Simon Terry

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Internalise Externalities


Businesses must increasingly manage the impacts that they have on society. Social media creates new accountabilities for organisations externally. Social media offers a way to better manage these external impacts. Enterprise social technologies can help make the enterprise socially oriented.

Reputation matters

In a social and digital era, reputations of organisations are more important than ever. The days in which the organisation controlled the message are over.  Consumers and communities have access to every action and every message of an organisation.  They will consider far more than its marketing. Every impact that the organisation has can and will be found, discussed and assessed. Critically, consumers and communities have a much greater ability to research and organise around issues at digital speed.

More than ever we operate in a world where each business must negotiate a community licence to operate. Regulated, utility & trust based have faced this issue to date. However, many more organisations are increasingly finding that they need to explicitly engage segments of their consumers on issues like environmental impacts, diversity, social impacts, employee issues and any other area of community concern.  You don’t have to believe that we are consuming resources unsustainably, that global warming exists, that fairness or other social issues matter or that there is the importance of a diverse organisation.  

All that matters is that someone in your community does.

Reputations leak everywhere

The truth will out. We are no longer in an era where good marketing and public relations will shape a company’s reputation. Every conversation and every action is equally likely to leak, be discovered in legal or other proceedings and rapidly shared around the world. No secrets are secure. A business that relies on keeping secrets from its customers and community is doomed.

Importantly, your employees & customers bring issues inside and carry them out each day. Look on social media, whether external or internal, and you will see good and bad customer service moments, queries around environmental impacts and even debate around the social impacts of your products and services.  You may also find people querying how you treat your employees, the state of your workplaces, the tone of your leaders and the diversity of your organisation. You need to at a minimum monitor and reflect on these conversations.

If you don’t offer employees avenues to discuss their issues internally, there is a good chance they are discussing it on Facebook, Twitter or at least with their friends. People will raise issues with them every day. Do they know how to respond with facts? Uninformed by an open conversation internally, your employees can help spread rumours or inadvertently confirm them with awkward silence or ‘I can neither confirm no deny’ answers required by many communication policies. Leveraging enterprise social technology can help you to engage and inform your employees on social issues.

If you don’t engage, the issues don’t go away.  Instead, you run the risk that they grow into rumours, campaigns or even boycotts before you are even aware.

Social value can be created

The demands of customers and community don’t have to be a threat to the organisation’s reputation.  Every piece of feedback is a clue as to how your organisation can improve the value that it delivers.  You will not be able to make everyone happy.  However, seeing you move to respond to feedback and create additional value for everyone is a key step to building a leading reputation and benefiting from a social & networked economy.

Many organisations have found that addressing these wider issues also drives the bottom line by removing waste, engaging employees and fostering innovation.  Start to create more social value as you go about your business by engaging differently with your people, customers and community:

  • Listen to feedback and act where there is an opportunity.
  • Measure the value & waste you create and share the results
  • Engage openly in discussion internally and externally around the issues of creating greater value
  • Collaborate internally and externally on key issues
  • Make social impacts a criteria of decision making and innovation
  • Over time build a strategy that incorporates your social value and makes yours a more social enterprise

Ask new questions

If all we consider is old questions, nothing will change.  Creating a more social organisation that can profit from the networked economy requires us to consider:

  • What impacts are we having on our people, customers and our community? What could we do differently? What are they saying?
  • What do our people, suppliers and partners know?  What conversations are they having?  How can we engage them to create greater value?
  • What would we do differently if everything was public information?
  • What external impacts should we be considering as priorities?

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