Jeff Bullas, a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer on Forbes.com, recently wondered whether social media had reached a digital tipping point. Jeff believes that social media, smartphones and search engine evolution are causing a paradigm shift in our digital landscape. While Jeff’s prognostication might be true as far as smartphones and search engine evolution are concerned, I would posit that social media has some ways to go in this regard.
There is a simple reason that the recent Facebook IPO bombed–a billion, largely non-revenue generating subscribers do not make for a very attractive business model. More importantly, most of the so-called successful social media companies such as Facebook, Groupon, Zynga, etc. have been operating pre-dominantly in the B2C (business-to-consumer) services domain. The Internet consumer services segment is dominated by a largely young demographic, which has become used to a “free-is-good” culture. Without advertising to generate revenues, most B2C social media services companies will find it hard to survive in the long term, which is barely a couple of years in Internet time.
Thus social media needs to make rapid inroads into the B2B (business-to-business) world, where businesses actually pay for services rendered. In this regard, companies such as Salesforce.com have been pioneers in quickly integrating social media into the business environment, both B2B and B2C. In fact, at last year’s Dreamforce 2011 conference, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, introduced the concept of the social enterprise. In his keynote address, Marc very relevantly pondered, “Customers and employees are social. Are enterprises social?” He went on suggest that they were not social and wondered if there was a way to bridge this social divide between the enterprise and its employees and customers.
All that bridging Benioff’s social media divide required was the establishing of a value proposition that would be compelling to the enterprise. And, Mr. Benioff did so quite convincingly in his Dreamforce 2011 keynote. He asserted that for an enterprise, delighting customers is knowing who they are and what they like–Facebook tells us what they like, Twitter tells us what they are saying and LinkedIn tells us who they are connected to? So in order to become a “social enterprise,” a B2B needs to follow three steps–begin creating customer social profiles in its database, establish an employee social network and finally integrate these into customer and product social networks with the appropriate security and access provisions as required.
From a marketing standpoint, the social enterprise could become the Holy Grail for B2B marketers when it comes to sales enablement, demand generation and a truly integrated sales and marketing funnel– what revenue managers refer to as “one vision of the truth.” With a customer relationship management (CRM)-integrated marketing automation platform, marketing to the social enterprise then becomes a collaborative, real-time exercise that ought to make it a delightful experience to customers, employees, partners, et al.
Finally, infrastructure is key for a social enterprise to function effectively in the world of social media. I have therefore previously proposed my own E=MC5 theory of connectivity, which states that a social Enterprise must provide Mobility, Cloud-based Communications, Cyber-security, Collaboration & Content. Thus, for social media to make a successful foray into the B2B world, a business must necessarily meet this E=MC5 threshold and it does not have to be a business Einstein to make this connectivity happen!