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What is a Social Business Model? 8 Companies Doing it Right

Corporations, Community Strategy // From Glossier to Netflix, see how 8 different companies are tapping into the social business model to improve the customer experience (and their success).

Elizabeth Bell
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Once upon a time, during the initial rise of social media platforms and online communities, people were aflutter about what these new developments would mean for their business. The term “social” seemed to compound every business buzzword, making it difficult to understand what a social business really looks like.

In today’s world, the social business model has become an expectation, rather than a new idea.

Here’s our formal definition:

What is a Social Business Model? The social business model is a framework utilized by companies to improve their customers’ experiences, using online channels to prioritize customer success and customer engagement.

Now that we (and the social business model) are older and wiser, we can reflect on what the impact of the introduction of these platforms. To help illustrate the concept better, we’ve compiled a list of eight companies we think are using the social business model well. Spoiler alert: Netflix is one of them.

Across all types of consumer-facing businesses (B2B and B2C), customers expect to be able to reach a company using various channels – whether it’s through a customer portal, Twitter, an online community, support tickets, an Instagram direct message, other social media platforms, a call center, an emailyou get the idea.

Furthermore, they’re expecting a personalized, relevant experience across all these channels. Seeing the connection? The channels of communication have expanded – the customer-company relationship is now social. 

Curious to learn more about branded communities? Check out The State of Community Management Report for industry trends, below. 

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

8 Examples of Companies Thriving with the Social Business Model

Pursuing a social business model generally looks like using online engagement tools to promote customer success, crowdsource product innovation, and create a stable support network for customers, but everyone’s use case is different, and it can help to see different ways companies apply the framework.

1. Glossier 

Glossier, a B2C makeup sensation, entered the scene when its founder started a beauty blog. The blog has grown into a beauty brand valued at 1.2 million – and to what does the founder attribute their success? Listening and responding to online customer feedback.  

Throughout its growth, the company has actively sought customer feedback on their blog and other social channels. For example, the company’s Instagram account receives five direct messages per minute. But all this feedback is harnessed to make the product betterAt one point, customers expressed that Glossier wasn’t producing enough makeup to meet the needs of women of color, which led to Glossier’s expansion of its product line to include more shades.  

Why we like it:  

Glossier’s obvious attention to customer feedback has led to huge success for the company. The company achieved the status of “unicorn” (a privately-held startup valued at over one billion) in 2019. And how did Glossier get here? The founder built the brand on engaging with customers online to improve their experience, and the company hasn’t veered from that path yet.  

Read the full story on Glossier here.

2. Netflix 

If you’ve ever watched something on Netflix, you know that they’re all about personalization. As soon as you click “play” on that movie or TV show, your dashboard immediately suggests related content. (Why yes, I WOULD like to watch A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, how did you know?!) 

Netflix uses the data that customers provide through their clicks, time spent watching, day and time of viewing, all to create the personalization powerhouse.  

Why we like it:  

Like any consumer, we like it because it makes our streaming experience richer and easier. This is a perfect example of the social business model. Netflix is making the customer experience relevant by harnessing data that customers submit and improving customer satisfaction, experience, and retention. (Plus, viewers love it so much that Netflix can keep raising prices with confidence that most customers will stay.) 

Read more about Netflix’s approach

3. Jama Software 

Jama Software, a B2B software company, offers a product development software that allows companies developing software to keep critical records of actions and processes. It introduced an online community to its customers to improve the customer experience and make its customers more successful.  


For one, it makes customer support a lot easier for the customer by creating a network of customers and providing a resource library for support self-service. Jama is also able to crowdsource product improvements and improve customer intelligence, using community data to get a clear picture of their customers’ needs and interests.  

Why we like it: 

Jama Software’s approach prioritizes the customer through engagement and online connectionNot only is the company improving its approach to customer support, but it’s using online community to gather the data it needs to improve its product and the customer experience.  

Read more about Jama Software’s initiative.

4. Harley Davidson  

Online automobile/motorcycle communities have popped up to unite buyers in the past few years. Mini Cooper has one, and Harley Davidson similarly connects riders through a community that helps them connect and discuss all things Harley. The business uses this as a chance to unite customers behind their brand, strengthening the bonds of their advocates. 

Why we like it:  

When you’re connected to a community of like-minded people around a product or cause, you’re more likely to become engaged, invested, and stick around. Harley Davidson knows this. By uniting customers through this community, they’re harnessing the power of social business to connect customers to their brand and drive sustainable value. 

Read more about Harley Davidson’s community.

5. Zenoss 

Zenoss, a B2B company, develops software that supports IT services and applications of large organizations, working to keep them up and running 24/7. The company has had a user group community for more than 10 years but recently moved toward a full private online community for its customers. Zenoss’s community allows its customers to collaborate, enjoy an improved user experience, and allows Zenoss to scale its membership base rapidly. 

Why we like it:  

Zenoss’s use case shows how a software company can adapt to the social business model use over time, continuously improving how customers can connect with the company and each other online. The company has opened the door to even greater collaboration and crowdsourcing of ideas.   

Read more about Zenoss’s community-based model.

6. Wargaming 

Wargaming, a Belarusian video game company, uses customer feedback to improve game updates in real time. When the company released an update to a popular game, World of Tanks, they gathered audience feedback to identify positive and negative feedback and its location, and shared feedback across teams to improve performance.  

Why we like it:   

Multi-player online games are inherently social – so it makes sense that any company hoping to succeed in the business have adopted a social business model. Monitoring customer data during their launch allowed Wargaming to improve its product and meet customers’ needs.  

Learn more about Wargaming’s strategy here.

7. Discovery Education 

Discovery Education provides teaching resources for educators across the globe. Its customers were originally disparate and disconnected groups, until the company introduced an online community. Now, the group of active members calls this online space home, and use the community to support their professional goals, access resources, and build relationships.   

Why we like it:  

Through the online community, Discovery Education has been able to support its customers and make them successful. The company can provide immediate access to resources and a valuable network of other customers. This application of the social business model points to the success of companies that can find ways to make their customers central.  

Read Discovery Education’s full story.

8. Starbucks

Starbucks seeks customer feedback from in a modified online community. The coffee company’s forum asks customers to contribute ideas and suggestions, and Starbucks will review and possibly implement suggestions, if it is on brand. It has made changes to its menu like adding coconut milk and almond milk to the menu, per customer request, which was praised highly by customers.  

Why we like it:  

Starbucks created a dedicated online space that it owns, rather than relying on an existing social network to gather feedback. This gives the company a unique look at customer data that its competitors can’t see. Starbucks has been responsive to its customers feedback, which is a “must” when you seek customer feedback out. It’s using the suggestions and feedback it receives to improve every customer’s Starbucks’ experience.  

Read up on Starbucks’ social business model 

Keys to Perfecting the Social Business Model 

Did you notice this list didn’t cover just one industry or type of business? That’s because, regardless of industry, the social business model is one that’s rapidly becoming a customer expectation (so expect to deliver on it). 

How can you take your company further toward improving customer success and experience? Try these takeaways:  

  • Gather activity data on customers’ preferences (behaviors, needs, likes, dislikes, etc.
  • Use that data to improve and personalize their experience 
  • Listen to your customers
  • Respond to their feedback  

It’s all about making your customers the focus of your business, because without them, you wouldn’t have one.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Joshua Paul in April 2012 and has since been refreshed to make sure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest. 

Elizabeth Bell

Content Marketing Manager

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.

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