Example of proactive use of social media: KLM

I had just checked in for my flight to Helsinki when a colleague of mine called me.

“Can you fly?”  he asked me.

“Yes, of course, why not?” I asked, somewhat surprised at the question.

 “Well, I am stuck in Glasgow!” he replied, “The ash cloud has reached the northern part of the UK and will reach the rest of Europe soon!”

I’m not easily worried and, despite the air of panic emanating from the other end of the line, I did not foresee any reason to reconsider my travel plans. The same air of panic expressed by my colleague was certainly not in evidence at Schiphol airport. There had been no news of a delay… or had I missed it? We were on our way to meet a client in Finland for a 4-hour workshop. Our plan was to stay overnight and fly back the next day. Any delay would have implications for this tightly scheduled visit.


volcanic ash cloudEyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, in April 2010.

We all know the story about how the huge ash cloud generated by this eruption brought air transport across Europe to a standstill, leaving thousands stranded. Well, I was one of those ‘thousands’. Our plan was to fly to Helsinki early in the morning, meet with our Finnish colleagues and make the final preparations for the joint workshop that had been scheduled for the following day. We’d stay for one night, have the workshop at the head office of our client and fly back the next day. Our workshop was with the world market leader in industrial building cranes and harbor cranes. The client was looking to select and implement a new CRM system and had asked our organization to make a proposal based on the cloud-based solution salesforce.com. I was in charge of the sales and solution process and was joined by three colleagues: the project manager, our CRM expert and our Salesforce specialist.

cloud hostages at the airport

Despite being forewarned by my colleague in the UK, I boarded my flight to Helsinki and, inevitably, became one of the many ‘ash cloud hostages’. Grounded for a week, I immersed myself in the hostage role, letting my beard grow and sending ‘proof of life’ pictures back to my family.

I also took the opportunity to get to know Helsinki – its harbors, peninsula and almost every nook and cranny – by going on daily runs. It’s a personal habit of mine to pack my running gear on any business trip – no matter how short the trip and tight the schedule. Over the years, this has helped me keep my head clear and fresh despite the inevitable tiredness that comes with travel, and it’s also given me the opportunity to get to know great cities such as Dublin, Munich and San Francisco in ways that otherwise would have been impossible on such short trips. I highly recommend this to anybody who regularly travels on business.

During our time as ‘hostages’, we were kept up to date of developments by our company’s travel agent. However, this being the digital age, we soon found that we were able to find out more about what was going on by bypassing our designated purveyor of second-hand information, and scouring the Internet and TV, where it was possible to hear ‘straight from the source’ and in real time what was happening. Now this may seem natural today, but considering this was 2010, our preferences for where we sourced our information from – and indeed our ability to access such information – were different to what they are today.

cancelled flightsOf particular interest to us at the time was news of KLM’s attempts to get air traffic moving again by sending passenger-less test flights into the air to demonstrate the safety of flying. Not only was the company trying to re-occupy European air space, but it also took to the social media ‘air space’, using Facebook and Twitter to keep stranded travellers like myself informed of the latest developments. During my experience of working with huge international companies, I’ve observed what I term the ‘social media epiphany’ moment – the point where a company finally understands the role that social media can play in helping it reach its customers, and embraces it wholeheartedly. For KLM, this was that moment and, since the ash cloud crisis of 2010, the airline has made social media a central part of the way it communicates with its passengers.

At a time of great debate and media frenzy about the rights and wrongs of flying during this crisis, it was comforting and reassuring for us to know that KLM was out there making efforts to get us back home, and keeping us informed of the developments relevant to us. I don’t know how many stranded passengers at the time can say that they felt they were in good hands with their airline. We certainly did.

KLM Surprise

Almost eighteen months after my life as a hostage came to an end, I was in San Francisco for Dreamforce, salesforce.com’s annual cloud computing event. As part of the keynote speech, I was among the more than 40,000 people treated to a showing of the company’s latest case study, ‘KLM surprise’. Having witnessed this airline take its first steps into the world of social media, I was delighted to see just how much they had embraced it in such a short space of time.

The video focused on what the airline calls the ‘KLM surprise’, whereby representatives of the airline actively ‘listen’ to the social media activity of their passengers in the hours leading up to selected flights. When a passenger tweets his or her flight number and destination, the airline checks the passenger’s social media profile so as to find out more about that person’s interests, and also what he or she looks like. They then select a small, but personal, gift based on the passenger’s social media profile, before tracking them down (typically at the boarding gate) to surprise them with the gift.

KLM Surprise

As you can see from the video, the response of the passengers is one of genuine surprise and happiness. Just imagine the positive sentiment and ripple effect of a (relatively) modest act like this. Well, as the video shows, KLM have done the research. Consider the numbers…

  • 28 ‘KLM Surprises’
  • 1,000,000+ impressions
  • Spread over 88 countries

… and that’s just Twitter (so not including over 40,000 view on YouTube). Now imagine the relatively small outlay required to create such a reverberation of positive sentiment. I was able to identify two gifts – a €15 download voucher and a Nike+ sports strap. Now, even if all the gifts cost as much as the latter (around €50), that’s an awful lot of positive sentiment for less then €1,500. Just consider the positive impact on the ‘surprised’ passenger and those around him or her as they receive the present. Consider how many talking points and ‘word of mouth’ opportunities were generated as a result.

European airlines on twitter

The ‘KLM Surprise’ isn’t just ‘flash in the pan’ marketing either. The chart above shows just how much more responsive KLM is to passenger tweets than its European rivals. Consider the importance of rapid response and provision of concise, accurate information within the context of a tightly scheduled business trip or a family holiday.

So what does all of this mean? This isn’t just about using the latest and coolest new technology for the sake of it – everything here is underpinned but by a desire to serve the customer better. KLM is showing us, and other airlines, what is possible when you combine this desire to serve the customer better with proactive use of social media. At a time when air travel is constantly subject to new levies, and in-flight services are scaled down to cut costs, it’s easy for the passenger to feel neglected, perhaps even unfairly targeted. Against this backdrop, isn’t it refreshing to see an airline put customer experience back near the top of its agenda?

I have to say, being rescued by KLM from a seemingly abandoned Helsinki airport at a time when other airlines were not yet flying planted a seed of affinity within my conscience. Today, though, as I see the airline continue to place customer experience at the heart of its business, I must say that that seed of affinity has blossomed to the point where I could quite happily consider myself a true brand advocate of KLM. I’m sure the same is true of many other people ‘rescued’ from Helsinki in 2010 and of the recipients of a ‘KLM surprise’ or a timely tweet telling them their flight is delayed and they have an extra hour to shop in duty free.

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Why companies need to adopt a Social Culture…

…and how to make that happen.

The traditional organizational structure

Every large organization has its legacy. Decades and sometimes even centuries ago, the organization was formed by an entrepreneur with a dream. The organization grew larger and larger. Times and cultures changed, as did the social context, the technology and people interacting and belonging to that organization. With so many different variables, at times, it seems the only constant is growth.

Legacies can be good and bad. Some companies manage to continue to live up to their dream and, as we learned from Jim Collins best-selling book ‘Good to Great’, they stick to their core principle, the ‘hedge hock principle’. Very seldom do we see companies creating a culture of business agility. This is understandable, after all, core principles take time and investment to engrain in the organization, and they are often very dear to company founders and executives. Unfortunately, though, the structures of most modern organizations and the way employees within those structures are managed are today being exposed as painfully out of date. Most enterprise organizations I know still use the old-fashioned carrot-and-stick method: financial KPIs and yearly appraisals. The organizational structure has followed the product and process focus. The enterprise structure often is a very traditional one, in a simplified version most organizations look like this: manufacturing, marketing, sales, service, as well as staff functions like financials and human resources. In many of these organizations, these departments operate as silos, with cross-departmental collaboration only taking place when demanded by the top levels of the business. This, understandably, makes the task of aligning several departments in the name of achieving company goals extremely difficult. It also makes it difficult for the vast majority of individuals to see what value their work brings to the company as a whole.

Today’s need: focus on the customer

Most organizations today understand that they need to be focused on understanding the customer and satisfying his or her needs. Globalization, the rising importance of on-line and social media and the general trend towards fiercer competition have all contributed to this.

Within most organizations today, the traditional approach to manufacturing, marketing, and sales operations date back to the industrial age.  Among others, C.K. Prahalad has taught us in his famous book, the ‘The Future of Competition’ that these models are no longer fit for purpose. Instead, we need to co-create with our customers and create unique personalized experiences.

Most organizations I work with are aware of the need to be on the same page throughout the entire organization when it comes to customer contact. They are developing ‘customer centricity awareness programs’ – internal programs with inspiring names like ‘Our Client First’. These initiatives often include printing placemats for the company canteen and creating campaign-specific posters and screensavers. While this helps to build awareness and buzz, such initiatives are rarely accompanied by a re-think in how company KPIs are structured. So while the campaign proclaims a revolutionary new way of thinking and a call to change the ‘status quo’, the means by which these behaviors are measured remain stuck in the past, with little consideration for anything but the financial triggers. Such KPIs do not motivate the vast majority of employees, nor do they promote a change in behavior or increase the likelihood of cross-departmental collaboration. And yet many organizations persist with such measures because they represent an easy and convenient way of distributing share holders’ value KPI’s down through the business.

What motivates professionals?

All employees are professionals. Scientific research has shown that professionals have an intrinsic motivation, an internal drive to perform well. Daniel Pink put forward his research on the topic in the book ‘Drive’. Pink’s research found that carrot-and-stick style financial KPIs are counterproductive and tend to frustrate professionals far more than they motivate them. What he found was that Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the key principles that motivate professionals.

For those interested in learning more about this, I would definitely recommend this RSA animated representation of Daniel Pink’s thinking.

Creating a social culture, using social (media) technology

I’ve seen excellent examples of how technology can make these things happen. The term is Social HR, modern social media based HR tools. A great example of this is Rypple. Facebook uses it, as does LinkedIn, and a great (3 minute) video has been created showing how Spotify uses the tool to motivate employees and align them with company targets. Rypple was acquired by Salesforce.com and is now known as Work.com. It enables companies to define effective targets (the purpose of Daniel Pink’s  book, ‘Drive’) and monitor their progress far more frequently and openly than traditional appraisal processes allow. The Facebook-like environment enables employees – both managers and colleagues – to provide their feedback on individuals in way that is intuitive and consistent with their best experiences of using social media tools.

The open, ‘social’ nature of this exercise means that the feedback they provide transcends internal organizational structures and enables feedback and appraisals to be captured against company targets. Importantly, this can all happen without being hindered by internal boundaries, departmental KPI’s or sub-optimal departmental targets.  This enables high-performing employees to shine and, importantly, it provides them with the motivation – in the form of peer recognition – to perform to the best of their abilities. In the same way, this ‘openness’ ensures that underperformers are not able to hide behind the formalities of old-fashioned KPIs. Importantly, this puts employees on the same page – not just in terms of appraisals and feedback, but also when collaborating towards a company-wide goal, such as putting the ‘customer first’.


  • There is a need for customer focus and collaboration across organizational boundaries;
  • Social media and cloud technology (the internet) have been responsible for empowering the customer. The same technology can be used by enterprise organizations to transform their organizations and facilitate a ‘social cultural change’;
  • Current KPI’s are outdated and counterproductive. Those companies that recognize this and act accordingly will reap the benefits in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity;
  • Read Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ and start a pilot with this new paradigm, supported by a modern enabling Social HR solution.
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Business Agility Layer – the Answer to IT Obesity

I have devoted a lot of my posts to discussing the notion of what it is to be a ‘Social Enterprise’ or, now that that term is no longer being used, the ‘Socially connected enterprise’. But how do you get there? And how do you stay there when everything around you – and within your company – is evolving so rapidly.  Well, crucial to getting there and staying there is the ‘Business Agility Layer’  – a valuable notion that I believe is the cure to the problem of IT obesity. This post will explore what this ‘layer’ looks like and what form it takes in a day-to-day technology context. 

What is IT obesity?

Many organizations suffer from IT obesity.

It’s remarkable how the problem of IT obesity has emerged in parallel with the prevalence of obesity among humans (maybe IT tells us more about our characters than we’d care to admit?)  The last few decades have seen a huge increase in the complexity of IT systems. Today, many generations of infrastructure and software operate alongside each other, intertwined like a plate of spaghetti. As the role and value of IT has increased, we have added new functionalities and we have added new technologies. The operative word in all of this is ‘added’. Very little ‘subtracting’ or ‘consolidating’ has taken place during this time.  So now consider how many new technologies have been developed in the last couple of decades, how many times business needs have changed. Living proof of how things have changed exists in almost every enterprises’ IT landscape, with data centers resembling ‘journeys through time’. Today, IT decision makers are weighed down by this history – unable to maneuver or innovate due to the sheer complexity and weight of the IT landscape. Think of this using the obesity analogy… IT has become so fat that the business can no longer run or change direction as and when it needs to.

Throw into this unhealthy mix an economic crisis and all of the additional pressures that departments face during a downturn (reduce cost at all cost), and it doesn’t make for a pretty picture.

In many cases, IT became the inhibiter of change.

As a result of this IT obesity, the disconnect between business and IT has become more profound, with business coming to see IT as an impediment to positive change within the business. While the business calls out for solutions to its rapidly evolving challenges, IT is often found to be slow to react, engrossed instead in deploying the latest release or version of a traditional software solution. In this way, the business-IT divide has evolved from being organizational, to being political as well. Where no alignment with the business exists, the IT department goes about its own business, and in the process, continues to suffer from IT obesity.

Sounds awfully grim doesn’t it? Don’t despair – there is hope!

Cloud technology is the answer.

There is a light shining at the end of this seemingly very dark tunnel. Cloud computing technology has opened a world of new possibilities and has breathed new life into the business-technology relationship. Thanks in no small part to this paradigm-changing technology, the notion of business-enabling IT is, once again, a reality. Anytime anywhere connectivity, cloud economies of scale and a host of other new technologies, have come together and created the conditions for the emergence of the business agility layer. And while this doesn’t remedy all the IT ills of the past in one single act, this layer can be spread across the existing legacy IT landscape, adding a degree of flexibility and interconnection that would otherwise be impossible. This business agility layer serves as a link between old and new, and enables pent-up demand from the business to be satisfied without the daunting obstacle of having to delve too deep into the deep-and-complex legacy IT landscape. Now the potential exists to effectively combine old and new – core IT systems for the stable processes, and rapidly deployable cloud-based apps to support business users wherever they are and on whatever device they are using at the time.

Business are already embracing digital transformation as an outside-in innovation.

Prompted by the rise in social media technology and quick-and-easy-to-deploy apps, marketing and sales departments have already begun to bypass the traditional route through IT and have instead started taking matters into their own hands.

With the need to ‘listen’ to what is happening in the social media domain, integrating these technologies has taken on paramount importance.  This can be seen as an ‘outside-in’ approach and, in many cases, is serving to deepen and widen the divide between business and IT. This is also resulting in the growing perception that IT is failing the business by not being able to integrate these highly relevant tools fast enough. Most IT departments I meet are still unable to achieve the shift in mentality that is required by technologies such as cloud and social media.

End-to-end process innovation. Apply ‘the art of the possible’.

IT can, though, be part of the solution to this problem. This does, though require a dramatic change in mentality. IT occupies a unique position within the business because it is capable of adding value at literally all levels of the business… provided, that is, that it adopts the right mentality. By overcoming the fear of these new technologies, IT can re-invent itself and go from being and inhibitor of change to an enabler of transformation. IT can create a new vision on architecture, namely a hybrid application landscape that combines cloud platforms with on-premise applications. The options are certainly out there in the form of SaaS solutions: Salesforce.com, Oracle (Fusion) On Demand, SAP On Demand and Microsoft Cloud, and even Google Enterprise Apps.

I make no secret of the fact that I see Salesforce.com as the game changer in all of this – where they lead, others tend to follow. This is certainly the case with sales and marketing and, as outlined in an earlier post of mine (The Ripple Effect of Social HR) the same is now happening in HR.

Business Agility Layer through PaaS.

But the Agility Layer is starting to spread below just ‘apps’ level and deeper into the IT landscape. Cloud based Platform as a Service (PaaS) can also be seen to e playing the role of the business agility layer. Force.com, Microsoft Azure, as well as powerful tools like Cordys, Mendix,  OrangeScape (to name just a few), are acting as enabling technologies and providing the means by which IT landscapes can get themselves back into shape again.

So it’s possible. But what does it take to get there?

There’s no excuse for enterprise IT to be out of shape.

Given the technology options available today, there is no reason for IT to continue to be seen as the inhibitor of change within the enterprise. Re-invention is a bold step, but it’s one that’s worth taking. It does, though, take an ‘Enlightened CIO’ to embark upon, and successfully complete this journey. Board-room level support is also key to make the transition. I know that most organizations I speak to won’t be able to achieve this transformation easily. I fear that the issue of IT obesity is not yet seen as a life-threatening disease (similar to real life?). Most CIO’s are – and I apologise for this harsh expression – not enlightened but frightened, focusing instead on survival, on ‘keeping the lights on’, instead of taking the bold but worthwhile step of driving change and embracing the art of the possible. While fear of change is understandable, we should be asking ourselves this important question.

How much longer can you afford to wait before you get left behind… for good?

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Doing good by doing well, make CSR part of your enterprise core competence

Thesis: Cloud Computing for Inclusive Business

All enterprises have a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program. In the main, though, these tend to amount to little more than a chapter at the back of the annual report; a feel-good marketing trick. There are, however, a number of companies that take their corporate social responsibilities seriously. Unilever, for example, has its 2020 program – a publicly stated ambition to double its growth and halve its carbon footprint by  2020. Another example, TNT, sponsors the UN World Food Program and uses its business expertise to help the Program improve its operations. Many of the multinationals that I would consider to have worthwhile CSR initiatives are members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Inclusive Business’ is social business with a capital ‘S’. The term Inclusive Business was coined by the WBCSD and SNV (Netherlands Development Organization), and refers to the practice of improving the wellbeing of people at the income Base of the Pyramid (BoP).

C.K. Prahalad, well known with his book, ‘Bible for co-creation’: ‘The Future of Competition’ (2004), wrote the acclaimed book ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ (2006). In this, he puts forward many cases of multinational enterprises investing in developing countries. The enterprises in the book address the low-income sectors of the population. They develop businesses that are both successful, and, at the same time, serve to improve the ecosystem of the BoP. This book opened my eyes to the amazing notion of to ‘do good by doing well’.

Later, in 2009, I had my first real encounter with salesforce.com. It was 2009 and I was attending the Cloudforce event in London. I was taken aback to see that a representative from the Salesforce Foundation was among the first people on the speaking agenda. Not clients, not technology people… but people talking about social good. This had a profound impact on me and made me feel that this was truly a company that had CSR as one of its cornerstones… and not simply an afterthought. This for me represented the start of a journey of discovery. As I have helped clients reap the benefits of salesforce.com the technology, I have learned more about the ethos and people behind the Salesforce.com the company. As I outlined in a previous post, my admiration for Salesforce runs deep and, to me, Marc Benioff is an inspirational example for all CEOs. By weaving CSR into the very core of his business, he is providing a shining example to existing and aspiring business leaders of what social responsibility can, and should, mean.

My enlightenment on the potential of marrying business success to social good took another step forward in 2011, when I was invited to organize a cloud computing event with Capgemini Netherlands and  the Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands. The university has traditionally been focused on business – not technology – issues. However, as the true ramifications of what cloud computing means for business were becoming more apparent, it was clear that a type of tipping point had been reached. Technology, so often driven – and forced to react – by developments in the business world, had itself become a regular driver of business decisions.

This realization and a particularly enjoyable and satisfying collaboration with the university led to the creation of a graded course titled ‘Information and Innovation’. Thanks in no small part to this, Nyenrode was recognized by the Associaton of MBAs as being among three most-innovative Business Universities in the world.

The aspect of ‘doing good by doing well’ was part of our joint agenda. Through this collaboration with Nyenrode, I met with Peter Bakker, former CEO of TNT, ambassador of the World Food Program, and current president of WBCSD. For those of you who don’t know who Peter is, I advise you to Google him. He is a truly inspirational character in the field of business for social good, and the story of the CSR actions he took after becoming CEO of TNT makes for great and inspirational reading.

In 2011, I also had the opportunity to meet SNV through Salesforce Foundation. SNV is a Dutch headquartered global NGO and a beneficiary of Salesforce Foundation (they receive free-of-charge access to salesforce.com). SNV and WBCSD jointly developed the concept of Inclusive Business. When I met the people from SNV, they were using their free-of-charge salesforce.com licensing but were by no means extracting full value from the technology. We organized workshops to address this and help incorporate cloud and social media into their vision of ‘Inclusive Business’

I have been fortunate enough to be able to put the knowledge and experience I have
gained to good use by providing mentorship as part of the Nyenrode program. I’m proud to say that, this month, Mr. Mackensie Masaki, a smart, young Kenyan Nyenrode International MBA student and somebody I have been mentoring, received a score of 8 for his thesis ‘Cloud Computing for Inclusive Business’. This is a remarkable achievement as very few people achieve scores higher than 8 or 8.5. The score itself is a great achievement, but even more important in this achievement, is the social relevance of the study. I advise all of you to download and read the thesis.

Mackensie Masaki defending his thesis

This topic is very dear to my heart and is one that I am truly passionate about. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Mackensie and am truly appreciative of the role played by Nyenrode, Prof. André Nijhof, and Prof. Désirée van Gorp in enabling this highly relevant study to reach a wider audience. Let’s hope this is just the start and there will be time and opportunity to build on this fantastic start.

It is my dream that more multinational enterprises make Social Business (doing good) part of their core strategy. Imagine, for example, if large companies used the incredible knowledge and capabilities that have enabled their business success and used that power to try ‘to make this world a little better’, just as companies like TNT have done, and just like Salesforce does. Inclusive Business is a fine example of how this can be done. Cloud computing, and, more specifically, social enterprise collaboration can be a catalyst for this. This is one of the key findings of Mackensie’s thesis, and one that I wholeheartedly endorse.

Url to download the thesis: Mackenzie Masaki Thesis Nyenrode-Capgemini 2012

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Salesforce.com has withdrawn applications to trademark the Term ‘Social Enterprise’.

Salesforce.com withdraws applications to trademark the Term ‘Social Enterprise’.

Dreamforce 2012 was great! But didn’t you miss the term ‘Social Enterprise’, that Marc Benioff branded so eagerly last year?

The term ‘social’ refers to many things. I explored this topic in an earlier blog post ‘Introduction to Social Enterprise’

In recent times, the term ‘Social Enterprise’ has attracted a great deal of attention, first when salesforce.com announced its intention to trademark the term, and then more recently, when it decided to withdraw the application.

I work in business technology and have observed, with great interest, the way this term and salesforce.com have come to be part of our day-to-day vocabulary.

Salesforce.com has, and continues to have, a huge impact on the way Enterprises operate. This is predominately due to the inclusive concept of going digital, and the application of a ‘business agility’ layer over the ICT landscape of large organizations, thus enabling them to be better connected – both internally and externally.

The rise of Salesforce.com has caused a groundswell in the way the Application Vendor market is shifting. This shift began with changes to the CRM market prompted by salesforce.com’s rise to prominence and the industry shift towards the adoption of cloud and SaaS. And it’s not just about cloud and SaaS – more recently, social media has come to the fore and modern enterprise solutions need to be able to cater to the growing role of social media, and to be able to help client organisations harvest this new and valuable source of insight. (This applies not only to CRM, but also to HR – see my post ‘Ripple Effect of Social HR’).

Salesforce.com has changed the game. And, as such, traditional leaders in enterprise software, such as SAP and Oracle, are being pushed by market demand to follow the cloud computing wave. In my day-to-day experience of working with some of the world’s largest companies, I’m seeing that extremely few enterprise organisations are continuing to invest in ‘conventional’ client-server application technology. Simply put, new solutions arriving that are not cloud-based or cloud compatible, and that do not feature the ability to integrate with social media technology are, essentially, OOA… ‘obsolete on arrival’.

Cloud and SaaS have matured to the point that they can truly be considered enterprise ready and uptake in these technologies is now huge, and continues to rise. What’s more, social media, once a fad, has penetrated both our personal and professional lives and is now firmly entrenched in the enterprise technology landscape.

When I consider these evolutions in technology and the rise in prominence of the notion of ‘social’, however we understand it, I can’t help but recall one of my favourite Marc Benioff quotes: ‘We are Cloud born and reborn Social’.

There has been a great deal of discussion around Salesforce’s attempt to trademark the term Social Enterprise. The term existed long before Salesforce.com began to use it within a Business-Technology context. In 2002, the UK Government Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) defined a social enterprise as:

“A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.”

When Salesforce.com revealed its intention to trademark the term Social Enterprise, Social Enterprise UK raised its objections in the form of its ‘Not in our name‘ campaign.


Unsurprisingly, the decision to withdraw this application was warmly received.

In a statement of the 5th of September 2012 Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK CEO, said:

“I would like to thank Marc Benioff for his personal engagement in this issue and his concern for the welfare of the world’s growing social enterprise movement.  We are delighted that Salesforce has made this decision and it’s absolutely to their credit that they have taken it publicly, offering an unequivocal statement of their future intentions.  We have been impressed by their honesty and integrity.  We know that this is no small deed.  Much time and effort has been put in by Salesforce and some of their customers to developing and marketing their version of ‘social enterprise’.”

This sequence of events leads me to ask myself the following question. What does it mean to be a Social Enterprise today. Was salesforce.com wrong to try to trademark the term in the first place given that an accepted definition already existed? Or does the way in which salesforce.com approach the topic of ‘social’ and what it means to be social supersede the original meaning?

Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, and founding father of the Micro Credit and the Grameen Bank, speaks about Social Business. In his recent book ‘Building a Social Business‘, he speaks about a Social Enterprise as a professional organization with its purpose of a cause, like the Grameen Bank: improve income at the Base of the Pyramid, there are many related initiatives (like BoPinc, for example).

Looking at the aforementioned understandings of the term ‘Social Enterprise’ or ‘Social Business’, it is clear that previously established definitions and understandings do not necessarily apply to salesforce.com. Sure, the 1-1-1 concept (whereby 1% of profit goes to the  Salesforce Foundation), that Marc Benioff has put Social at the very base of his own enterprise but while this represents a novel approach, this is clearly not the same as pursuing social good above profit and above the interests of shareholders. (I hope to elaborate more on the 1-1-1- concept and how I think enterprise organizations can leverage this vision as part of their own CSR2.0 strategies in a future post).

But while salesforce.com doesn’t necessarily fulfill the Social Enterprise criteria established in 2002, let’s look at what the company has brought to the term ‘social’.

Salesforce.com has been at the forefront of encouraging the use of social media and demonstrating the value that businesses can derive from the insight generated by users of this technology. Today, we share our opinions out in the open, and we interact with brands and companies in a way that the whole world can see. This not only makes us more informed, but it forces the companies that we interact with to rethink who they are and what they do – from one-to-one customer service, all the way through to their production lines. We as consumers are more empowered, and corporations – whether they like it or not – are becoming more transparent.

And what about the way we work? These same habits that we have developed in our private lives are now making their way into the workplace, thanks in no small part to salesforce.com and the range of enterprise solutions they have developed with the aim of facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing within the organisation. These more ‘social’ or ‘sociable’ practices are transforming the way we work, as well as traditional roles and conceptions.

As I consider all of this, I wonder… Does the 2002 definition of what it means to be a Social Enterprise still hold true? Or, given what has changed in technology and the way we interact over the last ten years, should we now broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Social Enterprise? In my mind, it is certainly clear to me that, when you consider the different ways in which we use the word ‘social’, salesforce.com has a strong claim on all fronts.

This question of what it means to be a social enterprise and then what it is that salesforce.com makes me really like the term ‘socially connected’. For me, it epitomises salesforce.com’s relationship with the term ‘social’ on every level. The 1-1-1 initiative connects the company to the improvement of society and represents a commitment to doing social good. And salesforce.com, through its promotion and integration of social media interactions, and the technology solutions it has introduced to empower enterprises to take advantage of this new way of interacting is helping businesses connect with their clients, and employees to better connect with each other.

So when we consider all of this, does it matter that the term Social Enterprise cannot be trademarked? It’s not for me to say. What is clear to me is that salesforce.com is transforming the way business operate ‘socially’ – in a technology sense, in a business sense, and in a purpose. Does the end game in that transformation need to be trademarked? It’s difficult to say. I, for one, am more than ready to embrace the term ‘socially connected enterprise’

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The Ripple Effect of Social HR

About cause and effect in HR Solution Vendors, the acquisition of Rypple by salesforce.com seen in a larger perspective. From old fashioned On-Premise Client-Server Applications to Cloud-based SaaS solutions to innovative Social Apps.

About On-Premise, On-Demand, Cloud and Social:

  • Classical SAP and Oracle Applications are born Client Server Technology
  • SAP On-Demand and Oracle Fusion are or will be available in the Cloud
  • Workday, SuccessFactors and Taleo are Born in the Cloud
  • Salesforce.com is Cloud Born, and ‘Reborn Social’
  • Rypple is Born Social, Work.com is Born Social

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Introduction to ‘Social Enterprise’

When starting an international blog, there are many things to reckon with. Words and expressions can have different meanings in other countries or cultures. This is the case with the word Social. Discussing the term Social Enterprise with e.g. my French colleagues evokes interesting discussions. Social in France is a very political term. The very first association is not with Social Media Technology. This is interesting to notice, because there is in fact more to it that merely the adaption of Social Media Technology.

This blog is about Social Enterprise, and the impact of a ‘Business Technology Paradigm Shift’: the impact of the use of Social Media in Enterprise Organizations.

Meeting Marc Benioff during Dreamforce 2011

Meeting with Marc Benioff during Dreamforce 2011

The term Social Enterprise evokes many questions. It was Marc Benioff from Salesforce.com who introduced this term into our business world. Knowing Marc Benioff and his ideas behind Salesforce.com, I can’t reframe from thinking of social in the most literal (French?) sense: taking care of each other, sharing your wealth, being kind, being social. I bet that Marc has chosen this term on purpose. When still in his EVP Marketing at Oracle before 1998, Marc already was investing in ‘giving back to society’ as he put it. When starting Salesforce.com, it was his explicit intention to be ‘Social’, he came up with his 1% model: 1-1-1 and initiated the Salesforce Foundation. His (in my opinion) sincere intent is to do good, while driving Business. Social Enterprise with a capital S.

Having said that: there are a three aspect to the Social Enterprise::

  1. Technology: Social Media Technology causes a Paradigm Shift in the world of IT. Cloud computing, no infrastructure and even ‘no software’. The profession of IT is changing rapidly.
  2. Business: the Art-of-the-Possible inspired by new Technology, initiates new business models. E.g. creating an end-to-end digital user experience, as Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry puts it, is a whole new ballgame. Also the way employees can now collaborate across departments and around the world like never before, causes ground-shifts within organizations.
  3. Purpose: the social revolution, people don’t want to work for an evil company, corporate organizations wouldn’t get away much longer with merely adding a chapter about CSR in the Annual Report.

This blog is about Technology. And about Business. And about Purpose.

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