I'm referring to Australian/UK usage here, so I'm not referring to social enterprise - businesses created for social purpose - which is the meaning of 'social business' in other places.
And yes, all businesses are inherently social. Some people think this makes it a pretty empty phrase. I disagree.
All businesses may be social, but they don't necessarily act like it. The main factor defining 'social' is interconnection. Most of the time, businesses construct elaborate, reinforced boundaries to separate them from the outside world. Their interfaces are distinct, controlled channels like communications / marketing, or product<>money exchanges. Businesses try to eliminate their 'social' nature, preferring to instead interact with markets, or individual customers.
Sound familiar? Social businesses are networked businesses. I may have written about them before.
I got thinking about this today reading the blog of @ChrisBrogan. Chris is a pretty cool dude. He knows his stuff (marketing, sales, service // business design), and he shares a lot of good content at www.ChrisBrogan.com. He was also the #1 Diigo result for 'social business'.
His take on 'social business' is social media as a communications tool. From a traditional business perspective, this is a fair stance. But it is only the start of social.
Maximising the opportunities of social business goes beyond reviewing communications practices. Don't just take my word for it (@Nilofer)! Social business is about reimagining businesses' role in the social ecosystem.
The traditional role and purpose of a business is to create a product, sell it to people, and make as much profit as possible. Simple. But in reality, businesses have complicated sets of relationships, and a role in the ecosystem that can't be reduced to products + sales = profits. Increasing interconnectivity accentuates these complications.
Businesses that recognise this complication are in a great position.
By shifting focus to the value they create in the ecosystem, businesses can better understand their future and financial sustainability. Focusing on value also highlights opportunities for innovation that a narrow product-sales-profit focus might never illuminate. Shifting perspective to value also opens business up to the opportunities of shared value.
Some businesses might be able to ignore this whole 'social' thing... those in stable markets that create value in a very straightforward way. For now. But the others will be left behind if they think that a Facebook and Twitter marketing strategy will keep them at the front of social business.