“Even though we’re operating with the best of intentions in social media, we are still operating from silos. The customer however, does not see silos, they see the company as one.” – Brian Solis, The End of Business as Usual.

Social Business graphic

credit - socialware.com

I have only been active on popular social media sites like facebook and twitter the last year or so and much of what I have read about how organizations use social media in that time revolves around marketing, communicating and engaging with customers, those external to organizations. However, in the last few months, I have noticed more mentions of social business, which Michael Brito describes as “any company that has integrated and operationalized social media within every job function (and process) internally.” IBM describes social business as “one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.” Several companies have already embraced this concept per this report Research Summary: Introducing The 43 Use Cases For Social Business (Social Enterprise) by Constellation Org. Advocates of social business including Mr. Brito, Mr. Owyang, Mr. Solis and Mr Bradley/Mr MacDonald all emphasize the following points in some form: 1) social business goes beyond technology, it involves people, processes and culture 2) embracing the power of collective wisdom from internal employees and customers and 3) holistic approach – no single unit owns social efforts and customer service belongs to everyone in the organization.

As a university employee working in the field of student affairs, I find the value in examining how the concept of social business can be applied in our profession including the following:

1) How can we provide better student experience via improved student interaction/support using collaboration and communication tools/processes?

  • For example, in serving incoming international students who have yet to arrive on campus and online students, how can we provide them advising via virtual one-on-one sessions or group sessions involving multiple departments?
  • In providing student service, wouldn’t it be nice for a staff to have real-time access to others in the university via instant messaging and/or video conferencing for questions students may have that are outside of their areas of expertise?
  • Understanding student needs is an important part of providing a good customer service. How can we use social media to have dialogues with students or just to “listen” to what their issues are?

2) How can we use social media to promote a learning organization?

  • Every individual working in student affairs, including student staff has some idea to contribute. As an organization, how can we use social media to encourage individuals within our organization to share their ideas and what tools can we use to promote these ideas? Hierarchical organizational models sometime inhibit flow of information by limiting input from only those in higher positions and may not be representative of the organization as a whole. As a manager, I find great value in the new ideas introduced by staff new to our organization and that are more in touch with the current use of technologies. Wikis and blogs are just two of the tools that “democratize” flow of information.
  • In light of budget constraints wherein training budget is limited, how can we use social media as an alternative means of professional development?
  • As individuals often have skills/talents that may be outside of their formal positions, how can organizations promote those skills/talents for the benefit of the organization?
  • How can leaders consistently/continually share their values and vision to the entire organization?

3) Operationally, how can we use social media for our organization to more efficient, productive and collaborative?

  • Given the distributed locations of employees that work on campus and those that telecommute, the use of instant messaging and video conferencing has become a necessity for communication.
  • Consider the following – how many hours do we waste attending meetings where attendees are not required in the same room? Would it not be better, in cases when it is appropriate, to have meetings via web conferences, attending meetings from our individual offices instead? Better yet, if the meeting is informational not requiring decisions, what if agendas/discussions are posted via blogs, wikis? There are also social enterprise solutions like Jive Software, Sharepoint, SalesForce Chatter and IBM Connections that can be used for internal communications/collaborations only.

Social business is more than the use of social networks like facebook and twitter. It requires understanding the customers and identifying objectives and defining strategies. In this blog post “Mobile Web – Consider the Purpose, Then Design”, I wrote about approaching mobile web development by identifying the purpose  first to dictate the framework and design approach, rather than getting lost in discussions about which design principle to use. This approach is as applicable and as critical when discussing how to employ social media in organizations. In her book “The New Relationship Marketing”, Mari Smith discusses a concept with acronym P.O.S.T, developed by Forrester Research and explained in the book Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, as a template for social marketing. This acronym stands for People, Objective, Strategy, Technology. The point Mari Smith makes is that “many businesses get this entire P.O.S.T system backward – T.S.O.P.” and “they begin their efforts with technology.” I think this concept applies to social business as well.

I realize that even today, as universities, including in student affairs,  continue to adopt social media for various reasons, there are still skeptics who find social media nothing more than another risk and liability to the university.  Reasons I have heard on why universities should not be using social media include: the potential for improper dissemination of confidential information and violation of FERPA and HIPAA policies, another way for malware, viruses to enter the network and they’re just a waste of time.  The concerns above cannot be disregarded as the consequences are costly and these concerns must be represented in the discussions when it comes to social media use. The combination of education on the proper use of these technology, having guidelines/policies, and employing technical security tools (virus detection, etc) seems to me make more sense, rather than banning them.

For organizations that are already using facebook, twitter and other social networks, questions still remain on how to properly use them and what are the business values of these tools. I would argue however that universities will need to accommodate the needs and wants of the students (as well as prospective and alumni) as well as their employees using the tools they are already comfortable using including social media and mobile. While the mission of the university a a learning institution may not have changed much, they do need to keep up with the trends. Banning these consumer technologies is no longer an option. Furthermore, social media will only continue to become more integrated into how universities will conduct their business.