Over the past few weeks I’ve been using the phrase “increase the surface area of an organisation to it’s constituents and stakeholders”. In doing so, the idea is, the two-way flows and interactions between the organisation and the community in which they participate provide two-way benefits and, ultimately, positive returns for the organisation.
One method to achieve this is to create a larger “front-line”:
This is the model that some larger organisations (for example, Telstra) seem to be taking – essentially adding headcount to their customer service team with a specific focus on interaction within social networking spaces. This may include hiring someone into a community manager or similar role, or in some cases outsourcing this to a PR or marketing/design agency.
An alternative is to institute a more open policy that encourages interaction at all levels of the organisation. People within the organisation determine the most appropriate ways to open communications with those outside the organisation in ways that are aligned with the organisation’s priorities and objectives.
This may also mean opening up channels of engagement within the organisation – classic “silo busting” – by using social technologies and more nimble forms of organisation.
Broadly speaking, this is the model that Zappos have adopted (esp. for Twitter) but is also demonstrated by Microsoft’s and Sun’s blogging efforts. The aim is to empower all your people (if they choose) to participate to the degree and with the communities that make sense to them.
While social technologies act in some ways as “facilitating tools” in this process, the change is as much (if not more) about cultural shift as it is about technology. In fact, simply using existing tools like email in more effective ways may be an appropriate option.
It is not just about opening channels, it’s also about putting the right structures in place managerially to act on the learnings, in line with strategic goals. What that means will differ from organisation to organisation, but is essential to actually harness the energy of constituent and stakeholder engagement, rather than get battered by it.