As popular as the term "social business" is in the industry today, there are still significant gaps in clarity about what it actually means.  Case in point:  Social Business, as defined by Wikipedia, is a:

... non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective within the highly regulated marketplace of today ...

This article is about a business with a social objective. For organization designed around social tools, social media, and social networks, see Social media.

Strange. In my life, I can hardly remember looking for something on Wikipedia and not finding it.  My hard copy 1984 World Book encyclopedia, that's  a different story.  Granted, it points me to "social media." which I feel covers aspects of "social business," but is in my opinion, nowhere near comprehensive.  So I started to think, the problem has to be one of two scenarios:

  1. My definition of "social business" does not exist, is made-up, or may even be imaginary. (Yet Bigfoot and Bunyip appear to make the cut?  Note: Check CraigsList for pet griffin), or ...
  2. Wikipedia needs a correction, and I should finally sign up and share my 2.5 cents.

So before I get too carried away, I felt compelled to share my take on "social business."  To do so, I have assembled an evolutionary framework that illustrates how "social business" and perhaps "social media" can have such varied interpretations.  Goal:  To better articulate the "social business" landscape for companies looking to define/refine social adoption.


Social Business Evolution Portfolio
Display social business evolutionary progress.

10 Stages of Social Business Evolution


  1. Self Enablement
    Productivity driven by "the one"
  2. Team Enablement
    Productivity driven by "the few"
  3. Social Intranet
    Productivity available to "the many"
  4. Ubiquitous Access
    Productivity "anywhere" and "any time"
  5. Customer Engagement
    Integrated productivity and coordination with Customers
  6. Partner Enablement
    Integrated productivity and coordination with Partners
  7. Hybrid Enablement
    Integrated team productivity across Employees, Customers, and Partners
  8. Enterprise Enablement
    Integrated productivity and coordination with foundational Enterprise Systems
  9. Social Awareness
    Monitoring en masse, reacting in time, and engaging relevantly at scale
  10. Social Process Management
    Established social indicators driving foundational business processes (*see below)


In social business, much like evolution, few paths or destinations are identical. This is in part due to unique business models, but more so to the fact that social business evolution is not always linear. In many cases there are logical progressions, such as: Self Enablement to Team Enablement to Social Intranet; however, there are multiple points of entry for social business, and each journey can be influenced by numerous factors, such as industry exposure, business need, and/or available resources. Still, some of these "stages" may not even be relevant to a company, thus creating yet another permutation. The result? A Darwinian marketplace filled with varied perceptions and realities of social business sophistication and status. And of course, a link on Wikipedia that started this article.


What stage(s) are you most interested in?

What stage(s) are you currently adopting?

Did this help YOUR perception of "social business"? Perhaps influence your definition? 

    If so, you may find the Social Business Evolution Portfolio (above) helpful in not only visualizing your destination, but also communicating progress to stakeholders.

     Note:  If you like this evolutionary framework, I have attached a worksheet pre-configured to generate this chart.

Most important: Should I sign-up for Wikipedia and share my thoughts? =)


* Beyond the organic lessons learned in the previous 9 stages, "Social Process Management"  involves the onset of social data analytics, establishing key performance indicators (KPI), and instrumenting an organization to react (if needed).  For example, much like the way the federal funds rate and prime rate influence credit card rates, Social Process Management would look to KPIs for proven correlations and automate behaviors and process to ensure timely and appropriate reaction.  Practical applications can range dramatically between portfolios; however, here are some common themes I have already seen in primitive form:

  • Monitoring trends of key social topics for competitor footprint, and publishing ready-made content into social channels to reclaim the conversation. (a.k.a. low-touch newsjacking)
  • Monitoring aggregate conversation sentiment in external channels regarding products, and initiating conversation of product owner(s), management, and engineering on the social intranet to formulate a timely and relevant response.
  • Monitoring aggregate conversation sentiment in external channels to time releases of product promotions and corresponding marketing efforts

This is the primary reason Social Process Management is the last stage of Social Business evolution, as it should be based off actual results from your social business portfolio, not a hypothetical one.

** Productivity (as used in this post) infers enabling efficient execution of efforts that promote or add "positive value" to the business.