What Comes After Social Business?

esteban kolsky principal, thinkjar

Posted on May 17th 2010

What Comes After Social Business?


I wrote before about social business (three posts here exclusively— 1, 2, 3), I even defined it (at a very high level) as the convergence of internal collaboration tools under the name of Enterprise 2.0 and external customer interactions, under the name of SCRM.  It is supposed to be about bringing customers and organizations together to co-create better experiences.  It is supposed to change the social experience — both for the customer and the business.  It is the holy grail of Social X today.

There were others who wrote about it, some of them I agree with, some of them I think are not deep enough (won't name names, but feel free to Google it).  It is the next step in our evolution brought about by the latest generational shift.

I like to think and build with a long-term purpose.  The question that I keep coming up with is “What comes after social business?”

The idea behind social business of bringing internal collaboration together with external interactions has one major flaw — it attempts to integrate an action (collaboration) with information (data) as if they were equal.  It does not do what is truly needed: create open communities where customers and organizations can co-create.  The idea that just by analyzing the data from the interactions and bringing those insights into the organization to collaborate into creating better processes is all that customers want is both interesting and wrong (well, semi-wrong, it is right as the first aim for Social CRM — but not in the long-term).  

Thierry de Baillon wrote recently a post on Social Learning endorsing this view, and I commented (just take 2-3 minutes and go read it, it is a very good post) to the effect that Social Learning is incomplete because it transforms social into the old one-way communication where the company takes and the customer does not receive an equal amount.  In other words, there is a missing win-win situation.

The concept of simply analyzing data is interesting because it gives customers the sense that they are contributing to improving products and services.  Why, it tells them that things could not get done without their input.  Customers want to know that, they want to feel useful in charting the direction of the business and its products.  The concept of “closing the loop” (telling customers how their input is going to be used, use it, telling them how it was used) is core to feedback management and the only method that ensures high customer response rates and high engagement rates.

At the same time, it is wrong, because still leaves the control with the organization, not with the customer.  The generational shift we are experiencing now gives the social customer the power to control the conversation (not ownership, control).  That control manifests itself in the way of dictating terms and methods for interactions.  Support communities are a prime example: I don't want the company to tell me what to do, I want my peers to tell me what to do — I trust my peers, not the company.  Social marketing is another example: the organization can only market to me where I want, and how I chose to be marketed to — it is only going to happen on my terms.

The model we are using now for social business (we will collect your feedback, bring it into the organization and work on it, let you know how it goes) embodies the “closing the loop” model — but not the customer-is-in-control-of-the-conversation model.  It is not a true new conversation model; it is a half-way changed model where the organization remains in control, while giving the illusion to customers of being contributors to their destiny.  To be fair, in a sense they are — but only limited to a one-time contribution, followed by another one-time contribution (maybe) after the first one is implemented, and so forth.  This perpetuation of the traditional model of feedback is not what customers want, expect, or need.  They need to be brought into the organization, to fully collaborate throughout the process — not just at the beginning. 

Mea Culpa, there is a three-layers-of-feedback model (that is, more than one now and one later — maybe) in my Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences — but even that is limited.

How do we solve this problem going forward?

We need to create freestanding platforms for communities that can be shared inside and outside of the organization, that have modules (such as analytical engines) that can discern the value from the noise, and that has as the only purpose a free sharing of knowledge contributed from both sides.  It has to be a platform for joint-decision making that encourages all members to contribute and create a solution to the task at hand.  In other words, a platform for collaboration that spreads

This is the next model for Social Business. 

What do we want to call it?

Let's agree that the model is what is interesting, not the name.  Frankly, I'd call it Sally and get it over with, but most Sallies would be offended, and we would not easily know what we are talking about if we use that simple name.

In spite of having many meanings (Google dates the first use of the term to 1678, maybe Charles Babbage invented the programmable computer to create a technology solution to the first enterprise strategy; CRM was not the first technology to assume the role of a strategy), I like the term and the concept of collaborative enterprise.  It has been around the modern world since the 1950s (why, it was the precursor to the Enterprise 2.0 movement — the real, not the one about collaboration tools only) and it reflects the idea that an enterprise can only grow by being truly collaborative. 

There are two caveats: First, the previous book on “The Collaborative Enterprise” missed out on including the customer in the collaboration (it was mostly focused on how to share knowledge in internal communities to be more dynamic and flexible as a business).  Second, there is a vendor (nGenera — a client of mine) who is using the term to describe their product, essentially naming their technology after a soon-to-be enterprise strategy.  

On the other hand, there are others (as Sameer Patel from Sovos did in this wonderful post) working on the same concept, albeit not yet using the same name.

May be we can call it Collaborative Enterprise 2.0 (CE2)?

Just kidding

What do you think?  Is Collaborative enterprise a good term? Can we rescue Enterprise 2.0 from its current technology-only inclination and make it be what it was supposed to be? Can we bring SCRM insights into the organization in a win-win situation?

Can we build a social business on the way to become a collaborative enterprise?


esteban kolsky

principal, thinkjar

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Hi Esteban,

I did a piece about Social Learning and Customer Engagement back in December that you might want to look at again - basically arguing that Social Learning can lead to better qualified innovation and customer advocacy by levelling the playing field.

To add my two cents, I think the word 'customers' is too imprecise; customers want this, customers want that...I'd see that some customers would be interested in collaborating with a company to co-create innovative offerings, some customers would want to participate in a community, some want to rant on Twitter, some want to write blogs about you. Most will just want to have a frictionless interaction experience and just enjoy the 'value-in-use' that you can provide them, and most will just look at how you deal with those that do want to collaborate with you to shape their opinion.

Basically, you need to deal with some to influence how you are perceived by most and your Social business model should take this into account.




Great comment, and I agree with you.  There are many different groups of customers, not all of them want to be engaged in collaborative activities.  Just like today, not everyone will want to be engaged in collaboration in the future.

However, my proposal is to let those who do want to be engaged do so in a better setup.  Using the free-standing, un-associated communities will bring a lot more value from truer statements than potentially surveying the same people in structured models.

Thanks for the great comment (and the reminder of your great post)!

I agree with you that taking feedback from customers and then disappearing behind the curtain to work on it is pretty much web 1.0 and is not collaborative at all. "Hi, give us suggestions, and we may or may not use it, but we will never tell you what and why we used." This doesn't really work for the Social Customer, who needs to feel more in charge. This is why I like platforms like User Voice, which allow each customer (or non-customer - collecting feedback from them is just as important BTW) to contribute an  idea, enabling the whole community to vote on this idea. This community-based meritocracy helps bubble up the best ideas, which are then communicated by the community manager (ideally) to the product team. The great thing is that it puts the product team, community manager, idea generator and idea voters on the same page, literally. For each idea, the community manager / product person updates the stage of integrating this idea: is it being considered? is it planned for implementation? or was it rejected? and why? 

I do like your vision of an analytical engine that can discern value from noise. I think velocity of adoption of the idea by other community members (via voting) is one measure of "value", as well as the proposer's influence in that space, taken from external platforms (Klout score?).  Another metric to consider is that person's track record of having great ideas that were voted highly within that community and other communities.


- Maria
@themaria @attensity360

Very interesting point you bring out -- segmenting and dealing with customers based on their value (which I agree).  I think that this would be very laudable, but not sure if companies are ready to "discriminate" against groups of customers based on the value they bring (not to mention the countless critics that would scream how anti-social that is).

I support the segmenting aspect of what you advocate, but I am not sure of the other part.  i would say that given technology today, we should be able to find a way to listen to all -- and prioritize the feedback.

Did I understand you correctly?


I thought you might like that :) Sally it is!  Let's find more people and start the movement to call it Sally!  

In all honesty, collaboration is going through a similar problem today as knowledge management did before -- how to reconcile past attempts at doing it poorly with a present need and desire to do it right?  There is a way, as KM has shown, to leave the bad habits behind and focus on what works -- show the highlight the results, continuously, and slowly see the change.


I would have never guessed that using analytics would appeal to you -- honestly!

Glad you brought the issue of reputation and influence to bear, those are great things to consider and discuss when talking about collaboration.  Critical elements for the complete solution.

I am not so sure of the voting you propose -- mostly because voting can be "influenced" by bad-intentioned customers.  We see this on reality television games, alliances and partnerships break down the process of fairness brought about (supposedly) by single voting.  I am not a big fan of voting, but there is something to what you are saying I am sure that we can improve and rely on.

Thanks all for the comments!
Interesting topic but I think most companies aren't anywhere near the levels "we" want them to be for E2.0 and SCRM much less talk about what goes beyond that for them.  I'm trying to imagine what an actual scenario would look like in how the customers actually control an aspect of the business.  Many companies are very good at what they do and what you're suggesting sounds a bit like the populous wins? 

I'd be curious to hear what a conceptual use case for this can look like. 

I definitely agree that there is an extra layer of collaboration between internal and meaning it's not as free form and back and forth as we would like it to be.  There is a bit of a latency affect.  Sounds like this is an issue of visibility, what can the customer see?  At the end of the day though aren't well executed advocacy programs supposed to act in this way?  I know for example that Comcast does bring in loyal customers behind the firewall on many discussions and brainstorm sessions that deal with product and support issues. 


Agree on most of what you are saying: collaboration is what collaboration does (to quote an infamous movie line).  I like your three phase approach, and I am guessing that SCRM and E2.0 (when well implemented -- as well as Social Business as we understand it today) is in Phase 3 since they are tranformational to the business.  I agree that it takes time to get there, but that does not discount having a model, a vision present while working towards it.

I am somewhat leary of 2.0 terms, but I agree with the concept of convergence you describe.  After all, the SCRM "movement" started as CRM 2.0 then switched to SCRM with the emergence of the Social evolution (which is why I am somewhat reticent to declare a 2.0 term).

Looking forward to reading more about what you write, and what you are doing at Cisco.


"We" (I am assuming you are referring to the royal We here) don't want them to be anywhere.  Each organization crafts their own path to where they need to go.  Knowing what goes beyond their current setup is what allows them to craft a more or less interesting path.  Most high-level executives craft fairly detailed and long-term visions, but execute them in the present environment -- having a collaborative enterprise model to look at is not a bad thing to have.

When I was at Gartner, working with Michael Maoz, in 2001-2003 we crafted the models for Social Service and Collaborative Service-- both of which our clients were very thankful to have as a long-term vision. Very few of them implemented them back in those days (we wrote maybe 2-3 case studies total), and a handful of later adopters ignored them completely.  But some of the companies that we cite today as case studies did adopt the models for their long-term vision.

Yes, there are companies today that are working on this model already, and that is why it is important to start shaping it now.  Long-term scenario planning requires long-term vision, and that is what (if you refer back to my post) I was aiming for.  

Only time will tell if I was successful -- or not.  Either way, if it helps plan the way for a long-term vision -- works for me!

Thanks both for the read and the comments!