Verizon Business has just released a report that concludes IT-enabled online collaboration is becoming increasingly vital to a business’ reputation and brand management, especially among online communities, partners and potential customers.
Seventy-eight percent of the study’s respondents indicated that meaningful interaction and dialogue with bodies such as special-interest group, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and citizen groups is “important” to their business; 33 percent said online communities comprised of these groups and others will make up their most important category of “nontraditional stakeholder” over the next five years.
The Verizon-sponsored report, “Dangerous Liaisons: How Businesses Are Learning to Work With Their New Stakeholders,” was written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the business information arm of the Economist Group (publisher of the Economist magazine). It points to the rising prominence of these groups, thanks to a variety of Internet-enabled collaborative solutions, ranging from VoIP, presence-enabled apps, fixed-mobile convergence, online white-boarding, team workspaces online, blogs, podcasts and wikis. All of which, taken together, are driving an evolving online business environment that bypasses the usual physical and virtual borders corporations try to impose, and enable “new dialogue streams” between the business community and the outside world.
The study also makes it clear that businesses must better integrate their public and private communications with more collaborative interactions to best position themselves in their market.
“Online communities, enabled by social media tools, are having a strong information effect on enterprise communication, enabling stakeholders to access multiple information points on demand, choose their influencers and build global communities of engagement, quickly and simply, and outside traditional corporate boundaries,” said Kerry Bailey, chief marketing officer for Verizon Business. “Our survey shows that corporations are now beginning to understand the importance of these new communities, and their influence on corporate success, but that there is still a ways to go to establish a balanced environment where online stakeholders can be fully engaged in corporate communication.”
Addressing the report’s findings, Verizon offered four key best practice recommendations to better engage these online groups: Re-think the company’s policy, balancing the need for information control with the greater opportunity that heightened outreach to these new stakeholders represents; re-architect IT and network infrastructure to support increasing demand among these groups for rich, multimedia experiences, which can strain network capacity as well as storage and backup capabilities, through “Everything-as-a-Service” cloud delivery models; ensure social media communications are engineered to run at the same level of efficiency as traditional communications channels; and optimize internal communications and collaboration to better mine employee’s intelligence and creativity.
Following through on these suggestions is likely to meet some resistance from many companies’ top leadership, even from a strategic perspective. According to the report, 43 percent of those polled said there’s a potential risk to their reputation in dealing with online communities, while 38 percent said similar things about NGOs and civic groups. Forty-two percent agreed that online social networking is becoming an increasingly critical means of communicating to the widest audience, but some cited significant concerns about how best to control the flow of corporate information, while protecting intellectual property.