Social business design – four challenges

"A social business is one that invites mass collaboration utilizing social media platforms to enable their employees, customers, suppliers and all other stakeholders to participate directly in the creation of value." (Eeswaran Navaratnam)

Several discussions through various channels have focused my attention on 'social business' this past week. I listened to a discussion with Lisa Gansky on what she calls 'the Mesh, [that] is taking root around the world in the form of thousands of businesses and organizations that understand and cleverly exploit the perfect storm of mobile, location-based technology, social networks, and an evolving ethos of community and citizenship.

I had a conversation with someone from Change Agents Worldwide on the current or future value of things like job evaluation, performance management systems, and other infrastructure processes common in the pre-social business world. (See their white paper Toward Higher Rates of Adoption for Social Business Platforms through Adaptation and Exaptation.) And I came across various other aspects of social business which turned into tweets: see below.

  • Fascinating blog/infographic ranking airlines for social. . Does social #design convert to revenue gain? via @dachisgroup
  • Interestng graphic rankng city gov social media use. .Barcelona 1st. London last. Time for new #design 4 London gov?
  • Millennials as leaders how will they #design orgs? Interesting info via @forbes
  • Just re-found Galoppin on social architecture useful ideas to help rethink org #designs.via @sharethis
  • Exlnt essay on promise of social media how it cld re#design social research via @Demos

The Galoppin manifesto (and he has a free e-book on the topic) opens with the words, 'This manifesto is aimed at any organizational leader or citizen interested in promoting change. In this manifesto I argue that the digital economy has shifted the point of gravity from control to co-creation. As a consequence, the laws of nature that determine the dynamics of change management have shifted as well.

Successful organizations are those who are aware of that shift and tap into the new literacy of collaboration that social media has brought us. The result is a new balance between hierarchy and community that is called social architecture.'

This 'new literacy of collaboration' is reflected in the Ten Tenets of Social Business proposed by by Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim, in their book Social Business by Design (and here replicated from Noort Social Business ). We are told that:

[These] tenets represent a fundamentally open, participative, scalable, and rich way of living, working, and otherwise connecting and engaging with the world."
1. Anyone can participate.
2. Create shared value by default.
3. While participation is self-organising, the focus is on business outcomes.
4. Enlist a large enough community to derive the desired result.
5. Engage the right community for the business purpose.
6. Participation can take any direction. Be prepared for it, and take advantage of it.
7. Eliminate all potential barriers to participation. Ease of use is essential.
8. Listen to and engage continuously with all relevant social business conversations.
9. The tone and language of social business are most effective when they're casual and human.
10.The effective social business activities are deeply integrated into the flow of work.

One outcome of working towards these tenets is, as one blogger noted, that They [successful brands] have started to see proof that social conversations have an impact upon the whole organisation and therefore teams are getting bigger and more departments are working together.

But the more people are 'social' the more they are releasing data which can be used in various and/or nefarious ways. So parallel tracking with the social business enthusiasts are the social business red flag wavers. Watch Mikko Hypponen on the design of the surveillance state or read Evgeny Morozov's argument for caution in which he makes the point that Big data, with its many interconnected databases that feed on information and algorithms of dubious provenance, imposes severe constraints on how we mature politically and socially. Or read Jaron Lanier's book Who Owns the Future? In which in the words of one reviewer he continues his war on digital utopianism and his assertion of humanist and individualistic values in a hive-mind world. Or read about Dave Egger's novel 'The Circle' to shrink at the thought of a world where "privacy is theft". (Better, read the novel itself).

Thus for an established organization social business raises a number of challenges:

Challenge 1: Fast enough adaptation
This challenge is to adapt fast enough to keep pace with newborn competitors who are entering the field already designed as social businesses. Having a digital strategy as, for example, the UK Government has is only one element of becoming a social business. As my conversation with the person from Change Agents Worldwide highlighted, the systems, processes, policies, and ways of working in an established organization have to be completely re-configured and this in an environment that is constantly moving. Take a look at one of the many images of 'one minute on the internet' to get an idea of the scale of what this looks like or watch a YouTube video ande read the blog Social business: A multi-billion dollar industry to realize that becoming a social business in the broad sense of the definition above should be a non-negotiable part of any organization's strategy.

Challenge 2: The informal organization
The challenge here is to pay attention not only to the formal aspects of the changes necessary to become a social business but also to the informal organizational aspects – language, styles of interaction, culture, informal politics, ways of working, relationships, and so on – and work out how to change established patterns. These are the types of things that Galoppin talks about as social architecture. I sent Galoppin's blog to a friend, Terry Huang, who returned some excellent points and questions:
Even in an industrial economy situation – for instance, making a car or computer – there has been evidence that collaboration/co-creation can improve quality and productivity. Both car/computer manufacturers have found that a team building a car instead of a manufacturing line adapts to changes and quality issues earlier and in instances produces goods faster. However, it requires very skilled and experienced workers who are often devoted to the craft to have that model be successful. What if you don't have the right people to apply a co-creation approach? (Or the company isn't compensating enough to attract the right people?) What if the person is just there to go through the motions and to get a steady paycheck? What if the person simply isn't smart enough? We shouldn't design to the lowest common denominator but we do have to.

Ultimately, isn't personality a huge factor? Let's say we are in an accounting firm. I wouldn't count on accountants to mobilize for change… Perhaps there needs to be a "minimally-viable-change-agent-ratio" in order for change to be successful in an organization. 30%? 40%? If the nature of work for an organization attracts 80% non-creative, non-motivated, temporarily-dedicated, process-oriented, passive people, how do you apply social architecture?

Challenge 3: Managing the positive of social business and its darker side
It may be the biggest challenge to manage the positive elements of social business (co-creation, community, etc.) with the darker side of privacy intrusion, surveillance, and 'algorithmic regulation' which Tim O'Reilly in his book Beyond Transparency comments on: The use of algorithmic regulation increases the power of regulators, and in some cases, could lead to abuses, or to conditions that seem anathema to us in a free society. "Mission creep" is a real risk. Once data is collected for one purpose, it's easy to imagine new uses for it. We've already seen this in requests to the NSA for data on American citizens originally collected for purposes of fighting overseas terrorism being requested by other agencies to fight domestic crime, including copyright infringement!

Challenge 4: No maps
Here the challenge is to take the path towards social business with no well proven theories, methodologies, frameworks, good practice, benchmarks or tools to help. However, this presents great opportunities for organizational experimentation, innovation, and use of social media to take them down the path. (Altimeter has a survey report The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Business Transformation which found that 'Although only 28% of organizations surveyed felt they have achieved a holistic approach to social media, that is the ultimate goal: to become a truly social business that is formed as a result of cross-functional and executive support, where social strategies weave into the fabric of the organization. The survey reports offers some high level guidance on stages to becoming a social business').

So can established organizations manage these and the many other challenges of becoming social businesses – and what will become of them if they don't? Let me know.