, someone to kick start a commitment to a way of improving business operations – wither it’s internal or with the end customer. 

    To often I come across companies looking to learn more about the digital social sphere but although they have an initial excitement they often get caught up in the same business practice as before because it’s what they know. To take an analogy from therapy, it’s hard to break the patterns of a lifetime. 

  • Jon – Great points and I completely agree. Any one of us in the {grow} community can help business grow in various different ways. But if there is a desire to create a social business, you need to mean it – inside and outside your building. A social business is no place for hoping that promotion will boost revenue indefinitely or this channel will increase sales leads instantly. 

    It is very difficult to change the patterns of a lifetime and add to the fact most of us have the patience of a three year old. No one said this wasn’t going to be hard work for all of us!

  • Caroline – Excellent points but that same “salesman” may run the risk of thinking his/her reputation will carry them through no matter how good or bad the product or service or internal systems are in their company. 

    We may buy from people but it’s a whole new level when we BUY IN to people. The “people always buy from me” theory can often fall apart if that “salesman” (hate that word) moves to another company where the solution may be inferior. Then their reputation may not be enough.

    The social business is a living, breathing entity that will change over time and not necessarily rest of past success. But we can learn from that “salesman” who is no longer just selling widgets. 

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  • So have to agree about the word “salesman” (it was late and I did want to comment 🙂 and yes today “salesman” does have a very negative meaning as many were/are just as you pointed out! The distinction between just BUY and BUY IN is of course “right on” and I think those really good at selling would get this distinction, even in the old days!. All of this is of course is dependent, as you say, on having an excellent, superior or must have product or service. BTW I think I am making the distinction “old days” as before Social Media 🙂

  • Agreed and I’m often challenged when talking about building a social business by smaller companies who claim they don’t have the resources. You can have a strong social business with clear internal customer service with a company of one or one million. 

  • Nice one, there is actually some good points on this blog some of my readers may find this useful, I must send a link, many thanks.

  • I’m glad you found post useful. It’s a big shift for a lot of companies but building strong internal systems can positively affect the revenue line more than adding more advertising or digital channels. Internal issues can directly and negatively affect external results. 

  • Kneale,
    I really like the distinction you’re making here: moving from a traditional business to a social business, yet maintaining the tenets of profitability and sustainability.  I have spouted off a lot lately about how it doesn’t matter how many followers, likes, or comments I get, if at the end of the day, I’m not growing my business.  However, those folks do grow my business when we engage in a two-way conversation.  “We all live on both sides of the counter!” Or, in this case, the screen.  

    I like what @jonbuscall:disqus says about the consultant being a facilitator in the process.  Very true.  Somehow, the facilitator should also mentor and plant seeds for sustainability.  Moving towards a social business model doesn’t always yield immediate results, nor does it deliver quantitative data.  Making sure the company we’re working with understands that is key in helping them embrace it.

    Enjoyed this post, Kneale. 

  • I frequently go back to the quote “All things being equal, friends buy from friends. All things not being equal friends STILL buy from friends” A relationship is still the most influential currency regardless of the channel. And you’re right an FB like or an RT on twitter does not guarantee revenues. It might be the start of building a relationship but then you need the product and the customer service to close the loop to create an exceptional customer experience and perhaps some repeat business.  The sooner we realize our customers don’t really care about the number of blog comments etc. we can release ourselves/time to developing better products and delivering remarkable customer experiences.

    Great read Kneale!

  • So true! Especially since many of our customers are not even on twitter or connected to our networks. Charity begins at home – in this case social business starts at the top.

  • Erica – Thanks very much 🙂 It can be frustrating when you see how companies can improve internal systems which will in turn increase profits but they just want you to show them how to get online and make millions. I have yet to meet a company called Campaign and in our quest for instant wins we may be missing wonderful opportunities to unearth true talent inside our organizations. 

  • Natasha – I think we all get (got?) distracted by the numbers because we have counters on our sites which is the wrong metric to watch. I remember a great sales manager reminding me once when we weren’t the biggest that finding true customers and selling your products or services on a personal level remove the need to rely on numbers that may or may not mean much to the proverbial bottom line. Sure we all like to be “liked” and RT’d and commented on or about, but the real gold in the digital space is to realize the connections begin here, the relationships (friends, colleagues, customers, clients) begins when we make that actual personal connection. My favorite social channel remains person-to-person.

  • There are close to seven billion of us on earth, just over two billion are connected to the Internet and vast majority are not active on the social channels. Embracing those in your organization who get Twitter with those who understand building stronger internal systems can be very powerful.

  • How many “friends” does anyone have? You still need to go outside your circle for some things. Social media has enables you me to increase your circle of “friends” without leaving your home

    Another great post by @knealemann

  • Stacyknows! Thanks Stacy, and you are proof of the power of building a strong social business from your core of close friends to the edges of the planet. Cheers 🙂

  • Kneale, great post–very thought provoking and loaded with fundamentals. I’m not sure you stated it explicitly, but you’ve strongly implied the idea–no doubt extremely radical to some–that “social businesses” have existed for years and not only pre-date the social web, they pre-date the Internet itself. I think this is true, especially for smaller businesses. It’s so much easier to have a relationship with and trust a small group of people than a bureaucracy (even an “awesome” virtual one). Digital tools and social channels can enhance but they can never be a substitute for the personal relationships required to run a social business. It may disappoint some people, but the truth is the latest social can opener or web-enabled jack knife almost never rise to the level of “this changes everything.” And why should it have to? If we were really masters of this craft, we’d have a better appreciation of the utility of fine tools and instruments.

  • Great points Steve and yes just like scaling any initiative, social business is challenging for larger organizations. Since I don’t know the inner workings of Google or Facebook or Apple, I won’t suggest those are examples. As for the social web, the tools and the interwebs, experimentation and adoption will always be far apart just like any new online or offline idea.

    Tools that “change everything” in my mind are true collaboration on an actual level playing field where all stakeholders are respected for their strengths while the “I’m not here to cover my butt, I’m here to cover yours” mantra is embraced. One can always dream.

  • Hi Steven, you’re absolutely right IMO!!! But one minor change which I hope may help provide a reality check to some.  Business has ALWAYS been social, since the  transaction of business began. This new technology only allows us to effectively and efficiently broaden the social base we have to work with.
    Great post Kneale!

  • We, a regional brewer, have over 23 staff on Twitter and openly encourage Social Media participation. The companies engagement with the end consumer is at an all time high and brand mentions online are climbing sharply.

    Online sales continue to grow above the market sector average and social has cut the cost of many, more expensive, marketing channels.

    Social Business is about revisiting old values and service ethics, your products and the way you operate change for the better as a result and all involved benefit. There is a feel good factor from all involved, we are in no way finished and there is much refinement to do. 

    Being social is surely the way forward for businesses of the future. 
    (Adnams was founded in 1872)

  • Sean – Thank-you so much for this. As the world appears more advanced, the basics cannot be forgotten and often are which can turn into impatience for some companies to wonder why the digital channels are not garnering them improved revenue. Start inside before you can reach outside. 

  • Hi, I’ve been really bugged by this “salesman” discussion and have been trying to phrase a response for a while.  Sorry for taking so long.

    Firstly, any salesperson (please note this change) who believes buyers buy anything from them and NOT the company is a fool. Secondly, for a very long time companies have been structuring themselves to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen as it usually ends up being a bad purchase decision. It IS about relationships, but it’s the relationship with the vendor organization as a whole that makes the difference. A top sales person knows this and is a master at managing it.

    This is also why and effective “Social” presence by companies is so very important.  Over the years I cannot count the times as a sales manager I’ve heard a buyer say to a rep “I really like you Bob/Mary/Ted/Alice…..but we’ve decided……..”.

    Now, this may seem to be a B2B example, but even in the B2C world, the consumer is getting a lot smarter about their buying decisons as well.

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  • Well  my late night word “salesman” really got a run for its money!  Yes, saleperson… and yes, I agree with all you say…… perhaps this is why I have generally so disliked dealing with “sales” and their “exclusive” relationships with customers. Now an organizations “social” presence puts a whole new slant on things which I agree is much more advantageous and way preferable. Great convo. Thanks

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  • Katie Cook

    “The little things are often the biggest things that can make your company social…” I completely agree. If only you could shout this from the peak of Mount Killimanjaro!

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