I know that many people and socent organizations are concerned about the recent proposal by salesforce.com to trademark the term “social enterprise”. Taking catch phrases from their website, it looks as though the digital CRM company describes a “social enterprise” as being a business or organization that uses social media to:
- Know its customers (like never before)
- Connect and share with colleagues instantly
- Make every customer interaction social
- Engage everyone with social experiences
Two years ago, a much smaller company in the UK called itself a “social enterprise” because it created opportunities for people to meet, connect, exchange ideas and learn from each other – i.e. to socialize.
Contrast this with how Social Enterprise UK describes “social enterprise”: businesses that are changing the world for the better. They are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.
Social Enterprise London says they are businesses which exist to address social or environmental need.
How about the Enterprising Non-Profits definition: businesses operated by non-profits with the dual purpose of generating income by selling a product or service in the marketplace and creating a social, environmental or cultural value. [emphasis my own]
MaRS describes the social enterprise business model: “social enterprises” apply business solutions to social problems.
Even Wikipedia is in on the action: A “social enterprise” is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.
Although highly un-scientific, what this quick search of my brain and Google demonstrates is the variation in the definitions of “social enterprise” across a small sample from the UK and Canada. I work with investors to support “social enterprises” and “social purpose businesses” (note that I almost always say the two together, sometimes “social ventures” sneaks in there as well). So I wondered whether I was simply in a bubble – “social enterprise” is familiar to me, but is it familiar to others “outside” my bubble, such as salesforce.com? My quick Google search yielded definitions that were generally within this theme of business solutions or market-based strategies to address social issues, improve well-being, or create social value. Surely salesforce.com knew where they were treading by attempting to claim or redefine the term? It certainly isn’t in keeping with their “expertise” in social media. A Twitter search and Facebook search of “social enterprise” yields similar results.
I started writing this post because friends in the UK working closely with “social enterprise” also started to raise concern. At first I thought this “battle” with salesforce.com was potentially distracting social entrepreneurs and taking precious time and effort away from their much needed work. I believe there are weaknesses in “social enterprise” as a brand or label for the sector – I typically throw in the other terms as mentioned above or have a long-winded description involving social mission and alignment with values because “social enterprise” does not necessarily resonate with everyone I meet. Instead, having done my basic, “any 5-year-old could have done it” Google and social media search, I think salesforce.com’s attempt is simply bad business sense. I’m no branding or marketing expert, but their description is even weaker than the existing variations that have the theme of social purpose or social value. I cannot imagine what it would take to optimize search engines to track to their definition. Search engines currently lead to the above definitions supported by organizations working hard and meaningfully to create positive social change.
I’m not so sure Social Enterprise UK needs to worry too much. Ironically, on social media and in the cloud – the people have spoken.