Lessons from LinkedIn: Improving stakeholder engagement in a digitally mediated world

The proliferation of dialogue on the web in recent years is indicative of a new and dynamic model of interaction. Our personal and professional relationships play out, to a large extent, online – be it through e-mail, text messaging or social networking sites. These platforms have become an integral part of our lives and of what has evolved into a digitally mediated world.

The digital environment and its facilitation of stakeholder engagement are a fundamental strategic driver for any organisation that is intent on remaining relevant. A number of global corporations look to LinkedIn to provide an online platform for meaningful professional interaction.

What lessons then, can corporates in South Africa draw from the communications and reputation management practices associated with LinkedIn to improve stakeholder engagement?

  • LinkedIn, a social networking site that went live in May 2003, now declares itself “the world’s largest online professional network”.
  • With over 300 million members in over 200 countries, it has evolved into a dynamic online space where professionals are not only able to maintain existing professional relationships but are also able to initiate such connections.
  • Similarly, over 3 million companies have LinkedIn company pages and its corporate talent solutions are employed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies.

The benefits of maintaining a LinkedIn company page are directly aligned to at least three fundamental features of ...

stakeholder management; accessibility, continuity and transparency. The site has a number of features that enable corporations to engage with both internal and external stakeholders.

Through these interactions, corporations are able to ascertain levels of engagement by leveraging data such as the number of followers and user contributions in comments sections.

An equally relevant example is the “How You’re Connected” feature. Users are able to identify others within their networks who are linked to the corporation in question and leverage those relationships to gain access, for instance, by way of a referral. There is a lesson here in that an inclusive community-orientated approach to stakeholder management can be mutually beneficial, particularly in the talent acquisition and talent management spaces.

The professional interactions that play out on LinkedIn also reflect the culture and orientation of real world professional interaction. For instance, unlike a number of other social networks, LinkedIn operates on a “gated-access” model with limitations around what and who users are able to access based on whether or not they have a paid account or the degree to which they are connected to other professionals within a network or group.

The lesson here is that while being accessible to a wider audience is important, there is also value in executing a targeted stakeholder engagement strategy within your existing networks.

Nonetheless, corporations must also strike a balance between considered access and transparency.

Stakeholder theory suggests that higher levels of transparency within an organisation translate to higher stakeholder approval. LinkedIn is certainly a medium through which greater levels of transparency can be achieved.

In showcasing corporate identity and the employee experience in posts such as thought leadership pieces and employee testimonials, corporations project a level of transparency that invites the kind of dialogue and mutual trust that bolsters stakeholder approval. This is particularly pertinent in South Africa, given concerns around fraud and corruption and their potential to ward off foreign direct investment.

LinkedIn now boasts 3.8 million South Africans amongst its user community. If corporates in South Africa understand and manage reputation as currency, then maintaining a presence on LinkedIn is a quintessential example of how effective stakeholder engagement can improve the bottom line.

Munene Khoza is a Junior Account Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies South Africa and is responsible for developing the local Change and Internal Communications Practice.