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Creating a Social Business? Remember to ask the right questions

Lost count of the times you've struggled a bit when someone has said: "What are we going to do about social media"? 

Rest easy - because that's the wrong question. The question that today's leadership teams need to be addressing is this: "What do we need to do to create a social business"?  Of course, that question needs to be proceeded by 'Why do we need to create a social business'?  I hope you'll find some signposts to that answer here.

Disruptive technologies come, go - and stay around for a while. Books, telephones, televisions, the typewriter, all changed the way business was conducted.  For the main part however, those technologies were initially retained by few and used as a means of command and control. Hierarchical organisations employed disruptive technologies to increase profits, shareholder returns and, of course, power.

The speed of change and access to the latest disruptive technologies means that they can't be retained or held by a few. Although moves are afoot to try and change this, for the time being at least, the combinations of change, access and low-cost means that the notions we had of business, leadership and social order have changed. Expectations are different. We have not only a right to choose, but a right to demand, cajole, influence and - in some cases - insist.

Social media changes business for good. And not simply 'good' in terms of finality. 

The 'good business' of the future will be just that. Good in terms of its impact on society as well as its contribution. Financially sound and sustainably grown. The integrated reporting and global reporting initiatives will make all organisations accountable for their actions - financial, environmental and societal. In order to report performance effectively and truthfully, many organisations will have to turn themselves inside out, changing from within and working out how, once changed, they can meet their business and organisational goals.

Given the seismic shift in the financial world markets since 2008, it is extremely likely that G3 and other integrated reporting guidelines will become mandatory. South Africa is the first country to have made integrated reporting a legal requirement. This type of initiative, combined with the force of social media, creates a new style of business in which listening comes first.

The new business won't just make and sell things.  It won't even declare itself by putting its ingredients on the pack. The new business will have full support of the community in which it operates.  The resources it uses will be tracked to origin. The packaging - QR code or otherwise - will explain exactly where, how and why it fits into people's lives. It will declare its own risks and benefits in equal measures. It will create and foster a clear understanding with its user community who will report back publicly on their views, experience and satisfaction with the product or service and make suggestions for improvement.

The user will be able to choose how, where and when they make their purchase and whether they do that with hard currency - currently under threat - or network credits. If they are bought with network credits then the network too will assume responsibility as part of the new supply chain. Those supplying goods and services through the network will be held to terms and conditions and, if they are found to be in breach, will be cut off.

Each stage of the process will be designed to foster the trust of all the stakeholders involved. Monitoring and implementing the process will demand a new skill set from everyone involved, not least the organisational leaders who will have not just organisational reputations to defend, but their own personal ones as the line between the profession and the person gradually disappears.

That's one scenario - but keep in mind that it isn't simply social shift we are witnessing. It is a business shift as well.  Welcome to the Brave New World.

This post is taken from a piece I wrote at the back end of last year - and in discussing social business with a few people today, thought I'd dig it out and put it here for them to have a read. Hope it gave you some food for thought too.

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