The social collaboration
There are several types of co-ops and member-owned organizations – buying or purchasing groups, food co-ops, housing co-ops, consumer co-ops are among the most popular. But one thing that connects the dots among all these types of co-ops is that co-ops exist as a means to bring businesses, entities, people and groups together to leverage their collective buying or selling power. The word that resonates among these organizations is “collective” and the only way individuals, groups and entities can come together to create this entity is through collaboration.
In the years leading up to social networking, organizations were primarily communicating and through traditional media like phones, emails and collaboration was primarily done through business meetings, lunches, dinners, road shows, business conventions, trade shows and the likes. While these channels still exist and are extremely successful in fostering the “collaborative co-op”, the day-to-day collaboration across all parties of a co-op is happening over the wire and through the digital world. Gone are the days where contracts are drawn up once a year and negotiated at national account meetings or, strategic discussions are held at board rooms twice a year. Businesses are eroding their walls and being more flexible in how they transact with each other on a daily and sometimes even on an hourly basis. And while email became the go-to collaboration tool, inboxes started filling up quickly and important communication got lost under the rubble – we have all known this phenomenon called “email hell” where we spend most of our day trying to figure who to answer to when and spend hours unarchiving mailboxes to find a 1st draft of a contract where we had some good ideas that are missing on the final version!
And this is where “social” collaboration comes in. Social media has taken over the way we communicate. There are millions of hours of research into who this media is good or bad for society and business in general. But the point that resonates is that it is here to stay and businesses will have to figure out how to use this effectively so that they can control the dialog before the dialog controls them and their ecosystem. So how can the “collaborative co-op” build upon this new way of transacting business and use it to their advantage?
The problem with Facebook & LinkedIn Groups
One quick way to build a social collaboration channel is through a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group. Both are free and is quite easy to setup. There are many online posts about how to use Facebook & LinkedIn groups for business – I personally recommend the post from Social Media Examiner for Facebook– you can read it here. For LinkedIn, you can check out the post from Buffer App by clicking here.
However, for a co-op there are some very unique collaboration channels. First, suppliers and co-op employees need to collaborate in a space where members may or may not have access. A lot of these collaborations could be about rebates programs, co-op growth programs through sponsorships and promotions and contracts for products and services. In some cases, a select few members (board, national accounts committee or special committees) might be part of specific collaboration channel.
Second, members and co-op employees need private spaces and collaboration channels to discuss membership topics, co-op by-laws, growth and penetration into new and existing markets or just day to day trade and business.
Third, members and vendors should find “safe spaces” where they can collaborate freely about specials, promotions and contracts with the co-op’s ability to moderate and administer as it feels necessary.
Finally, there should be the main “social floor” where everyone collaborates and discusses industry news, co-op news or anything that anyone wants to share with the group.
Where traditional social channels fail is that these channels are not designed to foster all of these types of co-op collaborations under one umbrella where all discussions, posts, videos, pictures, files and social interaction across public and private groups can be managed. A simple collaboration channel where a vendor announces a new product to the entire membership but discusses annual contracts only with the co-op employees cannot be done easily with social channels available today and in most cases it cannot be done at all – maybe if your co-op owned LinkedIn!
The Social Co-op Network
This is where a social network design and implemented with a co-op’s business model in mind, can be one of the most important tools of your group. Here are the elements of the social network.
Vendors & Members should have the ability to create their own company pages with as many sub-pages, posts, videos, photos as they like – just as in Facebook or LinkedIn you can create your own company’s page. As the co-op you should be able to manage and create these pages on behalf of your members and vendors as well just in case they do not have the time to do so. In either case, it should be extremely easy to do – if you know how to use a word processing software (like Word or Pages) you should be able to build your company’s pages.
Vendors should be able to promote their products and services to the members with the co-op moderating and administering these promotions. These promotions could in the form of posts, videos or training webinars.
Members should be able to communicate with vendors, collaborate with other members and discuss in forums within the social network.
Members should be able to inquire about different products and services and vendors and co-op employees should have the ability to help members with these inquiries.
Vendors should be able to get reports about who has visited their pages, inquired about products and services they market and also get sales leads through the channels.
There should be options to build sub-groups with select members, vendors, contacts or any combination of users across all organizations (vendor, member and co-op). These may or may not have the co-op as the moderator but the co-op should have the ability to administer them as needed.
There needs to the “co-op general wall” where any member, vendor or co-op can post comments, links, videos, photos, articles or a simple thought-of-the-day with the ability to like, comment, share or simply view.
As the social network gets more traction and more data is entered the network should have the intelligence to show trending topics, discussions, have the ability to do profile completeness scores to promote more interactions and collaborations and create a more connected co-op.
Where can you start
At Medullus we have helped buying groups, purchasing co-ops and member-owned organizations become more connected and interactive through our proprietary “social co-op” software. We are happy to discuss with you and learn your co-ops structure, collaborative environments and interactions. Why not reach out to us to join in on the conversation and collaboration?
Blog post by: Roni Banerjee. Reach Roni @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Roni heads Marketing & Sales for Medullus and is the Practice Lead for Blockchain Solutions. Roni has nearly 20 years of CIO/CTO experience with orgs across industries. Roni architected the world’s 1st true purchasing group ERP/BPM system for a billion $ org. Roni has implemented large workflow systems, recently for a public-traded pharma. Roni holds an MBA from Warwick Business School in the UK and several certification in PM, Agility, Blockchain and software.