Social media is dramatically changing the way companies are interacting with their stakeholders. The traditional walls between Intranet, Extranet and Internet are being broken down as we speak. Communication lines between employees, clients and suppliers are getting blurred.
Traditionally, companies kept their intranet behind the firewall, scared that any information would "leak" to the outside world. Intranets were primarily used as a top down communication tool or an internal network where each department could surface documents that they wanted to share with others in the organisation. In this traditional Intranet scenario, the success is based on "garbage in - garbage out". What you get out of it is as good as what you put in it. Often, departments didn't keep their information up to date, with the result that employees stopped using the Intranet. Companies went back to their directory on the corporate server to make information accessible to employees. After the initial experiences of using the internet behind the firewall, companies started to open their firewall in a controlled manner. Important clients or partners could access parts of the Intranet. This was a big improvement for companies in the way they interacted with their clients. But it was still limited, and driven by technology restrictions, not client requirements.
Then Web 2.0 arrived. All of a sudden, the traditional communication model was put upside down. Information was no longer one-directional. The medium of communication became less important, content became king. It was no longer about what the company said, but about where they listened. Various phases can be recognised how companies dealt with it:
Consumers (including employees) started to create their own channels of communication to talk about the company and share relevant knowledge. Employees started alumni groups on Linkedin because the company's intranet didn't allow for it. Clients and employees started to communicate via Twitter or Facebook. Employees started external blogs to discuss company related matters.
Companies started to participate in these discussions, hesitantly. On a trial and error basis. Particularly when it came to engaging with clients. They still didn't know how to handle it internally. Companies even went as far as forbidding employees to use Facebook or Twitter internally. Not realising that they can access all major social media networks via their mobile phone.
Today, companies are at the stage that they are opening up their intranet for social media. Enabling employees to engage in conversations with management, sharing knowledge and best practices, and using the appropriate social media tools like blogging, micro blogging, forum discussions and webcasts to facilitate this.
So where will this take us? What is the next step?
The next thing we see emerging is that the discussions that are going on internally are being surfaced on the network and therefor will be accessible to all people in the organisation. By allowing people to rate content and reward top contributors the internal social media network becomes a centrifuge of ideas, knowledge, best practices and activities. The same concept can be applied to the online discussions that are going on outside the company. Companies will participate in these discussions and they will make them more and more transparent. Ultimately taking the customer on the engagement ladder from observer to contributor. Check this link on the latest research on social media inside the firewall.
Finally, the barriers between internal and external will disappear. Discussions that are taking place outside the company will surface internally and vice versa. Real conversations and connections will be made between employees and customers. And these discussions will surface on the client-centric enterprise social network. The hub of all the company's social media activities. Where it focuses on the client instead of the organisation. Where it focuses on the content, instead of the social media tools. We see this as a tremendous opportunity for companies to fundamentally change the way they build relationships with and between their employees and clients.