Recently I have been writing and speaking more about social business than just social media.

Many ask me “what is the difference?”, and “why should I care?”.

I hope to answer both these questions in this post.

What is the difference between social media & social business?

I think in 2013, there are few people left in the business world that need to have “social media” explained to them. I am sure that everyone knows that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like are here to stay, and have disrupted pretty much every business on the planet.

When it comes to defining social business, I have chosen to use a definition produced by Charlene Li and Brian Solis from Altimeter Group. In a recent report on Social Business, they have defined social business as

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

This definition I believe is a strong one, and it also helps differentiate social business from social media, and helps drive the discussion towards business impact and away from social as just another PR, customer service or marketing channel.

To take the analogy further, consider a Broadway Show (or West End Play depending on where you live in the world).

In this analogy, social media is the front of house. It is what we actually see when we go to a show. It is the ticket and program sellers in the foyer, the ushers that show us to our seats, the performers on the stage and even the other people in the audience.

Along the course of our evening at the show, we interact with all of these people at some stage (we even interact with those performing on stage, by clapping them at the good bits).

At each stage, we are seeing the very best the theatre has to offer, dressed to impress and everything looks immaculate. If something is out of place, we would notice.

Contrast this to what is happening behind the scenes.

Backstage, there are a great deal more people we will never see or interact with, and they will probably never interact with us directly either.

The crew is normally dressed entirely in black, so that we won’t see them, and they communicate with each other (but not us) via headsets, ensuring the whole performance runs like clockwork.

If you have ever been involved in a show, or been invited backstage afterwards, the first thing that strikes you is that it is not as “pretty” as the front of house operation – and it does not have to as the back of house (think back office in business language) is not meant for prime time.

You can also hear me explaining this analogy on the Tonya Hall Radio Show listen here

So by now you’re asking yourself – what does a Broadway show have to do with social media/business?

Well the front of house is just like social media – everyone can see everyone else, and it is the most “public” part of the performance – everything is on show so needs to look just right, or we will complain.

The back of house is like social business. This is the part we never see. The organisation needs to communicate with each other to literally “keep the show on the road”, and they use information and signals from everything happening on stage, which is in full view of paying customers to fine tune what is happening in real time.

If the person in charge of lighting at the show was not watching every actor’s movement, then they would miss the cue to change the scene, and the audience would pick up something was wrong.

Returning to the Altimeter definition of social business from above:

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

Translating into the theatre analogy, everything that is going on front of house is integrated, processed and shared with the back of house team to ensure the product being delivered on stage is of the highest quality available.

As we all know, even before social media existed, reviews on opening night can make or break a show.

Becoming a social business is NOT just all about having a Twitter feed and a Facebook page – it is so much more.

As can be seen from this graphic from the Altimeter report, a true social business uses social methodology in every aspect of the company (click to enlarge).

Marketing & communications: support product development with real-time feedback and crowdsourcing ideas from customers & employees

Customer experience: social support provided by customers on forums and social channels as well as by employees

Sales: Connects through the consideration process – and between transactions

Finance: Internal social networks provide context for discussions around things as diverse as expenses and budgeting

HR: Used for Recruitment, and also performance management leverages enterprise social networks to track achievements and reward teamwork

IT: Create social as a platform – integrate everything into a single customer database powered by social signals and power the employee CRM system

Supply chain: Use social intelligence to power predictive analysis around supply chains

So next time you are at a Broadway or West End show, think about all of the things that you can’t see happening, and see how you can apply all of the amazing insights provided by social media to turn your organisation into a social business.