defining social business

We’re spending a lot of time these days discussing our Social Business offering with clients. In some instances, they’ve come to us asking what we can offer, whilst in other instances we’ve observed things in our work with them that highlights the need for the conversation. Either way, one of the things that comes up time and time again is the question, “what exactly IS social business”.

I, like others, have made attempts to define Social Business in a sentence or two, my most recent attempt being the blurb I wrote for the Social Business panel we’re hosting in our London offices on 14 February (details here):

“From increasing the breadth and depth of the interface between consumers and corporate staff, to improving the ability to share knowledge and expertise within the enterprise, Social Business is a very human centric approach to solving the challenges faced by organisations in the highly connected, always on, business world of today.”

This, of course, is more of a description of Social Business as opposed to a definition. So in trying to craft something that hits the mark a bit better, I decided to list out some the important aspects of Social Business:

  • Human centric
  • Supported, rather than driven by, technology
  • Increases breadth and depth of participation in business activities
  • Offers new opportunities for collaboration
  • Connects people to processes
  • Builds trust
  • Enhances sense of shared ownership and mission
  • Reinforces meaning
  • Encourages transparency
  • Cuts through complexity
  • Flattens hierarchical structures
  • Delivers measurably against objectives
  • Makes the most of people, skills, knowledge and content

So how to define Social Business? To me, Social Business is about creating participatory frameworks that enable businesses to harness the willingness and ability of a variety of stakeholders – whether they are internal (“staff”), external (“audiences”), or both – to meaningfully and measurably contribute towards meeting the shared objectives.

I think that stab at a definition of social business connects pretty well with the elements in my bullet point list, but if you’ve come across something better, or think I’ve missed something important, please do feel free to comment.


  1. Hi Robin,
    The best and most workable defintion of social business has been given by Prahalad (in his book: fortune at the bottom of the pyramid) and by Yunus himself (in his book: Building Social Business): “A social business is outside a profit-seeking world. Its goal is to solve a social problem by using business methods, including the creation and sale of products or services.” (Yunus, 2010, 1).
    He also adds 7 criteria to assess if a business is a Social business or not (p.3):
    – aim to SOLVE a social problem
    – this social issue has to constitue a void market (means no organization, public or private, never ou no more addresses or really concerns)
    – build a BUSINESS MODEL that really works and allow a sustainable business
    – neccesity to make PROFIT but in a limited dimension (and all profits are going to develop the social business),
    – take care of natural environment
    – provide safe and clean working conditions to employees
    – working in joy!
    Hope that can helps,

  2. Hi Matthieu,
    Thanks for the comment. We’ve stumbled into one of the problems of the multiple, and very different, definitions of Social Business here. I’m referring to social business of the “use of social media within a business” variety, not the social business of the “businesses with a social aim” variety – the latter of which this is indeed a good definition.
    Kind Regards,

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