Social Business Model - The Sunflower
Social Business Model – The Sunflower
Social Business Model – The Sunflower

In order to tap into the true potential of social media, businesses will have to make a cultural investment – and begin the process of evolving into social organizations.  This integration of social communication within/across organizational ecosystems is becoming a more tangible possibly as companies and non-profits begin to embrace emerging technology while developing more strategic approaches to social media.

There has been some great thinking and model development in the area of social business design. David Armano developed a compelling Hive Mind Visual during his time at the Dachis Group – it speaks to the need to move away from the information silo mindset towards a more collaborative approach, where sharing information across the organization becomes the norm. Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter Group has  presented some excellent analysis of the five primary social business models. His social business framework and matrix delves into pros and cons of each model and offers great “behind the scenes” insight.

The Social Business Sunflower Model might be considered a hybrid:

Social Leadership

Similar to hub and spoke models, there needs to be a social organizational leader that feeds the internal core. Depending on the size of the organization this role could be C-Suite i.e. Chief Social Media Officer, or simply a social media manager in a smaller business. The key here is to empower a role that becomes responsible for key strategic social business elements such as social media strategy, education/training, guidelines, etc.

Internal Structure

The structure around the social leader is more organic in nature, similar to the honeycomb model – where functional social teams work within their departments (under the mentorship of the social leader) to craft initiatives that are relevant to their respective audiences.

Here are some examples of what that might look like within an organization:

  • A group of employee blog ambassadors that facilitate the exchange of communication and ideas across the internal staff audience
  • A person in HR that helps drive recruitment and engages/manages online dialogue with potential candidates
  • A CEO or small business owner that fuels conversations via a personal blog
  • A group of corporate bloggers that share insights from different departments
  • Front line employees that connect with customers via Facebook or Twitter
  • A distribution manager that posts shipping schedules or notifies customers of delays via social tools
  • A sales manager that crowd sources product improvement ideas from customers and prospects
  • and so on…


The final layer is made up of the distinct audiences that each organization serves. Each petal represents stakeholders that influence (or are influenced by) the organization – it’s products/services, social media initiatives, business objectives, etc. It’s critical to build deep knowledge around each of these groups – understand demographics, where and how they play in the social media sandbox, what content are they interested in, what buying questions they have, etc.

Social media shouldn’t stem exclusively from one department – it needs to reach out from across the organization, touching audiences in manner relevant to their information needs, social channel preference, etc.

The sunflower represents an organic approach to social business – Relevant content stemming from the center of a collaborative, educated and socially aware organization reaching out towards select, deeply understood audiences.

Make sense? Is your business evolving in this direction? What are some of your real world challenges?

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About the Author

Mark Smiciklas
Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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