Collaboration as Competitive Advantage

As I discussed in an earlier post, social media have enabled a shift in information and communications flow from a traditional mass-media “push” model, in which a company may craft and deliver a message to its stakeholders (often a different message for different stakeholders), to a “pull” model, in which company and stakeholders are on a more even footing, and what is being said by one may be heard by all.  In this “pull” model, stakeholders themselves define their own information requirements and actively seek out the sources, connections, and networks that will meet them.

While this might seem scary to some, it also represents one of the great opportunities that social media offers:  collaboration.  If you view each one of these voices not as a threat but as an opportunity to engage and to learn, you can leverage social media to add value to your business.

At the most basic level, stakeholder feedback can help a company identify and prioritize areas of performance for improvement.  Taken one or a few steps further, however, both internal and external stakeholder networks are rich with ideas about how such improvements might be achieved.

As Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams point out in their book, Wikinomics, there are always more smart people outside your corporate boundaries than there are inside.  By opening up key business processes or challenges for evaluation, feedback, and input by external stakeholders, which requires both transparency and trust, a company can see their business in a new and broader light and access a much wider range of creative energy than exists within its own walls.  Whether it’s a technical problem or a strategic decision, engaging stakeholders in idea generation can help companies to keep up with the pace of change and complexity of today’s economy while also building valuable social capital among its stakeholders.

To step into this space requires not only the enabling technologies and social networks, but a new organizational mindset as well – there needs to be a culture of openness and collaboration that allows a company to look outside of itself for ideas.

I believe we will soon be seeing a new wave in corporate responsibility, where, as paradoxical as it might sound, effective collaboration is the new competitive advantage.  Companies that are constructive and contributing members of the social web will become better at engaging stakeholders, better at building trust and social capital – the currency of a modern licence to operate – and better at collaborating towards innovation.  They will, consequently, likely outperform and outlast their peers.

And yet, the collaboration potential created by the social web is not limited to corporations.

The democratization of knowledge and our economy by the advent of social media makes it exceedingly difficult for anyone to ignore the information now increasingly available to us (about environmental and social problems, for example).  Like taking the proverbial Red Pill, you can’t un-know.  And knowledge, particularly shared knowledge, is a significant impetus for change.  Through social media, we are collectively developing new abilities, and therefore responsibilities, to act.  Better we act together, toward shared goals, than apart.

No doubt there are risks in the social media landscape, just as there have been with traditional media.  But there are also tremendous opportunities awaiting those who choose to engage in the social web and leverage social media tools to improve corporate responsibility performance.  It’s a small step from social networking to social collaboration, and the rewards for taking that step, in my view, far outweigh the risks.

What I want to see from companies is more dialogue, a greater willingness to engage in conversation with stakeholders where they are at:  ON-LINE.  I encourage companies not to shy away for fear of the risk.  After all, the difference between risk and opportunity is largely one of perception.

  1. Great article, Celesa! At Parta Dialogue, we couldn’t agree more and have taken the exciting and challenging course of making stakeholder dialogue and collective intelligence our core business offering.

    I will be sharing this on the LinkedIN group: Collective Intelligence and Social Media
    http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=3337496
    and invite you to join.

    Best

    Tom

    • Thanks for the feedback, Tom, and for sharing the post in your group. I look forward to chatting with you at the Tremblant CSR Forum tomorrow.

    • timmerrick67
    • November 17th, 2010

    I really enjoyed your post and I think your portrayal of social media is very accurate. It is a two-way street and dialogue and engaging is really at the heart of the concept. I’ve seen others just send out a tweet and wonder why nothing just ‘happens’ but the sharing of ideas, concepts and advice is all possible. Being shy won’t work in 2011 or beyond.

    Best,
    Tim

    • Thanks, Tim, for your comment and the positive feedback. I was just reading a report recently that showed that companies experience more success with their social media engagement when they have consistent and ongoing dialogue, not just a tweet here and there. (Unfortunately, I can’t put my hands on that report at this moment; I’ve been on the road and so not as organized as I usually am – if/when I find it again, I will let you know what it was.) I hope we see more companies overcoming the fear of the risk and stepping forward to take their part in the dialogue. Thanks again for your interest in my blog!
      Best wishes,
      Celesa

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