Digital media means that all of our organizations are open now.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube mean that customers are able to effectively voice their thoughts and concerns about particular organizations and their products and services very publicly and to a potentially huge audience almost instantaneously. While traditionally viewed as a risk to be constrained or minimized this capability can actually function as a value-creating mechanism, if it is engaged with correctly.
The first thing to realize though is that this openness – or organizational porosity (the degree to which an organization is open to the outside world) – is bi-directional though.
This means that it’s not only customers who are voicing their concerns via digital media. It’s employees in these organizations as well. This can be from employees voicing their dissatisfaction with their organization (or, satisfaction – it need not be negative) through to employees engaging directly with external stakeholders such as customers via platforms like Twitter in response to questions or postings about their work or their organization’s products and services.
The second thing to be realized is that this process cannot be controlled. It can be harnessed. It can be channeled. It can even be directed. It cannot be controlled though.
Part of the shift into the digital age that characterizes the knowledge and service economy is that we increasingly operate in a space of radical transparency.
Digital media – through both its ease of availability and its instantaneous nature – is promoting this transformation. To try and control the organizational transparency and porosity that this entails is a futile endeavor. Even an organization as powerful and as resource rich as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is unable – despite it’s heavy digital censorship – to effectively quiet voices of discontent within its borders or their ability to use digital media to air those grievances.
There is no way to constrain the ability of external stakeholders such as customers to utilize digital media to voice their feeling – positive or negative – about organizations that they engage with. Similarly, the use of rules to prohibit employees and other internal stakeholders from voicing their concerns is also doomed to failure.
However, while you cannot control people’s access to the use of these platforms you can harness it. In terms of external stakeholders, such as customers, this would entail that various digital media platforms are well monitored and ensuring that responses to comments, queries, or complaints by customers are dealt with in a courteous and timely manner.
In terms of internal stakeholders, such as employees, it means letting people know via general frameworks or guidelines the best way to voice any concerns that they may have or the best way to engage with external stakeholders.
In both respects – with both internal and external stakeholder groups – the key to this process is working to ensure that people see the use of digital media platforms as a way to empower them.
In this respect then, the organizational porosity that the digital transformation is bringing about is creating new opportunities for increased engagement with customers and employees both. And, importantly, this ought to be viewed as a positive shift.
At a very basic level, the use of these digital media platforms provides a way for very useful performance data – on product use, on customer satisfaction, on employee engagement and many other metrics – to be made available. This data can then be used to increase the responsiveness of the organization across a range of ways – including changes to products or service mechanisms, processes of employee engagement, and many others.
Similarly, by not only allowing this type of engagement but actually enabling it organizations are able to increase their reputational capital. Brand – how an organization and it’s products are experienced – has always been an important aspect of organizational development and success. In the digital age new ways to build, and to destroy, brands are emerging. Engagement via digital media platforms is a clear example of this. Trying to limit the way people can engage with an organization is a sure-fire way to lessen brand value and reduce reputational capital. But, by being responsive and working with people (both external and internal) as they engage with the organization then organization’s are able to build reputational capital by demonstrating their responsiveness and their ability to seriously engage with their stakeholders.
The digital transformation – and the digital media platforms that are a part of this transformation – means that organizations are open in a way that they’ve never been before. This bi-directional openness – as both internal (eg employees) and external stakeholders (eg customers) are utilizing these platforms – is actually an opportunity for organizations to improve their operational performance. It does this by enabling opportunities for increased data collection as well as the ability to increase brand value and reputational capital through demonstrating high levels of stakeholder responsiveness.
The digital transformation offers many opportunities for the creation of novel forms of value. Organization’s increased openness and porosity is one example of this. The key is seeing this for the opportunity for value creation that it affords – as opposed to viewing it as a risk to be minimized.
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