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February 1, 2013

Social business still not understood: Q&A with Microsoft

CBR talked with Dave Coplin, head of envisioning at Microsoft, about how social technologies are changing business and what organisations can do to adapt.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Dave Coplin
Dave Coplin, head of envisioning at Microsoft

Why is the concept of "social business" often misunderstood?

What’s really interesting is we live in a world where social media has been around long enough that pretty much everyone gets it. You can be anywhere in the UK and most people will know what Twitter and Facebook is – yet we’re still having a debate with businesses about how they can use those platforms better to engage with their customers. What they don’t talk about is cultural change. When you communicate on social media you pretty much collaborate in a way that’s different from any way you’ve collaborated before. It changes the potential of what you can do. I think that’s the challenge today; to get people to focus not just on the tools and platforms but to focus on the cultural change of what that collaboration means to them.

How do you think social technology is changing business?

It’s changing business in a number of ways. One is its obviously moving some barriers which is just brilliant. People are not only engaged with their organisations in a different way, they’re engaging with their customers and seeing things differently. I certainly think that leads to a very different style of work for employees. When they realise and see how close they are to the front line it changes their view about the products they make, the services they provide people and the organisation they work for. There’s also something really subtle about the different collaboration style. When you collaborate on social media, typically your default is to be more open and share stuff – that’s why you’re there. When you join an organisation that collaboration culture is more about being closed- which is completely opposed to what social media is. Yet, when you do share the data across those boundaries wonderful things start to happen and so I think those two things are changing businesses most significantly.

How can businesses know if they are successfully becoming a "social" business?

I think people are successful in doing this when they focus on the people and process. I think they’re less successful when they focus on the tools and technology. I get that it’s weird that a person from Microsoft would say "don’t focus on technology". However, if you don’t have the people and process right, then the technology is more or less irrelevant. What is really important is how you empower your people to communicate and collaborate. After that then you can think about what’s the best technology to put in place.

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How does transparency fit into running a social business?

Transparency is kind of everything – you cannot do social and not be transparent about what you do. If you are and then get found out your reputation will disappear. If you can afford to be transparent about who you are, what you do and they way you go about your business that puts you in a brilliant position in social. Social is a real lever in that it’s a very human connection. Transparency is the hallmark of success, the more transparent you are the better you can be at how you leverage social in your business.

What would you say is the main thing that separates social business from social media?

Social media is a means for communication whereas social business is a different way of working. I know it’s subtle, but I can do the same things and be the same business I always was and communicate differently with my customer – which misses the point of what social business is. Whereas a truly social business I can fundamentally change what I do as an organisation. I can change my processes and completely change how we operate. I think that’s the potential of social business – if we keep deflecting back into social media we will miss the massive prize that sits in social business.

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