The group and their supporters are rallying against a for-profit company like Salesforce.com monopolizing the “social enterprise” term, deeming it against public interest and threatening a global movement for good.
Chief amongst the SEA’s arguments against Salesforce is their preferred meaning of the very word, social — “advancing the welfare of human beings in society” — and how that adjective has been generally used globally to describe companies with a social welfare intent.
All told, it’s a very interesting argument.
A Social Enterprise vs. The Social Enterprise
From quick perusal* of wikipedia, A Social Enterprise is an organization that looks to drive human and environmental well-being through their efforts. These enterprises may include non-profits, charities, for-profit groups, or just about anybody, really. In this context the notion of A Social Enterprise (be they for-profit or not) is simply that social aims are primary and profits are secondary.
From the Salesforce point of view, The Social Enterprise is another kettle of fish altogether.
The social web has changed the way we live and work and how we communicate and engage with other people, companies, and organizations.
In the context of how an organization does business with customers and prospects, The Social Enterprise goes beyond basic contact information, and builds customer social profiles to include likes and dislikes to have a more complete picture of customers and prospects, and connects the company to the broader social web to better understand and engage with their audience. (I’m oversimplifying and under-selling, but that’s a thought for another day).
What Is Social?
Obviously, there some ambiguity around the word social itself that’s leading to two very different definitions of a combination of words.
But stepping back, in today’s hyper-connected world, what does the word social really mean to people?
I did a quick and utterly unscientific query to Facebook/Twitter/Google+ audiences to do some word association. When asked for the first word or phrase to come to mind, friends fired back suggestions like “network” and “media” most prominently, along with others like “butterfly”, “strawberry”, and even “beer”.
I understand that asking the question on a social network (and ones where others’ responses are seen and can influence) introduces so much bias that the point it makes doesn’t hold water… but I can’t help but cling to the notion that the word social leans more to interacting and engaging with people and communities than it may have in the past.
When Words Don’t Mean What They Used To
But even if common use of social has evolved, and Social Enterprise may take on new meaning now, does it make copywriting that established term reasonable? Is it potentially harmful to the social enterprise movement? Is there a better way to frame the terminology to remove ambiguity? But considering how much both ‘movements’ have invested in building up the value of the “social enterprise” to their respective causes, can either side compromise?
I’m interested to see how debate over the Social Enterprise shapes up. I can honestly understand both sides of the argument.
Either way, I enjoyed spinning my wheels a bit on the notion of semantic drift, and how words and their meanings and interpretations change over time. As a lover of words, it’s an interesting rabbit hole to go down.
For a potential few eye-openers, I recommend the following for some light reading;
*tongue-in-cheek reference to one of the many examples of semantic drift and misused words noted in the links above.