Since social networking first made its debut, the number of consumer oriented web sites has grown exponentially: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Flickr just to name a few, followed by some lesser known ones such as Bebo, Friendster and Pinterest.  For some of these, the value to a business is clear: most human resources organizations already make significant use of LinkedIn for identifying potential candidates, and conduct initial screenings of individuals; services such as Monster and Dice have had their entire business marginalized, as the ability to easily manage your resume and make it publicly available has dramatically shifted the power to the end user/consumer.  The question remains in many executive’s minds, however: how can I take this same concept and apply it to operations WITHIN my organization?  How can I make my company a “social business”?  And what does that actually mean, and why would I want to do it?

The challenge almost begins with the definition itself.  How can we define something discreetly when the very nature of it seems to be changing so quickly?  As soon as we become comfortable with one set of social networking sites and seem to “get it”, a whole new set arrives on the scene and changes the game again, taking consumers in directions they hadn’t considered before.  So when we’re already challenged to take the concepts from the consumer space to the enterprise, having the consumer space itself still so dynamic and fluid makes it that much more difficult.

Nonetheless, let’s begin with what has become a somewhat shared and common understanding in the marketplace.  A “social business” is one that truly understands and can capitalize on the value of its most important asset…….its people.  This is nothing shattering…businesses have long known that companies who succeed are those with the strongest people throughout the organization.  What HAS changed is how companies leverage it.  A social business is one that recognizes the human asset, and both embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout the organization.

People, by their very nature, are social…and so it seems a natural extension to support that in business, to the point where business value starts to accrue.  An individual’s skills and experiences should be more than data sitting in the HR system; it should help define who that person is, with their “profile” being accessible by others who may better leverage their participation on a project.  Individuals with common interests may accrue value in forming common “communities” where ideas are shared openly.  All of this information is maintained with sense of openness, though managed through a strict set of moderation and governance policies to ensure compliance and security measurements are met.

These are just a couple examples of what it might mean to become a “social business”.  Rather than just having the company get a Twitter handle and a Facebook page, which are fine for participating in the social media realm, organizations should look at how to fundamentally change the very nature of how their people interact with each other and extend their value.