For a couple of years now there’s been a debate, led by the likes of Stowe Boyd and Andrew McAfee, which has focused on the distinction between “social business” and “Enterprise 2.0”.

The discussion has inevitably been skewed to the technology side of things. But as Stowe (and any other social media consultant worth their salt) will tell you, social business is, first and foremost, about people.

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while now but keep getting sidetracked. The question banging on in my mind has been: how does the “social enterprise” fit in to all of this?

Last Monday night, there I was again sitting in an audience (this time at the RSA, during the latest in their fabulous free lecture series), listening to yet another speaker bang on about “social business” but not meaning anything at all, no, not in the slightest bit, related to software.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Because over on this side of the debate, we have a completely different definition of social business:

A cause-driven business.” (Muhammad Yunus)

“A non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective.” (Wikipedia)

“A business that integrates two objectives: a commercial objective – to achieve and increase profits and realise growth (like any traditional business) and a social (and ethical and environmental) objective.” (ClearlySo)

On his blog, Andrew McAfee argued that the likes of Douglas McGregor and Chris Argyris have been proposing “social business” for decades. I’d say the wheel has come full circle.

Through new 21st century social tools, we now have the ability to realise the 20th century vision of a truly social organisation, one that puts people at the centre of everything it does. In the C21st (with all that we now know), we would be foolhardy not to appreciate that ethical and environmental concerns lie at the very heart of any people-centric approach.

This is the basis of a broadbrush, holistic definition of social business I think we desperately need.

Say hello to social or wave goodbye to top talent

Photo: Matt Burns


Jemima Gibbons
Jemima Gibbons

Social media consultant and author of Monkeys with Typewriters (featured by BBC Radio 5 and the London Evening Standard). Get your social marketing up and running with my Social Media Launch Pack!

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