“Social Business” Is Bullshit

The term sounds sexy, but is actually a concept that has been around a while

by Jason Falls |

Last night at Expion’s Racing Ahead Social Business Summit I offered up an idea that wrinkled a few noses. My assertion was that “social business” was a bullshit term. Keep in mind, I was on stage in front of a room of brands, many of whose social marketing leads have the term “social business” in their title; agencies that have entire sales pitches on how they can help you become a “social business;” and consultants who sell “social business” strategy like Geiko sells car insurance.

Momma told me to be good. She’s been wrong before. Heh.

But here’s a more full explanation. I do think “social business” is a bullshit term. It’s a phrase someone coined so they could charge a higher hourly rate for their services. I don’t know who first began using it but they have an entire generation of marketing practitioners something to sell that sounds neat, important and complex. Instead of charging $100 an hour or $150 an hour for social media marketing, we can say, “I’m a social business strategist,” and that’s worth $250 or $300 an hour. If you’ve worked with big brands or a reputable research firm (enough so that you’re title was or is “analyst”) you can go from $500 or so to over $1000 an hour by saying you do “social business” rather than whatever it is you really sell.

A Bull - No BullshitYes, the proof is in the pudding and those who sell it but don’t deliver won’t take advantage of the rate hike for long. Those who follow through on the promise — whatever the promise of “social business” might be — will be worth the investment. And yes, I believe many people selling social business to be worth their respective fees. Several of them were in the audience last night.

But what “social business” really is, is the digital-first world’s version of change management. “Social business” implies you’re evolving as a company or enterprise to be inclusive of all stakeholders, tearing down silos to foster better communication and collaboration internally, empowering your external audiences to participate in your brand/company/marketing and the like. You’re changing. From old guard to new. You’re transitioning from the way marketing and communications did work, to the way it works better now.

But my marketing brethren can’t call what they do “change management.” That term surfaced in the mid- to late-1980s as human resource consultants discovered a new term to help them charge more per hour. So “change management” is known. It’s defined. It’s not sexy. But “social business” … now that SINGS!

To be clear, I don’t think the concepts behind social business are bullshit. Just that we’re calling it something silly because it sounds sexier than what the name really ought to be. I’m not implying that those sporting their “social business” wares are con-artists or snake-oil salesmen, though I’m sure some will overreact to the headline or implications here and accuse me of such.

At the end of the day, though, we ought to be honest with the brands we work with. The term “social business” is like a Pearl Jam song: It sounds awesome, but no one knows what the hell it means. Maybe the social-business-is-change-management definition will help more of them sell more of it.

Your thoughts? The comments are yours.

Note: Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).