New Study Shows That Collaboration With Online Communities Is Increasingly Important for Corporate Reputation and Brand Management

IT-enabled online collaboration, particularly with online communities, is increasingly important for corporate reputation and brand management, according to a new Economist Intelligence Unit study.

The Verizon-sponsored study, "Dangerous liaisons: How businesses are learning to work with their new stakeholders," surveyed senior executives worldwide on their views of how an emerging group of non-traditional stakeholders is impacting corporate reputation.  According to the study, published Wednesday June 9), 78 percent of the respondents say that interaction with special-interest groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or citizen groups is important to their business, while 33 percent say that online communities will be their most important category of "non-traditional stakeholder" in five years.

An evolving group of Internet-protocol-enabled collaborative solutions - which include voice-over-IP (VoIP), presence-enabled applications, converged fixed-mobile communications, online white boarding, team workspaces, blogs, podcasts and wikis - are increasingly responsible for empowering non-traditional stakeholder groups. These collaboration solutions are enabling a new, borderless enterprise environment, and facilitate new dialogue streams between the corporate and public (or private) worlds.

The study by the EIU - the business information arm of The Economist Group, publisher of The Economist - shows that the successful integration of these new communication streams into corporate collaborative efforts is increasingly critical if organizations are to survive and thrive. 

Using Technology to Enable the Social Enterprise

To help businesses in their efforts to engage new stakeholder groups in an IP-enabled world, Verizon Business offers the following recommendations:

  • Square the risk contradiction. Business is built around complex, but highly adaptive systems, and there is a fundamental contradiction in the risk comparison between data loss for an individual engaging with social media (where data is freely given into the public domain) and the corporate user (who holds the trust and personal data of numerous clients).  Business therefore needs to create a fabric of trust in which the social ecosystem can thrive, balancing the need for information control with the opportunity these new stakeholders present.
  • Reassess business infrastructure. The public social space is built around an open, rich multimedia environment, which users expect to be replicated in the enterprise social world. This puts significant demands on corporate bandwidth, and storage and backup capabilities.  Emerging Everything-as-a-Service delivery models can help businesses transform their infrastructures to meet these challenges.
  • Remember the importance of the relationship. Establishing a trusted relationship is critically important if organizations are to successfully engage with new stakeholders in the online world.  And in business, there are many ways and many levels in which relationships are built and succeed. Social media communications need to run alongside traditional communications to build relationships.
  • Maximize the corporate knowledge base. Internal communications can also be transformed by collaborative solutions, enabling the corporation to maximize the collective brainpower of its employees in the service of the company. And with employees fully engaged, the corporation can build a team of ambassadors able to interact with all other stakeholders, and forge new and successful relationships.

Kerry Bailey, chief marketing officer for Verizon Business, said: "Online communities, enabled by social media tools, are having a transformational 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.  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 way to go to establish a balanced environment where online stakeholders can be fully engaged in corporate communication."

Bringing New Stakeholders to the Attention of the Board of Directors

Business already knows the importance of collaboration and the role that technology plays in driving its effectiveness. A study conducted by Frost and Sullivan¹, commissioned by Verizon and Cisco, showed that not only is collaboration a key driver of business performance, but also that companies can realize a significant return by using advanced, IP-enabled collaboration tools to boost performance.

However, the new EIU study points out that collaboration with these new stakeholders is still rarely taken into strategic consideration by a company's board of directors, limiting positive potential outcomes. This could be due to perceived risk -- some 43 percent of respondents see reputation damage as a potential risk in dealing with online communities, and 38 percent say the same in regard to NGOs and civic groups. Another concern is information-flow control - in particular, preventing the release of confidential or inaccurate information and protecting intellectual property.  However, 42 percent of survey respondents agree that online social networks are becoming the most effective means of communicating with new stakeholder groups.

Bailey concluded: "We know that collaboration is most effective when used in support of business goals, and this applies equally when dealing with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders. Eventually it's all about the creation of trust, enabled by ecosystems in which wisdom and knowledge can survive and thrive. Where IP-enabled tools are deployed well, and an organization builds engagement with all its stakeholders into its business goals, more positive business impacts can be achieved."

Notes to editors:
"Dangerous Liaisons: How businesses are learning to work with their new stakeholders" is an Economist Intelligence Unit briefing paper sponsored by Verizon. The research drew on two main initiatives. A global online survey was conducted in March-April 2010, in which 660 executives took part. To supplement the survey results, the EIU also conducted in-depth interviews with 17 senior executives and independent experts knowledgeable in the field of stakeholder management.

About the Economist Intelligence Unit
The Economist Intelligence Unit is the business information arm of The Economist Group, publisher of The Economist. Through our global network of over 650 analysts, we continuously assess and forecast political, economic and business conditions in 200 countries. As the world's leading provider of country intelligence, we help executives make better business decisions by providing timely, reliable and impartial analysis on worldwide market trends and business strategies.

About Verizon Business
Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE, NASDAQ: VZ), is a global leader in communications and IT solutions. We combine professional expertise with one of the world's most connected IP networks to deliver award-winning communications, IT, information security and network solutions.  We securely connect today's extended enterprises of widespread and mobile customers, partners, suppliers and employees - enabling them to increase productivity and efficiency and help preserve the environment.  Many of the world's largest businesses and governments - including 96 percent of the Fortune 1000 and thousands of government agencies and educational institutions - rely on our professional and managed services and network technologies to accelerate their business. Find out more at www.verizonbusiness.com.


¹ Meetings Around the World II: Charting the Course of Advanced Collaboration (Verizon and Cisco) 2009