Having spent a pleasant hour networking with other businesses on twitter last night, I’ve begun to think and (in last night’s case, anyway) dream about why business-to-business (B2B) communication is desirable, what it could achieve and where that might take us into the future.
Social Media Networking
Like OpusFlow, many businesses are dipping, or in some cases diving, into social media as part of their marketing activity: as a means to grow traffic or sales, increase brand awareness or deal with customer complaints positively and publicly. However, with the rise of the hashtag, there are also numerous #networking hours and opportunities for B2B social chat, debate and mutual support. Oftentimes that mutual support will take the form of the ‘if you like my page, I’ll like yours’, or ‘please re-tweet / like us, we’re lovely’, (both perfectly fine) but from time to time you’ll come across a business who tweets because they want to collaborate with you.
Face to Face Networking
Face-to-Face-Business-to-Business (F2FB2B?!) networking has also grown enormously in popularity in recent years. Indeed, with all the Business Breakfast groups springing up these days, it’s a wonder any entrepreneurs are at home to eat cornflakes with their families. The ‘it’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know’ school of business is more than just a ‘high school clique’ in-crowd model, however (although at worst, I guess that’s what such a group could become!). Undoubtedly effective networking groups bring benefits for their members: a way to expand knowledge, learn from the success of others, attain new clients and spread the word about your business services, as well as the chance to share contacts and help each other out.
Collaboration and Organisation Change
What really excites me about networking, are the opportunities for collaboration and mutual support it presents. In these times of economic austerity, where being cash poor can be compounded by being time poor, resource poor and even spiritually impoverished, collaboration at grass roots level is a political hot potato. Everyone’s collaborating these days. Schools are at it. GPs are it. Partnerships, federations, affiliations, enterprises, trusts (although thankfully few cartels) abound. New legal structures, memorandums of understanding, charters and service level agreements join organisations together, at times through the necessity of survival as well as to provide more comprehensive and coordinated public services.
Organisational Values and Ethics
Of course where networking leads to collaboration and on to organisational change, businesses must be ‘on the same page’ (and not just Facebook page!) at their very core. With recent headlines about mainly lawful, yet unethical, conduct perpetuated by high profile companies and institutions (think Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon, the banking system…), values and ethics are corporate currency, and rightly so. Whilst improving your ethics and values might not show a direct return on investment to your business, and while their impact maybe difficult to measure, it’s clear this issue is climbing up the agenda for many businesses and could play a vital role in protecting a company’s public perception. Or to put it another way, who cares, wins.
Our Values Journey
OpusFlow was set up following the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010, after a period of uncertainty and redundancy, experience of which undoubtedly shaped who we are today. So what is important to us? Well, whilst OpusFlow is not a social enterprise (we do have our living to make), we do have a social charter, which drives everything we do: to provide plain speaking, innovative, great value services, treating our clients and staff with dignity and respect. Trite though it may sound, we genuinely want to make a positive difference to our clients’ organisations, their effectiveness and the way they work and whilst doing so support their individual well-being.
So where does all this musing lead? The notions of networking, values and collaboration could well be pushing us away from large corporations towards more formalised federated business models, where smaller companies with similar client bases, complimentary services and shared values can work together to provide benefit to customers and to their own business. At OpusFlow we’ve just begun to explore this notion. Starting with social B2B chat, we’re now beginning to find other businesses who ‘get us’. Hopefully, this will lead somewhere bigger. Who knows, by the time HS2 trains hit the rails (and I’m sure they will) in 20 years or so, we might see complimentary service business co-operatives spread across the country, maintaining their company’s individuality, yet working as part of a UK wide system of mutual assurance. Just a thought. Who’s with us?