The important difference between social media and social business strategy

by Brian Solis

I was doing a bit of egosurfing on Twitter and stumbled across a Tweet from @kimberlymccabe, which made me LOL, literally laugh out loud. It was in reaction to the title of my new ebook short co-authored with my Altimeter Group colleague Charlene Li, The Seven Success Factors of Social Business Strategy. Her comment read as if she were somehow vindicated that the term social business was in fact legitimate—insinuating that she was involved in a series of debates that pitted social media and social business against one another.

In short, the idea that social media and social business cause debate or even confusion after all these years is troubling but understandable. Let’s tackle this now.

See, each represent distinct qualities where “social” is simply a qualifier. In front of media, social is an adjective that describes the nature of channels, networks, or platforms that facilitate conversations online. When placed ahead of business, social articulates an open, transparent, and collaborative business philosophy or approach. Will the word social lose value as a qualifier one day? Yes. When? Soon, but not too soon.

I look back to a conversation I hosted in 2007 that may help us move forward here. The resulting definitions from that work to define “social media” are as follows…

Social Media represents any tool or service that uses the Internet to facilitate conversations. A deeper approach described Social Media as the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into participants and publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a one-to-one-to-many or many-to-many community model.

Now, social business on the other hand, is not a thing or technology but rather a way of business. It’s a philosophy as much as it is an approach to enliven it. But wait, there’s more. Add to that the term social enterprise. What’s the difference? A social enterprise is the means or method that a social business evolves an outside in and inside out perspective as it employs social media to transform operations, employee engagement, and customer relationships.


I get it.

Think about it this way.

Social media = technology

Social business = thinking or convictions

When you bring the two together, something transformative happens. Continuing the wordplay though as a means of further clarifying differences while surfacing their respective value, when you add a particular word at the end, you begin to see their true disparity. That word is strategy.

When we apply a plan of action to achieve a desired goal or objective, the relationship between social media and social business should become clearer and driven by purpose and outcome.

In this regard, a social media strategy is a program that should follow your social business strategy.


Because without an honest, business-focused vision and mission, one that looks beyond the table stakes of sales and straight ROI, social media becomes a tactical program that emphasizes technology, resources and content to support each network presence, and community-centered activity to substantiate the investment.

Social media should therefore support a much more ambitious intent. The promise of social media is enlivened by the imagination, inspiration and innovation of using new technology to do something more significant. As a result, the relationship between business, goals, brand, and experiences is driven by a more open, social, transparent and engaging methodology.

Altimeter’s definition of a successful Social Business Strategy (SBS) is one that aligns with the strategic business goals and has alignment and support throughout the organization.

Over the years, Charlene Li and I studied the common attributes of businesses that found success in social. More importantly, we learned how doing so helped the business evolve rigid or traditional models to become resilient. Everything came down to seven stepping-stones that set advanced businesses apart from those meandering or experimenting in social today. You don’t need to read our ebook to learn what they are and why they’re important. I’ll include them here for you…

The seven success factors of social business strategy:

1. Define the overall business goals

You can’t align your social strategy with your business objectives if you don’t even know what your objectives are.

2.. Establish the long-term vision

If you’re not striving toward the end goal, you’re likely to veer off the path. If you want your team to fully invest in your social strategy — and you need the support of your entire team – you’ll need to communicate your vision with clarity and passion.

3. Ensure executive support

In the early days you may be able to fly under the radar, but at some point, if you want to truly have an impact on the business, you’ll need the backing and support of key executives.

4. Define the strategy roadmap

You already know your business objectives and have a clear vision. But how are you going to get there? Plan out your route, what roads you’ll travel, and what roads you’ll avoid.

5. Establish governance and guidelines

Who is responsible for executing the social strategy? What’s your process of listening and responding to your customers? If you clearly define this process and then stick to it, you’ll spend less tie floating along throughout the social sphere and more time strategizing your social growth.

6. Secure staff, resources, and funding

In the early stages of social growth, you might outsource your social media campaign to an agency, and that’s fine. But you should also be looking down the road and planning to develop internal resources to take your company to the next level as your social prowess — and your business — grows.

7. Invest in technology platforms that evolve

Resist the temptation to jump on the latest technology bandwagon before you have a long-term strategic plan in place. Hold off on making significant technology investments until you’re equipped with a sound vision and strategic plan.

Sure, much of this seems commonsensical. But you and I know that common sense is one of the most uncommon things around. And yes, these seven success factors are true for almost any solid strategy. But by following these seven characteristics of success social businesses, you can and will immediately change course from just another brand, social or digital strategist trying to make sense of social media and instead demonstrating the relationship between business objectives, social technology, and the people in between.

It’s not so much about the terminology as much as it’s about your intentions, the expectations of your connected customers and employees, and how you improve connections, conversations, and experiences to grow your business and the value of the brand.