Social business /// salterbaxter /// Creative communications and sustainability advisors in London

Directions Supplement November 2011
Social business

Is your business social or anti-social?

The rise of ‘Social Business’ has been a growing trend over the last few years. It is transforming the way progressive organisations function and communicate with a variety of their audiences including their stakeholders, employees, customers, partners and suppliers. The roots of social business are the same principles that have led the largely consumer-driven revolution of so-called social media: principles such as transparency, sharing, listening and collaboration.

What is a Social Business? There are plenty of definitions around as to what social business is but this is what we think a social business looks like:

A company that embraces active ‘conversations’ with all of its key stakeholders and is seen to respond and act upon those conversations for the common good of all parties.

Cynics amongst you might want to understand what the definition of ‘common good’ is and how weighted that is in reality in the organisation’s favour. Well, in simple terms social business which is only favourable to one party won’t work, in the same way that collaboration that only benefits one party, or consultation that is neither listened to or acted upon, is quickly seen for what it is – meaningless. Replace the ‘common good’ with something that achieves a better end result for all and you get the picture.

At this point it’s worth introducing one of our favourite anecdotes from J P Rangaswami (currently Chief Scientist at On the subject of social business he remarked recently: ‘Why would any organisation seek to be anti-social?’ It’s not exactly a sign of being open for business. So, on the face of it, no contemporary organisations would seek to be anti-social but that is different from actively seeking to be social. We’ll explore further what this means over the following pages.

It’s more than Facebook and Twitter

Having a company Facebook page or tweeting that a new press release is available does not in itself make you a social business. We think there is a lot of misunderstanding, amongst senior management especially, that actions such as these constitute being social in the corporate context. It’s a part of what can be involved, yes, but there’s so much more to it than that. Think less about the media bit, ie which tools might be used and more about the social part of the phrase, which is much more about how an organisation conducts its everyday business.

Social business as a concept is something that we at Salterbaxter have a specific interest in. For many years we have been advising organisations on how they can conduct business that is sustainable but also ethically and socially responsible. At the same time, the rapid development of digital technologies has accelerated the rise of social business too, of that there is no doubt. We will be leading a number of social business initiatives this year and into 2012, including regular blog postings and white papers, and a seminar in November 2011 looking specifically at how sustainability communications can be positively influenced by social business.

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Within this supplement we discuss more about the underlying concepts behind social business, how to determine where your company is on its social journey and some examples of social business in action.

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