Social Business: It’s like the Internet in 1997

Although Naked Conversations (2006) and Groundswell (2008) were published a few short years ago, it feels like the case studies took place eons ago. The case studies in these books echo what early companies have done to move the needle forward from Dell Hell to Dell Swell, Lego product innovation, Microsoft evangelist blogs and beyond . Yet fast forward to 2011, it’s still amazing to realize that social business (formerly called social media marketing, formerly called social media, formerly called citizen media, formerly called business blogging) is still very young.

How young? Well, in our Nov 2010 report on the Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist, we surveyed 140 enterprise-class corporations and found out that the largest segment of respondents have only had formalized social media programs (beyond just experimentation) for 1-2 years. Fast forward to Feb, 2011 It starts to average just about 2.5, hence while we call 2010 the year of social business formation. It’s really early friends, in fact if your company has deployed social business in a formalized way today, you are early pioneers. In fact, I like to use the metaphor it’s like the Internet in 1997, companies are just starting to deploy their corporate websites in a formalized way –not just from the spare latitude under the IT guys desk –in many companies there are now internet groups that manage the corporate web properties, it’s a an official career.

Duration and Maturity

Just to emphasizes, most companies have only had formalized social media programs for 2.5 years, this space is just starting to green shoot. In fact, a majority of the respondents were currently in marketing, but I know the business decision making will also spread to the support teams, product innovation, then supply chain. If your company has formalized your program (find out what companies are spending on), you have staff, headcount, budget, and are organized in hub and spoke or multiple hub and spoke you’re way ahead of the majority of companies, you’re a pioneer, and hats off to you.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSocialPitt David Pittman

    It is amazing to think that most of us have only had a formalized program for 2.5 years. When we’re in the throes of fast-moving activity, which nearly all social business is, the time seems to be so much longer. Yet, when I think of when my previous company (since acquired by IBM) launched its program, that was … February 2009. That must be at least 14 in dog years!

  • http://twitter.com/TheSocialPitt David Pittman

    It is amazing to think that most of us have only had a formalized program for 2.5 years. When we’re in the throes of fast-moving activity, which nearly all social business is, the time seems to be so much longer. Yet, when I think of when my previous company (since acquired by IBM) launched its program, that was … February 2009. That must be at least 14 in dog years!

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Congrats to you David!

  • http://twitter.com/steve_e Steve Evans

    Great point, there is a long way to go in the development of social business and media.

    Here’s an interesting fact for you though; the start-up I was with in 1997 had just launched an online reputation management tool which mined the web for negative brand name mentions and indexed the pages it found into a password protected web interface for users. Very basic, it used boolean queries and hopped off the back of Altavista search results and followed every link down to 10 links deep. We had a lot of fun with cease and desist orders from companies whose websites we hammered :-)

    It was a great product, well ahead of its time and we sold licenses to financial companies and media agencies in the main. Sadly the start-up failed to get funding in ’99 and sold so the product ended up on a shelf.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I see social as a natural progression of the web, not a phase, just the web becoming even more conversational. That progression will run and run and we’re definitely still in its infancy and still learning!

  • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

    There are times when it dawns on me that despite how far ahead my team may be in terms of things like social-to-inquiry sourcing, it feels like we should be a lot further. I remind myself that it doesn’t really matter how much better we are than the next guy, if we aren’t yet where WE want to be as a business. As social strategists, we may be ahead of the curve comparatively when looking at other social programs, but if those programs are far short of the maturity of other areas of the business, there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to catch up. In fact, doing just that is our job.

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  • http://www.alisoncummings.com/ Alison Cummings

    Yes, with the overwhelming stats out there (est. 500+ million Facebook users, 156+ million public blogs, 55+ million tweets sent per day), it is sometimes hard to believe social business is still in its infancy.

    Yet, through exchanges with my colleagues and via discussions in professional networks like LinkedIn, it is clear there is still a ways to go. When you are steeped in social media, it is hard to reconcile these two disparate realities. Can be quite discouraging, especially for consultants and small business startups. Release big breathe.

    All this to say, thank you Jeremy. It is such a relief to have someone with your level of exposure/credibility call this out. You have done a lot to acknowledge the role of the social media pioneer and legitimize new careers like the social strategist. Patience, patience. That’s the mantra. ;-)

  • http://www.alisoncummings.com/ Alison Cummings

    Yes, with the overwhelming stats out there (est. 500+ million Facebook users, 156+ million public blogs, 55+ million tweets sent per day), it is sometimes hard to believe social business is still in its infancy.

    Yet, through exchanges with my colleagues and via discussions in professional networks like LinkedIn, it is clear there is still a ways to go. When you are steeped in social media, it is hard to reconcile these two disparate realities. Can be quite discouraging, especially for consultants and small business startups. Release big breathe.

    All this to say, thank you Jeremy. It is such a relief to have someone with your level of exposure/credibility call this out. You have done a lot to acknowledge the role of the social media pioneer and legitimize new careers like the social strategist. Patience, patience. That’s the mantra. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/DT David Terrar

    I like the points you are making and agree with almost all you say, but I hate the headline and what you are using as the new term. I just don’t think Social Business is the right language to use. If I ask a man in the street what social business (or social enterprise) is, he can tell me, but it’s got nothing to do with social media. Social media in business has evolved, but calling it social business isn’t the right label.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    In my first paragraph, I indicated all the different permissions we’ve heard about the term over the years. One thing I learned is not to focus too much on the terms but instead on the outcomes.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    In my first paragraph, I indicated all the different permissions we’ve heard about the term over the years. One thing I learned is not to focus too much on the terms but instead on the outcomes.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Thanks David!

    In my first paragraph, I indicated all the different permissions we’ve heard about the term over the years. One thing I learned is not to focus too much on the terms but instead on the outcomes.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Alison, good point.

    Corporations lag far behind consumers, yes we will all need patience, patience.

  • http://invisibleinkdigital.com Invisibleinkdigital

    What your post illustrates as well is that the cycle of change is rapidly accelerating as a result of the internet and our connectivity. Parallels with corporate sites coming to the boil in 1997 with today’s early bedding in of social business is entirely apt. Inevitably the same successes and the same mistakes will be made today as it was 14 years ago.

    We are now talking about a cycle of change that occurs in years as oppose to decades, and I can’t help but feel that the wider connected social swamp we live in facilitates and expedites idea generation that drives this change.

  • http://twitter.com/peter_chang Peter Chang

    Heh I didn’t quite like the term Social Business either, and was just getting comfortable with using social media marketing! One thing particularly interesting about social media is that the outcome also dictates the way we refer to it, and if all the people start to refer to their efforts as social businesses we are going to have to switch as well… I think it will really depend on to what extent companies will eventually make social a core part of the business, like eCommerce basically became for many companies, or will it stay mostly as an important marketing or operating strategy integrated into the existing business

  • http://twitter.com/peter_chang Peter Chang

    Heh I didn’t quite like the term Social Business either, and was just getting comfortable with using social media marketing! One thing particularly interesting about social media is that the outcome also dictates the way we refer to it, and if all the people start to refer to their efforts as social businesses we are going to have to switch as well… I think it will really depend on to what extent companies will eventually make social a core part of the business, like eCommerce basically became for many companies, or will it stay mostly as an important marketing or operating strategy integrated into the existing business

  • http://www.stevemacalpine.com steve macalpine

    I’m based in Sydney Australia and it’s quite amazing to watch the rapid evolution of Social and the ‘pioneers’ as you call them, in action.

    The big difference between the internet in 1997 and what’s happening NOW, is of course that we are all hyper connected. Information flows in real time and change will be accelerated by the shift from fixed connectivity to mobile devices.
    In terms of this coming pace of change… 2.5 years will soon seem like long time.
    I wouldn’t be getting too attached to terms because it’s bound to change.

  • http://www.stevemacalpine.com steve macalpine

    I’m based in Sydney Australia and it’s quite amazing to watch the rapid evolution of Social and the ‘pioneers’ as you call them, in action.

    The big difference between the internet in 1997 and what’s happening NOW, is of course that we are all hyper connected. Information flows in real time and change will be accelerated by the shift from fixed connectivity to mobile devices.
    In terms of this coming pace of change… 2.5 years will soon seem like long time.
    I wouldn’t be getting too attached to terms because it’s bound to change.

  • http://www.stevemacalpine.com steve macalpine

    I’m based in Sydney Australia and it’s quite amazing to watch the rapid evolution of Social and the ‘pioneers’ as you call them, in action.

    The big difference between the internet in 1997 and what’s happening NOW, is of course that we are all hyper connected. Information flows in real time and change will be accelerated by the shift from fixed connectivity to mobile devices.
    In terms of this coming pace of change… 2.5 years will soon seem like long time.
    I wouldn’t be getting too attached to terms because it’s bound to change.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Social Business is a much broader term, less tool specific, as are the deployments today.

  • http://twitter.com/DT David Terrar

    Jermiah,
    I’m glad it’s not just me, and you’re right that we should focus on outcomes. Dachis has been using the SB term, and you and others have been using Social CRM. Now IBM is jumping on the SB bandwagon. The terminology is important, and the social word frightens a lot of C-level execs. I’m convinced we should be using different language, but I just don’t know what it is yet.

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    Your title alludes to something absurd: that some companies adopt the web but consciously exclude social channels. The web was social from day one, just because we have specific channels that are explicitly for social activities doesn’t change anything. You either have embraced the web then and continue to or you never did in 1997. Not really.

  • http://www.microsourcing.com/disciplines/seo.asp MicroSourcing

    Social media is an attractive and timely tool to get into, but some businesses shy away from it because of the constant attention and effort it requires for a successful online marketing strategy.

  • Anonymous

    Good perspective-granting post Jeremiah; it’s been at least a year and a half since I’ve heard people saying “if your business isn’t on Facebook, you’re getting left behind.” Of course, the people saying that didn’t really have a strategy – they were just building networks of friends and converging around topics that had nothing to do with their business, and then hoping that it would somehow drive business results.

    It’s always better to carefully plan before executing, even if it means you’re not a front-runner. I always get a little perspective from some of the less-tech savvy companies I’ve come into contact with. There are companies who have had email for less than 8 years! Some companies are way behind the curve, but it’s ok because their industry as a whole isn’t ready for the technology.

  • Anonymous

    Nice comment Adam. I’m reminded of the fact that Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world-wide web, first called it the read-write web, and envisioned just the type of interaction we’re seeing today.

  • http://www.qualifiedimpressions.com Seo Company

    Social Business is the “it” right now. Companies that are not utilizing this channel are going to be left behind. Those who haven’t already need to jump on quick because they have alot of catching up to do.

  • http://www.qualifiedimpressions.com Seo Company

    Social Business is the “it” right now. Companies that are not utilizing this channel are going to be left behind. Those who haven’t already need to jump on quick because they have alot of catching up to do.

  • http://www.dailytrader.com/ Wholesale suppliers

    Your post is really really informative and i am agree with your all points. Many entrepreneurs are aware of the importance of the social business, but does not know what they use right language . Although many of us do it unintentionally, many of us have very little knowledge of the inherent strength and power of a network of good business.

  • http://www.dailytrader.com/ Wholesale suppliers

    Your post is really really informative and i am agree with your all points. Many entrepreneurs are aware of the importance of the social business, but does not know what they use right language . Although many of us do it unintentionally, many of us have very little knowledge of the inherent strength and power of a network of good business.

  • http://www.dailytrader.com/ Wholesale suppliers

    Your post is really really informative and i am agree with your all points. Many entrepreneurs are aware of the importance of the social business, but does not know what they use right language . Although many of us do it unintentionally, many of us have very little knowledge of the inherent strength and power of a network of good business.

  • http://www.dailytrader.com/ Wholesale suppliers

    Your post is really really informative and i am agree with your all points. Many entrepreneurs are aware of the importance of the social business, but does not know what they use right language . Although many of us do it unintentionally, many of us have very little knowledge of the inherent strength and power of a network of good business.

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  • http://www.vaughanpractice.com Vince Vaughan

    Jeremiah,

    It is young and the term Social Business is starting to mean something more to people than either something akin to social “work” or social “media.” I see many companies are still gripped by “getting” customers as opposed to engaging and building relationships with them.

    Thank you for the blog. I look forward to seeing you in Kansas City in April.

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  • http://www.chadnicely.com Chad Nicely

    It is definitely an eye opener. I think about my Grandparents dying in the 80′s not even knowing what the internet was, and now Social Media is reshaping the internet. I looked at your statistics, and I’m from Wyoming. As far as business goes, Wyoming is clueless about social media. They haven’t even caught onto SEO yet. – Cheers, Chad

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