How Social Will Transform Business: The Rise of a New Breed of Social Apps

Ranjit Notani, Co-Founder and CTO, One Network Enterprises
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Ranjit Notani, Co-Founder and CTO, One Network Enterprises

Social apps have transformed how people interact, keep in touch, make friends, find job opportunities, etc. While such consumer-centric social apps are critical for many businesses to harness; the rise of social in business is actually about a lot more. In particular, a new breed of business-centric social apps is emerging that are inherently different and will fundamentally change how business will be conducted in the future.

How Business Social Apps are Different

Business-centric social apps are different from traditional consumer-centric social apps in many ways. Facebook, for example, aggregates a large number of consumers, so from a business perspective they are most useful in Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing channels. On the other hand, social apps that are purposely built for business have different goals such as improving productivity, increasing collaboration, fostering partnerships, increasing velocity, nurturing creativity, and facilitating business-to-business (B2B) interactions to increase sales.

The notion of identities is another key differentiator among the two types of apps. Consumer social apps are built around the notion of a single identity for a person; whereas, business-centric social apps are built around the notion of multiple and distinct business identities. For example, using a consumer-based social app, if David Carter were to leave his position as Purchasing Assistant at Amazon to join Microsoft as a Buyer, then he would have had one identity as an employee at Amazon and a different one as an employee at Microsoft.

​  There is a tradeoff between standardization and control from centralized management and flexibility and personalization from decentralized administration 

Another key factor in business-oriented social apps is the idea of roles. Many business processes that require interaction and collaboration between people are structured in terms of roles. Business apps should support a natural transition from individuals to roles when the business interaction is in the context of a specific role. Using the same example as above, when David Carter is chatting with a supplier from ABC Company, this interaction should naturally be interpreted as communication between the supplier and a Buyer at Microsoft who happens to be David Carter.

Relationships between individuals in consumer social apps, such as “Friends” in Facebook or “Connections” in LinkedIn are all considered to be equal level or flat. However, relationships in social apps that are made for business purposes are more numerous and take on different characteristics. For instance, the relationship between a manager and her employee needs to be distinct from her relationship inB2B settings that involve interacting with suppliers. These, in turn, are distinct from her relationship in B2C settings, which can involve responding to consumer inquiries. Equally important, are more specialized relationships such as those between a buyer and seller.

In consumer-centric social apps, all rules, attributes and profile settings are administered by the consumer themselves. In business-centric social apps there is a split between self-administered settings and those that are administered by the organization. There is a tradeoff between standardization and control from centralized management and flexibility and personalization from decentralized administration. Getting this delicate balance right is critical to meeting goals of the business and to making this new form of communication both usable and trusted.

The Achilles’ Heel of Traditional Enterprise Apps

Historically, business appstend to be highly structured and are built around ordered concepts such as workflows, business objects, data records, reports, and transactions. The structure of these apps is both their biggest advantage and their Achilles’ heel. It is their biggest advantage, because structured data provides a solid foundation for increasing levels of automation and efficiency. It is also a disadvantage, because these characteristics impart a certain rigidity to organizations despite the best efforts of software developers. Once built, integrated and deployed, these apps become resistant to change and eventually evolve into a significant impediment to organizational agility. It’s therefore no wonder that 70 percent of business is still conducted working around these rigid systems via email, phone, chat, screen sharing, document-centric work etc., according to our own research.

How Business Social Apps will transform business

Business-centric apps and consumer-centric apps have evolved in different and distinct worlds: the world of structured and controlled interactions in business settings; and the world of unstructured and informal social interactions found in end-user environments. However, the landscape is already changing. Fast moving teams have increasingly started relying on unstructured apps to move quickly and be more flexible. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of repeatable business processes, efficiency, etc.

The new breed of business-centric social apps is transforming business by integrating both unstructured and structured interactions within the same application. For example, chat may be directly embedded in the context of placing an order, discussing a report, investigating resolution options for a problem, etc. And, bringing a context from the structured world into these unstructured interactions leads to a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

One of the key characteristics of social apps is their simplicity and ability to be rapidly adopted. Therefore, it is critical that all parties can use the social app as part-and-parcel of the business application or in a standalone mode. For example, when a customer service agent is chatting with a consumer, it is important that she has a deep context of both the relationship and any business transaction history during the interaction. However, and from the consumer’s point of view, this may be nothing more than an informal chat.

Another example of taking on context within social apps is the notion of “following”. In a business context, following is more than just liking a person on Twitter or Facebook but rather monitoring assets, roles, and transactions such as orders, shipments, etc.

The rise of social apps for business purposes goes far beyond utilizing consumer social apps. The new breed of social apps, and their unique characteristics, is merging traditional and structured apps with more fluid business social apps to improve the experience, enable flexibility and radically improve business performance. The opportunities are significant; consequently, just as every business needs to have a well thought out approach for mobile technologies, business and technology leaders must also include these new business-oriented social apps as part of their information technology strategy.

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