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September 03, 2009

Re-tuning the returns

Reputation Statement of Account small

In the last week Social Business Design has been firmly put on the map and legitimized. Social Business Design emerges as a commercial sector in its own right as a couple of key practices reach critical mass, the highly respected Altimeter Group and Headshift/Dachis Group, with a merger announced yesterday between two of the space’s most talented consultancy teams.

Stepping up like this, they represent a venerable array of talent and a commercial sector that’s 'go' for launch.

Social business design sits at the intersection of organizational development and marketing, and can loosely be described as the practice of developing communities of engagement to generate ideas, activities and outputs for commercial and social benefit.

As organizations adopt the principles of social business design, intangible, soft assets like brand value, purpose, human resources, processes and capabilities come to the fore. Social business design is about engendering involvement and it's inbound.

Slightly differently, marketing services and ‘broadcast’ media operate on the basis the message and transaction are the means to the end. Marketing services communicate primarily outbound.

It's interesting to compare the two in the light of the IPA effectiveness awards season that's currently underway. Geoff Russell of the IPA has written about the dangers of ‘hammering costs from suppliers whose "product" is intellectually and creatively based’.

That the marketing communications industry is currently shoring itself up against the imperative of working smarter and reducing costs whilst it's looking at the next best thing in performance effectiveness is interesting. And in the context of social business design, how effective that can be, on a long term sustainable basis, is coming under the hammer.

What makes social business design a ‘must-have’, is that digital technology is ushering totally new states of commercial play. Social business design that involves taking into account trust networks, relationships and behaviours as much as it does tools, channels and transactions, has implications for traditional marketing and media management, which tends to operate much more at arm's length. How will 'broadcast' and outbound marketing effectiveness compare against social business design effectiveness when, in social business design, performance effectiveness has built-in conduits?

Social business design dynamics are that affinity is stronger than structure, the net worth is in the network and the power and potential of network communications increasingly makes much marketing communications activity a tax paid for being unremarkable.

In both social business design and traditional marketing communications, being worthy of attention is the point of power. But if attention and ideas are emerging as commercial currencies, what happens when organizations and people aren't trusted and we’re inclined to give them less attention? There are significant implications for marketing services in there.

The transactional value of digital is that it offers ease and convenience as well as significant opportunities to streamline, but the transactional value of digital is one that it's easy to overplay whilst relationship angles can be neglected and not be fully taken into account.

Over the years, the marketing communications’ industry relationships with clients have frequently been downgraded from partner to supplier. The irony is the transactional use of broadcast media as a tool to deliver commercial growth is being more and more highly scrutinized, something the industry itself says is a barrier to the development of effective ideas.

In contrast with ‘broadcast’ media, social business design harnesses collaboration and involvement. It can create, track and measure dynamic business pulses of activity and momentum and has that as an embedded advantage. The significant stepchange in social marketing this week is that it's getting real; it's moved from being less about media to more about business.

And with that, a crucial part of social business design that will come to the fore is going to be business model design. Businesses, how they're positioned and the propositions they offer will need to be redrawn in the light of the emerging social dimension to business design. Organizational purpose and how to create sustainable social as well as commercial benefit becomes a key requirement. The focus will shift to being about organizing consumers, leading and managing in totally new ways.

So maybe we're on the brink of re-tuning the returns measured and valued as part of social business design. The next time you think about how and where your business value is coming from, you may like to consider how much potential there is in developing collaborations to focus on creative problem-solving, as much as the value that may come from doing more for with less.

The two are utterly inter-linked, and it's a fair bet that the creative potential of inter-relationships in social business will be at the heart of a new organizational effectiveness and a new commercial return.


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Great post Anne,
I think (and have always felt) that 90% of business problems can be fixed with Communications. Structures, cultures, systems that limit the flow of communication are always at a disadvantage to those that accelerate and optimize communication. Social Business Design at the heart of things is just enabling people to communicate better. But fixing a system that developed 50 years ago isn't easy. But it's awfully fun trying.

Well written post. Nice portrait and Topics Thanks for sharing. keep on posting. waiting for your next post.

Great post and very nicely written. I think there are actually many and varied relationships and interests among end users (customers), and that key to success in social media business strategies is recognizing the different reasons that users have for participating and engaging.

Some users do identify with a brand, and demonstrate their passion and loyalty more or less directly. But there are also those who enjoy being in the company of influencers (for reasons of their own, be these motivated by self-interest, membership in a social scene, professional affiliations or whatnot). Those who are building reputations as experts, critics, social influencers or what have you, and whose engagements and participation reflect those pursuits.

Loyalty to brands in social media comes in more forms than just the direct identification and reflection of brand affinity: social presence and what users do to maintain it takes many indirect forms, too.

I'll be interested in seeing whether or not brands can facet their image/message in ways that support and engage conversation among different kinds of users, to build the value that those users relate to naturally (socially). Facets including things like a company's philanthropic efforts, transparency around its design efforts, product creation, or, say, local community efforts. All of these and more provide stories around which users may be compelled to express interest and loyalty, and most importantly, which they find easy to tweet/blog etc because they relate.

How users relate to a brand is the basis of relationships in social media business design, and it all starts with the user, not the brand. It's a post brand image age, a brand conversation or brand narrative age. Users are more likely to reflect well on a brand when its branding reflects their interests.

cheers and thanks! great post!

Thanks for a great post. I have always looked at the big picture and at industries that were more advanced in technology than the ones I was working in or with. I work with the small to midsize businesses and I am watching the big companies that are going to be forced to change because they have a big brand exposure they need to protect and build upon. I am also looking back in history and looking for the examples of the companies that evolved, I wonder how many industry leaders in 09 will lose that position in the next short 5 years?
Very interesting and fun times to be engaged in this transformation and change. Again thanks for great post...


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