What a Transparent Economy Means for Brands and Businesses

June 26, 2014

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“Facebook is connecting the world. Google is indexing the world’s information. LinkedIn is describing its entire economic value.” That’s how Rob Norman of Group M, speaking in Cannes last week, summarised the separate contributions that three hugely influential internet companies are making to the planet. He was picking up on how the development of LinkedIn makes the relationships between businesses and individuals more transparent than ever; and how it helps to remove the potential sources of friction and inefficiency in the global flow of talent and opportunity. But what does this new, transparent economy mean for the way that businesses and brands conduct themselves?

LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce – and that vision is moving forward at a rapid pace. The LinkedIn Economic Graph is the way in which LinkedIn will operationalise its vision; by digitally mapping the global economy and connecting talent with opportunity at massive scale. This won’t just involve businesses thinking differently about talent; to take full advantage, they will need to think differently about culture, values and their brand as well.

“The onus is now on businesses to present themselves holistically,” as LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner put it in Cannes. “We’re seeing increasing convergence between your talent brand, your corporate brand and how you go to market; it’s increasingly difficult to extricate one from the other.”

Empowered people don’t tend to work for businesses that they don’t agree with; increasingly, they don’t buy from them either. The ability to communicate how you do business, what your business stands for, and how your products and services contribute to the world is already vital for building an effective talent brand on LinkedIn – and we can see that it’s becoming increasingly important to other aspects of brand management as well.

It was noticeable how much of the discussion of LinkedIn at Cannes revolved around businesses using the platform to build and communicate their culture and values. Marketers know that seeking to separate the way that companies talk to consumers from the way they talk to employees or shareholders is increasingly dangerous. That puts the onus on the ability to talk to different audiences with a single, consistent voice – and LinkedIn (with its clear professional context and terms of engagement) is emerging as a natural platform for that voice.

The best leaders understand that communicating on a shared professional platform builds credibility. By signaling that you address people in the same way whether they are potential employees or potential customers, you demonstrate that there is no hidden agenda; the way that you say you do business is the way that you actually do business. It’s easy to do this when the wind is in your sails and you already have a strong personal brand, as with someone like Richard Branson, but it can be just as important to do so when things go wrong. The recent memorable post by Target CMO Jeff Jones, responding to the implications of a serious data breach, didn’t generate unadulterated praise; it didn't turn the company’s morale around overnight – but it has made it absolutely clear that Target is going to talk straight, and it’s made it clear what it stands for.

And that’s something other brands will increasingly need to do – in good times and bad.

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