The post below was first published in May 2013. Fast-forward to December 2013 and I’ve subtly turned this post into a prediction about how social may evolve in 2014.

With many consultants and companies now starting to master social media, the need for expertise in providing “social media 101” is starting to fade in some areas.

During 2013, social business has been spoken of by many (including myself) as the next phase for social media.

Will then 2014 mark the morphing of these original “social media consultants” into “social business consultants”?

My view is that while you can bluff your way into selling time to companies to advise them about social media, social business requires a very different of skills, and experience.

Since joining IBM as Global Partner for Social Business in October, I have seen first hand the challenges facing companies around the world when it comes to social.

The larger the company, the more important it is to them that their social initiatives are tightly integrated into the rest of the company, and are not pushed into a corner, as a stand-alone unit.

The social business gurus simply don’t have experience needed when it comes to the C-Suite as I argue in the rest of this post.

The original impetus for this post was an event I attended in London in March 2013 sponsored by Microsoft “Social Media – one tool amongst many”.

There was naturally a stellar line-up of speakers including Catriona Oldershaw, Alan Patrick, Abigail Harrison and Philip Sheldrake.

The title of the event was somewhat obscure, as the event was really about social business.

Chaired by Dave Coplin, the debate kicked off with an attempt to define what we mean when we use the phrase social business. Each panelist had a slightly different take on the concept which provided a fascinating exchange of views, but a common agreement that social business was here to stay and something that would become increasingly important.

A recurring theme throughout was the need to move beyond treating social business as merely another phrase for social media and instead exploring what it meant for business, employees and customers.

One comment from Philip Sheldrake really stuck with me.

Glancing around the room (the event was held at “Bounce” – the home of Ping Pong), Philip remarked that the audience of 40 or so people could resemble a meeting in 2001 about blogging.

His point was that with social business, we are at the beginning of a new journey.

As I was leaving the meeting, I reflected on this comment.

Having been playing with bulletin boards in 1983, websites in 1994 and social media since 2004, I could totally understand what Philip meant.

Lately I have heard the phrase “social business” mentioned more often.

What worries me though, and the thrust of this piece is that those “social media gurus” (and yes we all know the sort of person we are talking about) will transform overnight into a “social business guru”, and start to provide “advice” on social business without actually knowing what they are talking about.

In a way, I have been waiting for the market to evolve to be ready for social business for my entire career.

As my Twitter bio states, I am “Part strategy, part business, part technology, 100% digital”.

My engineering-marketing hybrid training and experience, coupled with experience in actually running companies, as well as working inside large organisations means that I know first-hand how really hard it is for companies to change culture.

Sadly, Social media has never really got past the marketing department for most companies.

I also don’t see or hear many social media “gurus” presenting at board meetings – they never get that far because the C-suite still don’t see the deep business value of social media.

Don’t take my word for it, a recent Altimeter study on social business found that

  1. Two Thirds of the companies surveyed were active in social with no real link to business goals
  2. Only 52% of companies surveyed agreed with the statement, “Top executives are informed, engaged, and aligned with our social strategy.”

One survey respondent was heard to say “Many of our board members and executive leaders aren’t even on Facebook, so social media is foreign to them.”

If social business is to be successful, initiatives need to be developed, and pitched to the C-suite with compelling evidence that they will directly meet the company’s objectives.

My view is that a “guru” is probably not experienced enough, or has the ability to win over a board of directors to social business.

The new breed of social business practitioners will need have a much broader set of skills and experience than a social media guru.

I tested my hypothesis on a number of my peers this week, and we ended up with a simple test.

Would the person charged will selling in the social business strategy ever get to present to the board? Has the person charged with driving social business initiatives ever met the CEO?

This sounds like a tough test, however if, as I strongly believe that social business will absolutely allow companies to leapfrog their competitors (see a Capgemini study proving this), then a social business strategy demands the attention of the board.

This will leave the social media gurus free to keep suggesting to the Marketing Director that they “just need to get more likes with an integrated real-time social media strategy to drive engagement and drive impressions”.

As an aside, the day of the event, Philip launched an excellent book on social business called “Attenzi – a social business story”. You can watch an interview with Philip, where we also explore the issue of social business gurus.

What do you think?

Am I being too tough on the gurus?

Let me know what you think in your comments below.