Social capitalism: the real winners will be able to engage with ‘the 99%’

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Occupy Wall Street

“We are the 99%!” was one of the more popular refrains at the #Occupy protests which took place around the globe in 2011. The term 99% refers to the vast majority of the global population who don’t hold wealth and power and, if capitalism is to thrive in the coming years, it will have to drastically change the way it talks to them.

While some old school business types will feel threatened by the 99% and their ability to use social media to collaborate, campaign and agitate against perceived inequities, those who figure out how to exploit technology will disrupt their industries and come out ahead.

According to tech research company Gartner, a number of major shifts will take place as capitalism goes social. The biggest changes, it says, will come in the way businesses manage themselves and communicate with their customers.

“The coming capitalist era is that of the Facebook generation, in which the values and behaviors that pervade the Internet and social media will also be adopted by innovative and disruptive businesses”, says Gartner research vice president Nigel Rayner. “With half the world’s population under the age of 25, this may happen sooner than many think.”

Flatter structures

Businesses will move away from the top down style command-and-control model, says Gartner. A more democratic and meritocratic model will rise up in its place. Employees will be judged (and granted decision rights) on the basis of their impact on and value to the community, rather than on job title, age or social background.

Businesses will adopt a more open approach to decision-making, allowing anyone in the company, as well as outsiders, to have input into the decision-making process. Employees, shareholders and the communities around the business will all help set its goals and objectives.

Using social media to bring in the 99%

Social and mobile technologies are already used for building and managing two-way relationships between businesses and the communities around them. The ability to use these technologies will only become more important in the future. This use of technology, says Gartner, will go way beyond the one-way, outward-looking, limited use of social media today. And if it’s done right, it will make the 99% feel like a part of the business.

It won’t be easy, Gartner reckons there are serious rewards for those who manage to change the way the businesses are perceived. Not every business can follow the model, the research company admits, but those that can will be the most admired companies in the next 10 years.

Business leaders must understand the impact of these changes and ensure that they have the appropriate focus on social media. They should also identify whether management practices need to change to make the best use of social and mobile technologies.

Disrupting the status quo

“These changes won’t impact all industries and businesses in the same way. Some will use them to create incremental business opportunities, but others may find their business model directly threatened, because they are seen by the 99% as the worst cases of exploitative business practices,” says Rayner. “However, some innovative organizations will use capitalism going social to create new business models and disrupt their industries.”

A key aspect of capitalism going social will be the use of social and mobile technologies by business to change the way it interacts with the 99%, bringing them inside the four walls of the enterprise to become part of the organization’s processes, rather than keeping it at arm’s length.

Social technologies are also central to improving employee engagement and rebuilding employee trust, but only if they enhance open communication and employee participation in decision-making. Engaged, motivated and empowered employees will deliver better customer service and value. Try to control how they do so too heavily and you might as well never have implemented the policy in the first place.

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