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Becoming A Social Business Is Your Next Big Challenge

You’re going to hear more and more people in the social media space start using the term “social business” in the coming months. It will likely replace “community building” as the corporate catch phrase of the moment. Trend setters in the industry like Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Peter Kim and random other former Forrester Research employees now cashing in are already tossing it around. It puts a prettier wrapping paper on the larger payoff for what social media thinkers do.

Social BusinessWhat the term implies, at least from my perspective, is that the business in question, or what they’re trying to sell you, is one that is not driven by products or services. A social business is one that has products and services but prioritizes connecting with people, and facilitating connections between people, in an environment that is conducive to the company’s success. This is not to say they can’t have a sales goal or be bottom-line oriented, but that creating a compelling buying environment is just as, if not more important, than creating a compelling sales pitch.

I’ll give you an example of a traditional business that has naturally become social businesses, perhaps without even knowing it.

Chick-Fil-A used to be mall chicken. Founded in the mid-1960s, its first free-standing restaurant didn’t open until 1986. As they evolved into a more traditional fast food restaurant chain, they knew that mall chicken in a stand-alone building wouldn’t stand out on it’s own. Besides, taking on KFC isn’t real smart business.

But Chick-Fil-A prioritized customer service and did little things to build an environment conducive to driving store traffic and, thus, sales. Almost all Chick-Fil-A buildings are constructed with indoor play areas for children. WiFi has been added to many locations to ensure the parents can flip open the laptop at the table while junior plays in the jungle gym. Employees routinely pass through and refill your drinks or even clear your table of trash as if you were dining in a more formal establishment.

What this has done, in many Chick-Fil-A locations, is create a place for the desperate housewives to gather and nosh on weekday afternoons. The children can go away, while being within arm’s reach, someone is constantly waiting on them for drink refills and they can chit-chat or plug in to their heart’s content. It gets better on the weekends as the moms and dads find the environment a nice semi-break from chasing the rug rats.

All of these qualities have helped Chick-Fil-A continue a 16-year trend of double-digit growth. In that span of time, mind you, the chicken hasn’t changed. It’s not about the food. It’s about the social environment created that is conducive to buying the food.

The challenge we face as social media for business evolves into developing social ecosystems around business is to find those elements that make our environment conducive to success. If you have a location, make visiting your location a social event. Why do you think many bookstores now have coffee shops built in? If you’re a meeting place as well as a place to buy things, people will frequent your location for reasons other than buying stuff. But that makes your location a more likely place to buy when they decide to.

But a social business isn’t just one which fans the flames of external social connections. It’s also one that creates a similar environment internally. How popular is your company’s cafeteria? How much of that popularity has to do with the food? Probably not much. It probably has to do more with the company you keep while you’re eating there.

Incorporating social media into your business doesn’t always mean you need to turn to software or the Internet. Sometimes you just have to tear down the cubicle walls that stand between your employees. Employee lounges or commons areas that are used for informal meetings make a business more social as well.

To help you find ways to make your business more social, find answers to these questions and you’ll start to see the shape taking hold:

  1. Is there something I can do about our location to make it fun or interesting for people to just hang out there?
  2. Can I provide something for my customers than they can share with their friends?
  3. Are there people in my business that are natural conversationalists and social butterflies? Can I put them in constant contact with our customers?
  4. Am I standing in the way of letting my employees enjoy each other’s company? What can I do to put them together in interesting and fun environments?

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? What can businesses, large and small, do to become more social? The comments are yours.

IMAGE: Copyright Zsolt Nyulaszi from Shutterstock.com. Used with permission.

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