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What's a Social Business? Look Beyond the Tweets and Likes

04/23/2013 06:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social business.

Every company these days knows they have to get social. Yet often, even when organizations think they're embracing social media in a big way, they aren't.

For most companies, social means marketing. It equals Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

But that's just the price of entry into the social world we -- the 1.5 billion people using social networks -- are crafting around us.

Because as powerful as social media is for exchanging ideas, it has the potential to do so much more for organizations.

It can, in fact, become a new production line.

Think about why that makes so much sense.

In a society defined by information, we all deal in knowledge. Unleashed, always connected, able to look up unprecedented amounts of data with a swipe of a fingertip, we constantly swap reviews, advice, insights, and connections.

All of these everyday actions are the raw materials in the 21st Century's form of production. And the social network? That's the production line, combining raw materials with many of the interactions generated among the people who share it. This gives life to new ideas, innovation and, as many are discovering in the workplace, a higher form of engagement.

The question, then, is what do you do with it? Here's a hint: Making do with marketing isn't the answer.

Your customers aren't the only ones you can use this production line with to share ideas or garner new insights. Your employees, partners, and business clients can also contribute and exchange information using social networks. You can run different production lines throughout your entire organization, in customer service, R&D, the supply chain and your management suite.

So when company employees spot gaps in their expertise, they can find the colleagues who have the right knowledge when they need it. Or when a business gets stuck on a problem, it can crowdsource solutions to questions across oceans and languages, employees and partners.

And by combining the trends driving innovation right now -- the cloud, mobile, and analytics -- this flexible, intelligent production line will become even more potent.

We're in the early days of thinking about social media as social business, but some companies are already showing just how profound this shift can be.

For instance, when Cemex, the $15 billion multinational cement manufacturer, wanted to create its first ever global brand of concrete, it didn't develop a new lab or create a skunkworks project. It turned to its internal production line, building an internal corporate social network called "Shift" that connects employees across 50 countries through more than 500 different online communities.

Together, the employees pooled their insights and expertise about different markets and needs, launching the new global brand in a third of the anticipated time.

Or consider Colleagues in Care, which provides critical medical care in Haiti. The non-profit is using the cloud to harness the expertise of a network of about 200 doctors, nurses and business professionals around the world, setting communities of peer networks to address different medical and crowdsourcing research, as well as best practices for medical procedures. Because of such initiatives, medical teams on the ground in Haiti can adapt those protocols and share their learning so knowledge gets built up -- and passed on -- over time.

Ours is the information age. Knowledge drives society now. But social connections are what will propel success, prosperity, greater engagement and sustainability in our lives at home -- and at the office.

To learn more about becoming a social business, click here.