Four Things Companies Will Do Differently in the Digital Future

As the Internet Era unfolds, what will your company need to do differently moving forward? In a recent interview, Erik Qualman, author of Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence discussed four ways smart companies can pull ahead of the competition.

  • Kill Off ‘Digital Strategy.’ It’s not that Qualman expects online communication to cease; on the contrary, the best companies will recognize its inextricability from the rest of their marketing efforts. “They’re not going to be separate,” he says, “and they shouldn’t be separate.”
  • Adjust Your Business Model. The online world provides an unprecedented opportunity to get customer feedback, says Qualman, but too few companies harness it. “If 80% of people say they don’t like something you’re doing, you might have an emergency meeting. But they won’t have an emergency meeting if 95% of people say, we love this. The biggest mistake I see is that companies don’t adjust their business model based on people liking or not liking their product.” The winners, he says, will be the people “listening to their customer and adjusting quickly – listening to the world’s largest focus group.” For observant companies, strategic digital listening can “answer a question you didn’t even know was a question.”
  • Embrace Employee Engagement. Most companies think of social media or online communication as a way to interact with customers. But that’s only part of it, says Qualman: it’s also a way to connect with your employees. (See my recent post on “Are Your Employees Engaged?”.) “What’s going to drive success in social media,” he says, “is if your people like working [for your company]. It’s less about social media and more of a culture change. You can get a vibe on whether or not your employees are happy; you don’t even need to do a survey, because you can see it digitally. If you have the right culture, you’re going to have success. That’s not necessarily new, but there’s a new level of transparency now.”
  • Create an Alumni Network. Some companies, like McKinsey, are famous for the alumni networks they’ve cultivated, encouraging lifetime engagement (and creating a virtuous circle of connections and business relationships). Qualman suggests that in the future, all corporations should take this approach – or risk damaging their reputation through negative word-of-mouth. “You have to maintain a relationship with people who leave the company,” he says. “They have to be proud they worked at the company, not disgruntled, because they’ll sell for or against you [online] with your new employees.”

What is your company doing to prepare for the new, digital future? What changes do you expect on the horizon?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on August 28, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.