Social Trends in 2014: Will we start to see the rise (and fall) of the social business guru?

social-business-guru

The post below was first published in May 2013. Fast-forward to December 2013 and I’ve subtly turned this post into a prediction about how social may evolve in 2014.

With many consultants and companies now starting to master social media, the need for expertise in providing “social media 101″ is starting to fade in some areas.

During 2013, social business has been spoken of by many (including myself) as the next phase for social media.

Will then 2014 mark the morphing of these original “social media consultants” into “social business consultants”?

My view is that while you can bluff your way into selling time to companies to advise them about social media, social business requires a very different of skills, and experience.

Since joining IBM as Global Partner for Social Business in October, I have seen first hand the challenges facing companies around the world when it comes to social.

The larger the company, the more important it is to them that their social initiatives are tightly integrated into the rest of the company, and are not pushed into a corner, as a stand-alone unit.

The social business gurus simply don’t have experience needed when it comes to the C-Suite as I argue in the rest of this post.

The original impetus for this post was an event I attended in London in March 2013 sponsored by Microsoft “Social Media – one tool amongst many”.

There was naturally a stellar line-up of speakers including Catriona Oldershaw, Alan Patrick, Abigail Harrison and Philip Sheldrake.

The title of the event was somewhat obscure, as the event was really about social business.

Chaired by Dave Coplin, the debate kicked off with an attempt to define what we mean when we use the phrase social business. Each panelist had a slightly different take on the concept which provided a fascinating exchange of views, but a common agreement that social business was here to stay and something that would become increasingly important.

A recurring theme throughout was the need to move beyond treating social business as merely another phrase for social media and instead exploring what it meant for business, employees and customers.

One comment from Philip Sheldrake really stuck with me.

Glancing around the room (the event was held at “Bounce” – the home of Ping Pong), Philip remarked that the audience of 40 or so people could resemble a meeting in 2001 about blogging.

His point was that with social business, we are at the beginning of a new journey.

As I was leaving the meeting, I reflected on this comment.

Having been playing with bulletin boards in 1983, websites in 1994 and social media since 2004, I could totally understand what Philip meant.

Lately I have heard the phrase “social business” mentioned more often.

What worries me though, and the thrust of this piece is that those “social media gurus” (and yes we all know the sort of person we are talking about) will transform overnight into a “social business guru”, and start to provide “advice” on social business without actually knowing what they are talking about.

In a way, I have been waiting for the market to evolve to be ready for social business for my entire career.

As my Twitter bio states, I am “Part strategy, part business, part technology, 100% digital”.

My engineering-marketing hybrid training and experience, coupled with experience in actually running companies, as well as working inside large organisations means that I know first-hand how really hard it is for companies to change culture.

Sadly, Social media has never really got past the marketing department for most companies.

I also don’t see or hear many social media “gurus” presenting at board meetings – they never get that far because the C-suite still don’t see the deep business value of social media.

Don’t take my word for it, a recent Altimeter study on social business found that

1. Two Thirds of the companies surveyed were active in social with no real link to business goals

2. Only 52% of companies surveyed agreed with the statement, “Top executives are informed, engaged, and aligned with our social strategy.”

One survey respondent was heard to say “Many of our board members and executive leaders aren’t even on Facebook, so social media is foreign to them.”

If social business is to be successful, initiatives need to be developed, and pitched to the C-suite with compelling evidence that they will directly meet the company’s objectives.

My view is that a “guru” is probably not experienced enough, or has the ability to win over a board of directors to social business.

The new breed of social business practitioners will need have a much broader set of skills and experience than a social media guru.

I tested my hypothesis on a number of my peers this week, and we ended up with a simple test.

Would the person charged will selling in the social business strategy ever get to present to the board? Has the person charged with driving social business initiatives ever met the CEO?

This sounds like a tough test, however if, as I strongly believe that social business will absolutely allow companies to leapfrog their competitors (see a Capgemini study proving this), then a social business strategy demands the attention of the board.

This will leave the social media gurus free to keep suggesting to the Marketing Director that they “just need to get more likes with an integrated real-time social media strategy to drive engagement and drive impressions”.

As an aside, the day of the event, Philip launched an excellent book on social business called “Attenzi – a social business story”. You can read my review as well as watch an interview with Philip, where we also explore the issue of social business gurus.

What do you think?

Am I being too tough on the gurus?

Let me know what you think in your comments below.

If you enjoyed this blog post you may like other related posts listed below under You may also like ...

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About 

Based in London, Andrew is an internationally renowned thought leader in the field of social business and social media networks. Andrew is a Global Partner with IBM, with a focus on Social Business.



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  • http://chrismwoods.com/ Chris Woods

    Maybe if social media managers and consultants focus less on being a ‘guru’ and more on their business (or client) they’ll be ready for the transition from social media to social business. My response to Andrew’s thoughtful blog, here: http://chrismwoods.tumblr.com/post/50650188928/social-media-ready-for-social-business

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  • Eddie Prentice

    “Social” Business is an unfortunate moniker for what is going on here. It focuses on the “social” and all the connotations that go with it. That in itself attracts the social media types who really have no understanding of the broader organizational challenges and cultural issues that need to be addressed. It is one thing being competent in the use of social media tools. It is quite another being qualified to manage a corporate change programme. The former without the latter will leave us with a succession of failed “Social Business” case studies as momentum gathers. The focus needs to be more on the benefits of evolving in to a more “open” business rather than building a “social” business.

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  • http://londoncalling.co/ Andrew Grill

    Eddie, it is a fine line. On one hand we need something to brand what “it” is, and on the other hand don’t want to attract the “social media gurus” into this space.

    As I mentioned in the article, I think many of the C-Suite will be smart enough not to admit those who cannot speak the language of the business and the C-suite.

    My experience in my short 3 months with IBM is that they look to large companies who have invested in the social business space for advice and support. This is one of the main reasons I joined IBM.

  • Eddie Prentice

    Yes Andrew I understand the generic branding need but the issue now is the plethora of vendors who are now making a market with pay as you go cloud solutions. Clients will fail to get value from this without qualified advice. Hence every conversation I am having on this starts with “this is not social media for business, it’s not quite as simple as that”. A bit of a sweeping generalisation but there is an intuitive understanding from the under 30′s of how this should work. However, without proper guidance and incentive structures in place many enterprises will fail to see the value. With movement to the cloud and SaaS based pricing models (i.e. move from high capex to pay as you go and minimal penalties for termination), it’s very easy to see lack of engagement and no measurable ROI being followed by adandonment of the tools. This has already happened. Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of what you’re doing, I just want the message to get through that this is a strategic investment, that there are no quick fix solutions. I sometimes feel that the “social” in Social Business gets in the way of that.

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  • Damian Corbet

    “Tough on gurus; tough on the causes of gurus”.

    While not a board member myself, I’ve spend a lot of time looking at how to make social media relevant to execs in my company. They need some convincing; in fact they need to be scared in fact to make them sit up and listen
    The approach I’ve taken is rather uncompromising, which is that we’re now entering a new phase in personal and business relationships, a phase where social interactions are becoming an integral part of who we are as a species. We’re becoming, in effect, ‘social animals’. If this is the case, then the logical conclusion is that companies 9and their leaders) need to understand what’s happening and adjust – quickly. I even use the word ‘Zeitgeist’ – perhaps to my detriment.
    While many of the execs I’ve spoken understand that it’s ‘important’ in vague way, they still see social media through the eyes of their kids (usually Facebook) and see inane chat and photo sharing. They think that is all social media is about. It’s getting them to make the connection between what their kids are doing and society as a whole. Their children – and all the other children and young people around the world – for whom social media is an integral part of their lives – are the next generation of customers, employees and, more importantly, board members.
    I also stressed that while the execs don’t necessarily need to actively engage on social networks themselves, they do need to understand the significance of the social sphere and how it needs to be embraced – not shied away from.
    People like Walter Adamson (@adamson) and Fay Feeney (@fayfeeney) do a lot of interesting work in this area.

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  • Guest

    I tend to think social business is more about why we are in business. Social media is just a tool to help with that.

  • http://themyndset.com/ Minter Dial

    One of the big challenges is that “social media gurus” often don’t have business acumen or experience in business. That is also true of many consultants in general. On the other hand, these “external” voices often get listened to in ways that are different from internal people, who come with often unrelated, if unwanted, baggage.

  • http://themyndset.com/ Minter Dial

    I tend to think social business is more about why we are in business. Social media is just a tool to help with that.

  • http://themyndset.com/ Minter Dial

    One of the fascinating issues when bringing social media up a level in an organization is the realization that it can impact many parts of the business. I think that “gurus” will always serve a purpose, such as bringing inspiration from other sectors, helping people to think differently. As for the action and effective change management, no amount of gurus will ever make that happen! Change happens when management believes why. Change happens through actions. Talk is cheap, even if it can when done well move spirits. I believe that gurus who have carved out a specialized niche will probably garner stronger attention in the coming years.