[Also published on Microsoft's #bizremagined website.]

I’m fascinated by innovations in the language of innovation. Is it the inclinations of the innovator or the characteristics of the innovation that suggests new words and phrases? When and why is existing lexicon deemed inadequate? Why do we embrace some expressions yet others wither and die?

A quick browse at netlingo.com turns up such beauties as advermation, mouse potato, and idea hamster. All new to me, and for all I know dead already. I had a go a few years ago with Internetome to describe the physical manifestations of the Internet of Things, and let’s just say the word hasn’t made the Oxford English. Yet.

Enter the phrase “social business”, bandied around with increasing frequency. What is it exactly?

Well perhaps this particular turn of phrase is sufficiently nascent to mean different things to different people. The candidate meanings form a spectrum to my mind, with “an organisation that uses social media” at one end (with the hashtags #socmed and #socbiz used interchangeably), and a deep, transformative opportunity at the other. Whether or not such a profound transformation ends up being labelled social business, we’ve tried hard at Euler Partners to articulate what it might mean in less ambiguous terms.

In setting out our stall, the first assertion we make is that social media are the eggs in the social business cake... a memorable catchphrase we hope that conveys that social media is essential but far from sufficient to effect social business. And then things get a little separated from today’s typical worldview, which I guess is the property of anything that might be described as transformative. Here’s our thinking.

We don’t have (social) media for media’s sake, but to communicate. And we don’t communicate for communication’s sake, but to influence. You have been influenced when you do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done or think something you wouldn’t otherwise have thought, and influencing and being influenced is part and parcel of organisational life. Indeed, of life.

Organisations have invested lots of money in information technologies over past decades to track the flows of time, money and materials, and now, with the advent of digital services, social media and powerful analytical capabilities, they can contemplate tracking influence flows too.

In our view, reputation management does not actually mean managing reputation, and brand management does not actually mean managing a brand. They mean actively attending to the business of influencing and being influenced such that the resultant beliefs or opinions held about us and our products are conducive to our achieving organisational objectives. There’s influence in everything an organisation does. And sometimes in what it does not do.

We define social business then as designing the organisation around those influence flows, connecting: its people, partners, customers and other stakeholders; data, information and knowledge in and all around it; more openly, productively and profitably with the application of social web, big data and related information technologies.

And because those influence flows are in constant flux, the design of the organisation is too. Critically, the organisation is no longer defined as the sum of its payroll either.

This is the organisational perspective of social business, but what of the human viewpoint? What about the everyday reality of individuals in a society that ‘gets’ social business? What question might we ask ourselves to gauge progression of this transformation in this respect?

Here’s a candidate.

Do you help all the individuals associated with your organisation (employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders, etc.) build richer, more productive relationships with each other and others, coalescing by need and desire, knowledge and capability, shared values and shared value?

We believe that organisations that pursue such a definition of social business are more likely to secure competitive advantage over those looking simply to apply social media technologies to support 20th Century ways of working. Hopefully, you get our meaning.