Going forward, a key characteristic for successful business formation and development will be how a company flips over the sign on the door and shows itself to be open for social business.
The cacophony of social media chatter gets louder by the second. Facebook now has more than 300 million users, up from 250 million in July 2009. Over 73% of the internet population worldwide use social media according to comScore (June, 2009).
Many companies hear this noise and have some sort of presence in social networks and continue to add applications and content for brand followers. Automotive manufacturer Kia has an energized Facebook community for its Soul model with over 14,000 followers full of exciting content such as an augmented reality game that builds on the brand's advertising campaign.
A shorter list of companies graduates from social media hobbyist to true social marketer. These businesses use social technologies to monitor what people are writing and doing online, track and build relationships with key blog influencers and websites in the company's particular area of expertise and use micro-blogging platforms like Twitter to answer customer questions and intercept those who have bad brand experiences with relationship building offers. Social media becomes the organic tissue for these companies strung throughout the customer experience pathway.
And then there are those that see it like a neon sign in a local store window, OPEN...for social business. Groups of entrepreneurs and seasoned business professionals alike realize that social media offers more than personal engagement and community connection, more than powerful customer insight and relationship management. Social media offers up a transformational set of technologies and communications devices that beg us all to invent new and re-invent existing business models.
There are degrees of social business openness for companies.
Some declare themselves open to ideas such as Dell and Starbucks. Dell's IdeaStorm website tags itself as the place, "where your ideas reign." Starbuck's MyStarbucksIdea site is the destination where one can share, vote, discuss and see customer ideas for the company. Both sites act as forums for individuals to submit, rank and have ideas selected and produced by the host company. The Strawberry Banana Vivanno Smoothie is an example of consumer taste buds being heard and Starbuck's concocting a new drink. There is a running mantra in companies that great ideas can come from anywhere and these socially open businesses are taking that construct to the next level.
Others open access to management. Best Buy's CMO Barry Judge shares his thoughts, addresses customer ideas, involves customers on business activities and informs on company happenings of note on his blog www.barryjudge.com. One recent action of note was Judge's choice this past summer to invite his blog readers to participate in writing the job description for the Senior Manager, Emerging Media Marketing post. Socially open leaders are willing to be led and advised on the best solutions and the right path to take. Before it was CEO knows best, and now it's let's listen to my employees, listen to my customer, my detractors and my fans. In such a model, managers act as powerful filters of concepts, instead of innovation agents themselves.
Certain companies go even further and open channels both internally and externally to all employees. Microsoft's relaxed stance toward employee blogging continues to give the company a progressive voice in the tech community. Upstart businesses like Zappos.com take it one step further. Zappos approve and support Twittering and employee posts are shown on the company website. Brian Kalma, Director of User Experience @Zappos, wrote in a recent presentation, "Your goal should be to have as many people as possible be public voices of The Company. Scary? If you answered yes, you don't have the right people." Best Buy actively involves its employees through Blue Shirt Nation, an online workplace community that allows staff members to be connected to each other and to cooperate to share ideas, answer one another's questions and participate in other company developments. Involving employees and allowing them to participate and share thoughts outside of their day to day roles fosters a culture of inclusion that reduces staff turnover and brings to light great thinking.
And finally there are the companies that are breaking down business models by opening themselves up to social media. Great examples of these innovators are fashion sites like Threadless and Exuve who sell clothes designed and voted on by crowds. Such sites challenge the private world of fashion and show the power that social media can have in re-inventing a category.
Social business requires transparency, inclusion of consumers and employees and a mindset that the possibilities for considering new ways of bringing elements together are endless. The winners in the social business world are the ones that embrace these characteristics and harness them. There are reasons why companies remain closed and shut off from social media but even the most locked up companies will begrudgingly crack a door as they realize that being social is the only way to stay open for business.