Holistic Legal Strategies for Collaborative Enterprises (aka Social Businesses)

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With so much emphasis on the consumer-facing social Web, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is pretty much all there is to the social Web. Well, almost. Somewhere on the fringes was some talk about “social media policies” so there’s that too, somewhere.

The next challenge, as the consumer-oriented work matures to a large extent, is to start thinking about the Collaborative Enterprise as a whole and the various, interrelated themes and risks that inform your risk management, compliance and governance strategies going forward. What is the Collaborative Enterprise? It’s not an entirely new concept and it’s been known by other names you may be familiar with, such as “Enterprise 2.0″ and “Social Business” (although the term “Social Business” was first coined by Muhammad Yunus for a “cause-driven business” which has as its purpose the achievement of socially responsible objectives rather than commercial enterprise in pursuit of profit). Just the same, it’s a fascinating business model because it emphasises a very different structure to the one we are accustomed to in business. Andrew McAfee, at MIT’s Centre for Digital Business, explained what this business model entails for Harvard Business Review:

From a legal perspective the implications are wide ranging and vary depending on which aspect of the collaborative enterprise you are focusing on at a given point in time. To me, the collaborative enterprise includes the following elements (at least) –

  • Staff and other stakeholders;
  • Vendors and other trading partners; and
  • Customers.

At each level, a set of risks emerge which must be considered and managed appropriately. When it comes to staff, for example, one of the tools a company would use to manage staff-related risks would be a social media policy. There are other risk factors and other tools but this is a prominent and often misunderstood and mismanaged one, in particular. When you shift your focus to collaborative trading models which include potentially competing businesses, the legal frameworks morph and focus more on managing relationships and access to sensitive information. With each new perspective and variation, further risks become possible (likely, even) and a set of legal frameworks will be required to manage those risks. As I said before, it’s a fascinating model.

The collaborative enterprise is bound to become a pretty strong and innovative focus area in the coming months and years. While the business model has been maturing for a few years in its various incarnations, the legal frameworks for this innovative business model appear to be fairly underdeveloped, generally speaking, and I find this pretty exciting. Just as the collaborative enterprise is a more innovative take on business relationships across the board, the accompanying legal frameworks should prove to be equally challenging and innovative in themselves. I’m looking forward to building some of these frameworks and to the opportunities they will enable.

I’m going to talk about some of these themes in more detail at next week’s ITWeb Social Media Summit in Johannesburg. I’m also going to conduct a workshop right after the ITWeb Social Media Summit on 16 August on social media policies where I’ll explore these mythical creatures in more detail. If you’d like to find out what these social media policies are really about, why not book yourself a seat at the workshop (if there are still seats) and find out.

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