The Far Reaching Implications of The Social Business Model

For some time now I’ve been suggesting that social media as we’ve come to address it over the last few years doesn’t really matter anymore because it just is. We’ve given up on seeing it as some separate practice and accepted that it’s simply a function of marketing that must be integrated.

social business model

photo credit: dgray_xplane via photopin cc

Lately I’ve begun to wonder if social behavior, not social media, is actually much more than we’ve made of it.

We’ve bolted certain socially enabled practices on to our businesses to provide greater reach, customer service and the pretense of connection, but I wonder if we’ve stopped dreadfully short of the true potential of social.

Even those that preach social strategy are generally talking about finding ways to use social tactics to support existing business strategies and models.

My belief is that the real opportunity is to build a fully social business model, one that addresses the total picture of social behavior. One that moves beyond social tactics to a place where social is the business, is a part of every consideration.

First off let me suggest that we’ve always had social behavior, in some cases we’ve had it in our businesses. People have always been attracted to people and causes they believed in and connected with. We’ve always joined forces and collaborated in ways to effect change and grow. We’ve always belonged to communities that supported and nurtured our basic needs and our needs to be social animals.

The significant evolution over the last decade is that technology has allowed us to behave in this manner without the constraint of geography. We are now free to find, join and coalesce around shared ideas no matter where we are. That dynamic has impacted the world of business in ways that I don’t know that we’ve all come to fully appreciate.

Connection is now possible with anyone. Collaboration is now possible everywhere. Community is now possible with everyone. The true social business model involves anyone, everyone, everywhere.

So, if we were to fully embrace this idea we would begin to think of social as something far beyond marketing. Were we to treat this idea as a business model, then we would have to apply core social tenets to every element of the business.

Social Purpose – To start with we would lead with the single-minded reason or why we do what we do as our core point of differentiation. (I wrote about this extensively in my last book The Commitment Engine.) It would be our story and cause and it would the thing that attracted people who wanted to join the cause. Non-profit organizations have leaned heavily on this practice because they had a compelling cause and often lacked other means to attract. Leading with purpose has now become one of the most attractive attributes of the for profit business and social behavior has dramatically increased people’s desire for connection with ideas and stories they can believe in.

Social Products – Gone are the days when we developed products and services based on market research and gut feeling. The social business model suggests that we create products and services with our community rather than for it. Collaboration is a central element of the social business model and one that benefits smaller organizations greatly. What if you put your ideas out freely and openly and asked your customers or a Google+ Community to help you develop them.

Social Hiring – One of the greatest benefits of throwing of the constraints of geography is that we now have access to a world talent pool. We no longer need to even think in terms of hiring people as we are free to acquire work completed by people with very specific skill sets in ways that we can apply as needed. Of course consistently leading with purpose is an amazing way to attract for fit when hiring someone internally.

Social Sourcing – Everything we need to run and grow a business is out there in our community. The social business model suggests that we source expertise, advice, resources, partnerships and supplies by simply asking, referring and listening.

Social Research – For some time now smart marketers have been using a new set of tools to listen to their markets. All too often this simply meant listening for mentions and responding. The real potential here is the ability to listen to for unmet needs and substantial market opportunities. Organizations that become very skilled in this behavior will gain significant competitive advantages. Listening in the social business model is part sociology, part innovation and part anthropology.

Social Finance – You need look no farther than the current rash of crowdfunding services to understand the impact of social behavior in the finance arena. Private funding and the coming changes in equity investment have made social finance an important element of the social business model. This area is poised to move beyond the novelty stage and into a significant mainstream funding model.

Social Marketing – I’ve saved the obvious for last because until we move social outside of marketing we limit the idea of the social business model greatly. Marketers get the need for connection, collaboration and community as inherent traits of good marketing, but stop at fully engaging social behavior. Every element of marketing, research, development, creative, content, can be crowdsourced and co-created. Every person in the organization must educate, serve and sell. In the social business model marketing in no longer a department so much as way to express social behavior, purpose and community.

I plan to explore the various elements of this idea in future posts and welcome your thoughts and opinions on the implications of the social business model.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Carol_Mac

    Howdy! This is the good impression you leave…I just went to Aweber to sign up for an account for my new business ( and I thought “maybe they do affiliate marketing and someone could get the credit for this”. So I went to my Google reader and picked DTM because I really enjoy your content and viola! Right at the top of your page was a banner for Aweber! LOL!

    Not a big payoff I’m sure, but just a reminder that slow and steady pays off. (I think/hope) :)


    • ducttape

      That’s a good story Carol – thanks

  • Alfred Poor

    John, this is a fascinating piece, and I find myself chewing on it. At first it struck me as a bit of stating the obvious, but I’m realizing that there are some real depths to your analysis. I can believe that the concept of “doing business” may have changed fundamentally, and I am going to chew on this piece a bit more to see what new understanding that I can derive from it. To say that it is thought-provoking is an understatement. Thanks for this.

    • ducttape

      Alfred – your reaction is not unlike a few others I have encountered – love to hear any other insights you gain.

      • Alfred Poor

        It just gets better with each reading, John. I’m reminded of something Esther Dyson once said about artificial intelligence; “That’s what we call it until we can do it.” I’m thinking that “social business” is what we call it until we master it and it becomes simply “doing business.”
        My current sticking point is that so many of these conversations and interactions take place within a galaxy of open (such as LinkedIn or Facebook) and closed (such as member-only websites) data silos. Yet having a way to access all information at once feels as though it would be overwhelming and unwieldy.
        Perhaps the transition from “social business” to just “business” depends on more effective navigation aids for all parties involved in these conversations and interactions.
        Still chewing, and thanks again!

        • Joey Giangola

          I think Alfred is onto something here (I guess John would have to be ,onto something as well). The biggest challenge is getting to the “doing business” stage. That is something a company or industry cannot do by itself. Consumers, prospects and people in general need to realize the full potential of this concept before it can truly take hold.

          Just from personal observation, I would say most people still treat the “social” landscape as nothing more than a digital playground, a way to stay connected to distant family and friends. However, to limit its functionality to this is doing it a huge disservice.

          For it to ultimately evolve to a second nature level, barriers need broken to the point that replying to a tweet is as natural (and as accepted) as a phone call.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    So much food for though. I think you’ve driven the point home. The social network is the mainstay for today’s online marketer. So much to learn and analyze, this just seems the beginning of it from a different angle.

  • Dave Crenshaw

    Love your perspective on social media. Thanks!

  • Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

    In light of what’s recently happened with the Instagram/Facebook ToS debacle, you’ve made some cogent points here. You might want to add Social Legal to the list, LOL. Every ounce of what we do is now available for the world to see. And the world is looking — and talking, listening, taking action on — what’s important to them. We ignore this to our peril. Thanks for another insightful post, John.

  • Alfred Poor

    John (and everyone else), I just came across a press release from Huwai that tackles many of these same issues from a different angle. I think that combined with the post above, it really helps define this sea change that I think is at work. The “Internet without boundaries” is clearly transforming commerce, and I don’t think we’ve envisioned all the potential impacts yet.

    Happy new year — and new world — to everyone!
    Alfred Poor