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Don’t “get social,” get people-centric

by EphraimJF on March 11th, 2011

Within the shell of a nut: “Social” software simply brings people to the forefront and better fits with how real people work together. A business that succeeds with social software is simply one that puts people first. “Social business” is just good people-centric business, but the term misses the deeper shift in business.

“Social” just means “people  interacting”

If you pay attention to the internet then you know that “social media” and “social software” are a big deal. Companies are incorporating social software into their computer networks as quickly as you can say “what’s Foursquare?” But the public conversation about “social business” could use some clarity and simplification.

The term “social software” simply came into being because beforehand all software was fundamentally un-social. It’s a term born from contrast to its predecessor, in a specific context. The term “social” shouldn’t be used willy nilly to redefine business practices.

“Social” simply means “people interacting with each other” (see a simple definition of “social media”). Social software introduced the idea that people could interact with each other fluidly through software. Instead of a person relating to the software itself, social software lets people relate to each other, with the software playing a mediating or facilitating role. Different types of social software facilitate different types of interactions.

So, “social enterprise software” is really just software that puts people and their work together at the forefront. The software interface is no longer simply facilitating interaction between a person and the database, but is instead facilitating an interaction between people.

“Social business” simply is people-centered

So, if social software is simply people-centric software, then what is “social business?”

It’s people-centric business. That’s all we’re talking about here.

  • How do you run a business in a way that facilitates the success of real people working with each other?
  • How do you manage your business to get the most out of people’s work together?
  • How do you gear your business strategy around the needs of customers and the requirements of employees?
  • How do you design business systems to accommodate the real-world activities of workers and customers?

“Social” as a term applies well enough to software – let’s keep using that term. But “social business” feels awkward and like a fad.

“Social media” gives voice & platform to average Raheems*

A fundamental principle of the people-centric business is the assumption that people are important. Critical knowledge and innovative insights may lie in the mind of any average employee or customer, not just those of senior executives. To tap this knowledge and potential, a company must respect employees & customers, listen to them and engage them in dialogue.

“Social media” does this. Within a company it gives every employee a voice and an opportunity to use it. In communicating externally, social media gives customers a voice and transforms traditional marketing into conversations.

“Social business” misses the deeper shift

Today, many businesses succeed or fail based on their use of intellectual capital. What you know and how you use your knowledge define success. Innovation comes from creativity, thinking beyond the normal confines of a problem, making connections between seemingly disconnected concepts. Ideas spread through networks, not hierarchies. New ideas come from collaborative thinking, not command-and-control management. Success comes from your people, not from your repeatable business processes.

This is why people-centered business is becoming so important. In order to succeed, you must deeply respect your people and design systems that let people work together well.

Social software helps build connections, helps people collaborate smoothly and helps ideas and knowledge flow through evolving human networks rather than rigid hierarchies. But the software alone doesn’t solve the problem. You still need good people processes, good people management.

Calling this “social business” misses the mark, the deeper pith of the shift in how we must do business.


*Yes, this is a reference to the character “Radio Raheem” from Spike Lee’s joint Do the Right Thing.

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