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Getting Your Arms Around Social Business



Social media has captured the minds of businesspeople over the past several years, giving rise to questions like, "Should we be active on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or LinkedIn? Or Pinterest? Or..." The options seem endless and ever changing. For insurance professionals the answers can be found through careful consideration of strategy, audience and objectives: What are your communications objectives, which audiences do you need to influence, and how do you wish to influence them? Use the answers to devise strategies to leverage the various social media tools to drive results.

The emerging recognition that the use of social media should be based more on desired outcomes than on jumping on each new tool that emerges is driving a new concept: social business.

The Concept of Social Business
Social business is a strategy designed to optimize benefits to all audiences. SideraWorks, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in social business, has defined the concept as: "the creation of an organization that is optimized to benefit its entire ecosystem (customers, employees, owners, partners) by embedding collaboration, information sharing and active engagement into its operations and culture. The result is a more responsive, adaptable, effective, and ultimately more successful company."

The social business process also includes establishing strategies to drive decisions about which platforms to use and how best to use them to engage audiences.

Joseph Shaheen is an organizational scientist and a social network analyst who has studied the concept of social business. His Washington-D.C. based Human Alliance works with firms to focus on issues of talent, talent-based strategy and quantitative methods of assessing talent in organizations.

Organizational boundaries are being broken down, says Shaheen, so that every organization can build stronger relationships with all of its stakeholders. "The idea is that the social network will decide on its own, in an organic way, what the value is that it needs to transfer from one part to another and how to maximize that value." Shaheen uses biological examples to help make his point.

"Think of the cells that make up your body-cells pull together to build up tissues and those tissues build up organs and the organs work in a comprehensive system to manage your biology," he explains. What most people don't realize, he says, is that a lot of the chemical and biological interactions that the body goes through are made at the cellular-not the organ-level. That allows the body to perform its duties much more efficiently to keep the whole system running.

Social business, he says mimics this concept. "If you move the decision-making units down the chain, the likelihood of maximizing incremental value increases drastically. If you can get your stakeholders, whether they are customers or suppliers, to buy into the network-the ecosystem-then you can create a large value-based system that captures and transfers the maximum amount of value at every turn." This, he says, ultimately results in more successful companies and better products.

That's the theory behind social business. Making social business happen effectively involves strategies and tactics to leverage various information channels in ways that create engagement. That engagement often starts internally.

Lin Grensing-Pophal has written on topics ranging from health and wellness, to careers and HR-related topics, to marketing and social media. Her most recent book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Strategic Planning" (Penguin), was released in spring 2011. Lin is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Next week... read more about engaging employees and other audiences.