Social Business Goes to School

Picture of a screen displaying logos of the Facebook site taken in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on May 12, 2012.
Picture of a screen displaying logos of the Facebook site taken in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on May 12, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Raul ARBOLEDA (Photo credit should read RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GettyImages)

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and many other social networking platforms permeate the daily lives of students across the globe. Can the skills and attitudes students develop on sites such as Facebook pay off in the workplace? We think the answer is YES. We also think that students need a curriculum to effectively leverage these skills and attitudes.

It's no secret that companies are adopting social media for marketing, branding, and customer service. Increasingly, companies are using social media for other business goals: knowledge sharing, product development and innovation, talent management, and many forms of internal and external collaboration. In many cases, companies are adopting Facebook-like social networking platforms in the workplace to achieve these business goals.

We think the increased adoption of social networking tools for all aspects of business are creating a new kind of business -- a social business. A social business is fundamentally built on increased openness, transparency, sharing, and collaborative work environments. By living these values, social businesses attain more innovation and higher performance. Social networking tools, or social software, are the enablers of a social business.

We've paid close attention over the past few years to the move towards social business. In the past year, we've sensed that we're close to a tipping point, where the use of social networking in all aspects of business is quickly moving from novelty to mainstream. In fact, we think business professionals of the future must have a social networking skillset to succeed. One recent study shows this momentum towards social business. In a joint MIT/Deloitte study of global managers, 52 percent of global managers thought that social business is important to their organizations today. These same managers viewed the importance of social business as growing: 86 percent stated that social business would be important in their organizations three years from now.

Despite managers recognizing the importance of social business, few organizations are prepared to make the most of social software. According to the 2012 IBM Technology Trends report, only 1 in 10 organizations have the skills they need to benefit from advanced technology such as social software. Additionally, nearly half of the educators and students surveyed in IBM's survey indicated major gaps in their institutions' ability to meet IT skill needs in the social area.

At USC, we're working with IBM to shrink this skills gap and help students turn their social networking savvy into business ready skills. We've partnered with IBM to implement a social networking curriculum in some of our courses. This curriculum harnesses the social know-how students already possess and provides students with the opportunity to deepen technical and business skills in the emerging arena of social business, while learning to adapt their knowledge to real-world business challenges.

As part of the program, students assess the social networking capabilities of an IBM Business Partner organization as a way of learning about the characteristics of a social business while helping to apply social networking technologies to business operations for more efficient collaboration and faster innovation. As part of their coursework, the students are mentored by IBM experts and learn about internal and external use of social business solutions. As the program develops, students learn that through the use of social software and an open, supportive culture, organizations can activate networks of people-- employees, clients, business partners -- to improve and accelerate how work gets done.

The impact of this social business education is profound. Students are developing deeper, richer skills in teamwork and collaboration. They're building business skills and real-world experience by tackling real business problems and assessing the social business capabilities and business challenges of an IBM partner organization. And most importantly, students are learning the basic tenets of building smarter social business through the use of social networking technology.

Social business is here to stay. As educators, we think that social business should be a part of all business curriculums. Social networking skills are no longer simply the domain of marketing. Rather, these skills are important for business professionals in all disciplines -- finance, accounting, human resources, supply chain management, operations, and others. We encourage all business educators to prepare students for the emerging world of social business.