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Social Business

People don’t do business with companies.
People do business with people.
Here is why―and how—to become a Social Business.

The world now spends more than 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites per month. This equates to 22 percent of all time online―or one in every 4.5 minutes1.


Just ten years ago, there was another significant shift in the way people interacted with each other: the Web came to the workplace. From e-commerce and peer-to-to peer file sharing to the emergence of web-based solutions for financial, accounting, and supply chain systems, the web has become a serious business tool for organizations and industries of every kind. And the evolution continues.

Now social networking services are on track to replace email as the primary communications method for many business users in the next few years. It's a concept IBM social computing evangelist Luis Suarez has advocated for several years. But this new paradigm impacts more than the inbox. As each company looks to incorporate social networking technologies, it is, in fact, becoming what IBM calls a Social Business.

This approach shifts the focus from static content and other temporary artifacts to the source of the energy, creativity, and decision making that moves the business forward: people. As a result, people not only find what they need, but also discover valuable expertise and information they weren't even looking for that might solve a problem in a new way.

'We're analyzing information on-the-go to make intelligent, real-time decisions—it's changing the way we work.' Wayne Alley, vice president, VCC, on becoming a Social Business.

It's no longer a BtoB or BtoC relationship. It’s PtoP.
People to people isn't about file sharing. It means that every department, from HR to marketing to product development to customer service, uses social media the way it uses any other tool and channel to do its job. A company that uses social networking tools fluently to communicate with people inside and outside the company acts as a Social Business.

So what does a Social Business look like?

A Social Business isn't just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A Social Business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.

IBM has identified three distinct characteristics of a Social Business:


McKinsey & Company observed that 9 out of every 10 businesses using Web 2.0 technology are seeing measurable business benefits from its use2. According to IDC's Social Business Survey conducted in September 2010, 41 percent of respondents indicated that they have already implemented an enterprise social software solution3. And according to the 2010 IBM CHRO Study, standout organizations are 57% more likely than their peers to allow their people to use social and collaborative tools.

While sales and marketing professionals have been at the forefront of using social software to gain better understanding and to cultivate deeper relationships with customers, they are only part of the Social Business transformation.

Rather than a way to gain fans or followers, a Social Business uses software and hardware tools to create new pathways centered on people and the relationships between them―helping to solve the persistent problem of searching for the information needed to accomplish tasks, make decisions, and inspire new ideas.

Chart: The benefits of using Social Business tools. Source: IDC's Social Business Survey, September 2010.


60 second snapshots of real Social Businesses at work

The Red Weather Balloon Challenge
A group from MIT used social networking to find hidden weather balloons, demonstrating the power of social networking to solve problems.

Galaxy Zoo and NASA
250,000 volunteers helped classify the shape of hundreds of thousands of galaxies captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Ushandi and the earthquake in Haiti
An open source mobile participation platform was used to assist with crisis management after the earthquake in Haiti.
The automotive information Web site harnesses the power of social to help the wisdom of crowds drive purchases.

Many Eyes
This community helps develop and refine ideas, all based on the premise that many sets of eyes are better than one.



If you build it, they will come.
But only if you build a culture to support it.


Standout organizations are 57% more likely than their peers to allow their people to use social and collaborative tools. Source: IBM 2010 CHRO Study.

It's one thing to install and enable social networking tools such as instant messaging platforms, wikis and community portals. But it's quite another to create a culture of guidance and governance for their implementation.

Becoming a Social Business requires a long-term strategic approach to shaping a business culture. It is highly dependent upon executive leadership and corporate strategy, including business process design, risk management, leadership development, financial controls and use of business analytics. In fact, one of the key findings from the 2011 IBM Social Business Jam—an online, real time discussion among almost 4,000 registrants that focused on top Social Business issues—was that Social Business activities need to be integrated and aligned with business processes to be truly effective.

From an operational point of view, the benefits of a Social Business reach into every facet of the business:

Help employees be more effective—optimize the workforce by bringing together the right expertise, insight, and information from anywhere across the business network at the right time to adapt quickly and improve business outcomes.

Improve the quality and speed of operations—drive improvements in business operations to bring better products to market more quickly by removing the barriers to creativity, innovation, and alignment with customer and business needs.

Engage customers more deeply—create a next generation, differentiated customer experience that attracts, engages, and retains the best customers; improves brand loyalty; and lowers operational costs.

Key to achieving the above benefits is deploying the right mix of on-premises, cloud, appliance, and mobile infrastructures to reach all people associated with your business and create a more efficient enterprise, while maintaining security, reliability, and integration.


1. Nielsen News, "Social Networks/Blogs Now Account for One in Every Four and a Half Minutes Online." (link resides outside of June 15, 2010.

2. McKinsey Quarterly, "How companies are benefiting from Web 2.0: McKinsey Global Survey Results" (link resides outside of 2009.

3. IDC White Paper Sponsored by IBM, Becoming a Social Business: The IBM Story (PDF, 180KB), Doc.#226706, January 2011.