Sustainable networking

Truly open, social organisations participate in a paradigm shift.

In Sustainability by Design, John Ehrenfield argues that creating a more sustainable, flourishing world requires a mind shift from having to being - from hyperindividualistic consumerism towards authentic, caring relationships as the defining characteristic of "who I am".

This provides an interesting lens on social networking and the different modes of engagement organizations can pursue.

To have or to be, that is the question

In the traditional having mode, organizations "have" customers and use social networks to reach out to those customers. In this mind set, social is just a new channel to be used for broadcasting commercial messages. Conveniently, this allows traditional measures to be used for the effectiveness of social marketing, like reach across target demographics. Even more conveniently, this active/passive model of engagement presupposes that the (active) organization is in control of the relationship with the (passive) public.

Of course, this is not a sustainable model of engagement anymore. True engagement means there's a two-way conversation. Having a two-way engagement with their customers requires that organizations listen to their customers, and adapt. Only organizations that listen and respond to their customers will be able to sustain long-term engagement.

Organizations adopting this being mode pursue conversations as a co-creative effort where meaning and value are created as a joint effort between the organization as a hub and its wider network of client and supplier relationships. Strategy in this mind set is not something that is set by the Board, but instead becomes an ongoing adaptation process involving all layers of the organizational eco-system.

Networked engagement as a core competence

This elevates social networking from a mere marketing/sales channel in the having mode, to a strategic engagement in the being mode. Consequently, performance measures should be redefined away from instrumental objectives, and instead focus on learning, innovation and co-creation as key metrics in evaluating social networking effectiveness.

If you're interested in exploring the philosphical foundations of this reasoning, you might want to look into the work of Fromm, Heidegger or Maturana - especially the latter's autopoiesis concept is relevant for the way we evolve or sense of self as persons and organizations in the age of networking.

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