Conclusion: A tremendous opportunity
The rise of both social media and of technologies that enable a rapid and comprehensive distribution of information are above all a tremendous opportunity for businesses as well as public, social and media organisations. Sharing the inner workings of products forces companies to be the best in their field by constantly innovating. Engaging online communities provides constant feedback on what users expect from products and services. They become cost effective product testers, they are part of the innovation process. In contrast, an innovation process that takes place behind closed doors greatly increases the risk of products that nobody wants. Outside the private sector, government institutions ranging from statistical offices to law enforcement agencies can also increase their efficiency by engaging the public in dialogue, assessing its needs and expectations.
At the very least, organisations cannot ignore these changes all together. Because employees, competitors and customers are embracing them and organisations who don’t will fall behind.
But despite the opportunities, these changes are often perceived as a threat and are met with resistance. Most businesses are still built on proprietary knowledge. Company secrets are still seen as an asset that is more important than, for example, customer loyalty and trust won through openness, even though there are few industries today in which it is the technological edge that decides over a company’s success.
It is there for crucial for organisations to design and implement a conscious strategy, defining above all how open it would like to be. An analysis of the existing ways of information sharing and decision-making is the first step. This analysis can later also serve as a useful guideline when it comes to formulating the specific objectives that a greater degree of openness is supposed to achieve.
Importantly, an organisation should engage its stakeholders and its employees in particular, during the entire decision-making process. Social media has been so dynamic that their use slips into an organisation long before it really takes notice – as described above in the organic model. But this is also an opportunity because when the time has come for an organisation to hammer out a formal strategy, it already possesses some experience and knowledge it can work with.
Finally, technology should take second stage to organisational structures and the humans involved. Applications change quickly, and the focus should instead be on the flow of information and the culture of decision-making within the organisation.
About the Author
Daniel Michelis is professor at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences and visiting lecturer at the University of St. Gallen, where he received his PhD at the Institute for Media and Communications Management. The focus of his work is the usage of online communications and social media in companies and organizations.
He is the editor of the Social Media Handbuch (Nomos Verlag) and in 2013 he initiated the masters degree programme Online Communication at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.