The concept of the social business, with interconnected constituencies including marketing, R&D, customer support, and suppliers, is appropriately a hot topic today. But what will a social business look like seven years from now? In 2020, futurists expect to see memory devices in our clothing that capture our daily experiences; smart phones that beam images directly to our retinas, creating high resolution virtual displays hovering in the air; and drugs capable of turning off the fat insulin receptor gene to cure obesity. Here’s a look at the future of the social business in that context.

As businesses become more customer-centric and Brian Solis’s Generation C (for connected) takes over, the marketing function will become more critical than ever to business success. Customer experience and vendor reputation will mean everything. Information will flow in two directions; both the seller and the buyer will have public ratings and reputations just as they do on eBay today. According to blogger Dana Rousmaniere, interruption marketing will be completely eliminated as the sales process continues to move away from direct sales pitching toward conversational storytelling. 

Serving Gen-C

The Gen-C quest for a superior customer experience will drive marketing into even closer alignment with customer support. Sales will be dependent on positive social interactions about the product experience. Customers will buy based on the story created with customer support.

The enormous volume of customer data available will enable businesses to provide an almost-custom, personalized product or experience. The marketing functions of defining product features and setting prices will become more automated and take place in real time. In fact, Amazon is already adjusting its pricing up to nine times a day.

After a product is purchased, it will self-monitor and autocorrect most faults, as well as auto-update its design to prevent a recurrence. When the product is unable to heal itself, full emergent virtual reality will connect the customer with support, engineering, and technology partners as appropriate.

Today, software fixes and updates can be applied to the product nearly instantly. By 2020, replacement or updated mechanical parts will often be printed by a 3D printer at the customer’s site. When that is not possible, the customer will promptly receive parts via a driverless delivery vehicle.

Because successful businesses in 2020 will be more dependent than ever on the quality of their people, the role of Human Resources will be pivotal. Recruiting is already moving from traditional resumes to social media and Google-search as your resume. By 2020, the dreaded annual performance review will be retired in favor of continually-available real time performance feedback. Professional development will make increasing use of interactive training and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

HR will need to be prepared to hire for positions that do not even exist today, such as Corporate Disorganizer , one of eight future jobs described by Ben Schiller. A Corporate Disorganizer taps into “new systems of the collaborative economy, creating greater fragmentation and a more distributed ecosystem.”

In terms of organizational structure, businesses of 2020 will progress beyond flat to what Marina Gorbis of the Institute for the Future calls “superstructed.” Enabled by new social media platforms, superstructed organizations reach outside traditional company boundaries to tap into collective intelligence. They foster extreme collaboration and achieve whatever scale is necessary to compete in their markets. Extreme collaboration involves thousands of people in activities such as science games like Foldit or GalaxyZoo to collectively solve megascale problems.

Embracing the principals of social business today is critical. In the future, business will no longer be called “social” simply because those that are not social will disappear.

Published on: Feb 4, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.