Many of us would love to be trained to have more social skills in everyday life, whether at work or at home. Or perhaps we wish other people we know would receive that kind of training. But is socializing online something that people need to be trained how to do? It might have sounded silly a few years ago, but social technology has now clearly become an important part of workplace activity and productivity.

Tech giant IBM believes that the socialization of business presents a big opportunity to train people to do it really well. The company announced this week a major new services initiative in social business. This kind of news makes me think it's time to put the whole question of whether engaging with social technology at all has a potential for meaningful ROI to bed.

"Social business" is a trend and term that's been emerging for some time now. More than two years ago, enterprise analyst Esteban Kolsky wrote: "Businesses are becoming social because society (led mostly by Generation Y citizens becoming customers and workers) is demanding it."

If doubts about the ROI of social technology began sometime recently, we might as well pick 2006 as the date, when that silly distraction turned mega-platform Twitter was founded.

In 2012, things have now come far enough that it makes sense for one of the world's leading technology services companies to jump into that market. Discoure about social and business used to be dominated by doubt of the Return on Investment. IBM may be resolving those doubts with its new campaign.

The web's leading enterprise news blogger Larry Dignan summarized the initiative last night on ZDNet as follows:

IBM is planning to offer services to help customers develop skills and technical support for social networking. Naturally, there's a heavy services angle here. IBM will offer live support, online courses and meetings with social business experts.

Among the key social enterprise items from IBM:

  • Consulting services to develop internal and external processes and figure out social businesses.

  • Education and mentor programs for business partners.
  • Technical certification programs to cultivate skills and assess resources.

  • Workshops that will revolve around becoming a social business. Some workshops will be conducted in partnership with The Dachis Group, which is a boutique consulting firm focused on social business.

Four-year old Austin-based Dachis Group has between 200 and 500 employees according to LinkedIn and has acquired a number of other hot social business startups. That company unveiled a new Social Performance Monitor yesterday, a web application Dachis says "combines big data and social analytics to meaningfully measure performance of social marketing."

Is all of this really an effective subject of measurement and optimization? Cynics may disagree, but the socialization of business, specifically with regard to collaboration and marketing, seems of sufficient sophistication that optimization is a clear competitive opportunity. The new offering from Dachis appears to be a big effort to quantitatively resolve the question of social media ROI once and for all.

That which can be measured can be improved, too. IBM says that "the world now spends more than 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites per month."

When that time spent being social is spent while at work, failure to measure and optimize it would be a big lost opportunity and potentially a competitive mistake.

The IBM initiative page reports, "McKinsey & Company observed that 9 out of every 10 businesses using Web 2.0 technology are seeing measurable business benefits from its use."

Social business opens whole new worlds of efficiency,collaboration, productivity and innovation.

It also challenges top-down, command-and-control systems of working. Those aren't worth saving on principle, so their adherents will have to compete in the marketplace to see whether they can really beat social businesses or not.

Now, let's get down to business, together online.