Growing Social: 4 Different Paths to Social Organizations

by cv harquail on October 26, 2011

Is there a “best way” for organizations to ‘go social’?

More specifically, is there a best way to ‘grow social’, so that the organization incorporates social tools and processes so that change is generative and authentic?

Because I’ve been critical of arguments for Social Business and felt unengaged by arguments from the world of technology, I’ve been wondering what the alternatives are for advocating that organizations become more social. I’ve identified four arguments for moving towards social organizations.. Each of these paths tells us to adopt enterprise social media to become more social. But, each of these paths serves a different set of purposes and a different world view.

4 Paths to Social Organization

We can get to social organization on 4 basic paths:

            1. Technology
            2. Social Business
            3. Collective Values
            4. “Product” Resonance

4292126780_03806f6deb_o.jpgTwo of these paths get a lot of attention, and two of them are under-appreciated. Can you guess which two will lead to the most positive transformation?

1. Technology

The Technology path is the classic model, where the availability of technology leads to the desirability of that technology which leads to implementing that technology. Social media tools exists, we like them, we are able to add them to our enterprise 2.0 systems and so we do. Besides, they’ll make work more efficient, reduce waste, increase speed, etc.

Technology-driven ‘social’ seems most prominent in the Enterprise 2.0 / Knowledge Management / Collaborations systems conversation. And, the Technology path is usually promoted by IT experts.

2. Social Business

The path with the largest cheering section is the “social business” path. Originating in Customer Relations Management (CRM) and Marketing disciples, the social business path starts with parts of the organization deploying social media as a way to link the customer community and the organization’s outward facing / front line employees.

When marketers realized that it would take more than social listening and a few brandividuals to serve customers’ needs, they advocated that the organization transform into a ‘social business’ to support these externally-oriented programs with internal changes. These internal changes seem to be concentrated in areas where other organization functions (outside of marketing) can serve back information or solutions for customers. (Lateral social connections within the organization are still largely an afterthought, if included at all.) The Social Business path is usually promoted by marketing experts.

3. Collective Values

The Collective Values path is often derided as the ‘kumbaya’ approach. This path is pursued, where organizational leaders realize that enterprise social media can support the values of the organization by facilitating new kinds of coordination, communication and collaboration behavior. Values like “community”, openness, full participation, engagement, and the like can be brought alive through the behaviors that enterprise social media supports.

The Collective Values path is promoted by a diverse assortment of business unit leaders, HR professionals, organizational change agents, management scholars, and organizationally-committed employees.

4. “Product” Resonance

The Product Resonance path is so rare that it doesn’t even have a good name. I’ve thought about it as the “Progressive” path and the “Movement” path, but neither of those names captures the intent that drives organizations down this path. So let me try to explain in a few extra words.

Organizations follow the Product Resonance path when they realize that the product, service or issue that they produce suggests a certain set of values, and they also realize that these product values demand to be demonstrated through more ‘social’ organizational practices.


For example, an organization that sells recycling services might see that the community participation their product advocates and depends on can also be expressed through specifically social work & organizational practices, like community forums to discuss the organization’s next quarter targets.

For another example, a community health collective adopts enterprise social media because the very premise of community, health, and collective demand transparency, openness, and inclusiveness — all values that cam be demonstrated in enterprise social media. The employees of these organizations use social media with each other to practice what they preach.

Motives Matter

The path that any organization takes to go social matters, because each path carries with it the potential downsides of the perspective it comes from — the Tech path can seem un-human, the Social Business path too profit-driven, the Collective Values path too woo-woo, and the Resonance path too uptight about appearances.

Only two paths towards social organization
engage the core of who the organization is and what it stands for.

Only Collective Values and Product Resonance paths
engage the organization’s identity as an engine for growth.

Even though the Resonance path and the Collective Values path both are driven by values, there’s a subtle difference between the two. The Collective Values path is driven by self-reflection, a push for authenticity, or other self-expressive motivations. It gets its momentum from the inside.

In contrast, the Resonance path is driven by the organization reflecting on what its external presentations say, and then using any discrepancies or opportunities to drive organizational change. For this path, the trigger for change is external. The Resonance path would be pursued when an organization make connections between external projections — its sustainability goals, its CSR goals, its products, services, political commitments — and the way it organizes itself.

What is Growing Social really about?

Technology is about being more efficient, Social Business is about being more profitable, but Collective Values and Resonance are about creating and aligning meaning. And, both Collective Values and Resonance are all about changing the organization to benefit people first, with concomitant benefits for products, processes and profits. Finally, both paths will lead to deploying social media to create systems of engagement.


This is what I’ve come up with so far — I’d love to hear what you think about these 4 paths, the distinctions between them, and how they might matter.

See also:

Social Media for Social Change — Inside the Organization?
CSR that Improves the World But Leaves Your Damaging Business Model Intact: Authentic or not?
Is your organization flourishing or withering?

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by theloushe, Resonate Attribution Some rights reserved by Attrill

{ 1 comment }

Human Resources HR January 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I think on the whole the social media movement has seen employees at all levels now communicate in a different way, with both one another and its customers!

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }