Salesforce.com has withdrawn applications to trademark the Term ‘Social Enterprise’.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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX6CSu9bdu0&feature=player_embedded

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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