Volume 14 Issue 5 - June 18, 2010
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John Elkington
Networks of trust
Maryann Bird
Books: a stunning return to 2009
Article Digest
Tungyang Chen
Invisibility cloak with a twin cavity
Fu-Yun Yu
Scaffolding Student-Generated Questions: Design and Development of a Customizable Online Learning System
Ricky W. Chuang
Nitride-Based MSM Photodetectors with a HEMT Structure and a Low-Temperature AlGaN Intermediate Layer
I-Wen Sun
An electrochemical preparation of a nano-structured cobalt oxide electrode with super redox activity
News Release
NCKU Press Center
NCKU Outstanding Teachers to Receive Medals and Prizes
Banyan Forum
Editorial Group
Networks of trust
John Elkington, Alex Hammer
John Elkington is executive chairman of Volans and non-executive director of SustainAbility.
Alex Hammer is an analyst at SustainAbility, specialising in social networks.
This article has been published in the China Dialogue on May 18, 2010
Social media are changing the way businesses and consumers talk to each other, not least on issues of corporate sustainability, say John Elkington and Alex Hammer.

"Harnessing the opportunities requires companies to engage in genuinely honest, open and, perhaps, difficult dialogue, not simply to use these channels to broadcast messages."

“Open is good, closed is bad.” It isn't exactly the sentiment you expect to hear from a former top Shell executive, but when Björn Edlund took the stage at the first conference on social media and stakeholder engagement organised by internet platform JustMeans, he was almost painfully honest. He argued that “large corporations are obsessed with control, rather than conversation" but that business thinking is beginning to shift.

And not before time. When our consultancy SustainAbility first looked at corporate reporting and engagement over the Internet back in 1999, we quoted New Economy guru Kevin Kelly on the report’s cover: “The network economy is founded on technology, but it can only be built on relationships. It starts with chips and it ends with trust.”

If anyone read that as a prediction that hardware, software and websites would automatically merge the world views of business and society, they badly misunderstood. Every new disruptive technology can be both an ally and an enemy for business and with much more interactive Web 2.0 technologies now erupting all around–and boosting the possibilities for information-sharing and collaboration on the internet–there is a need to take a look at those fast-moving objects and trajectories on our radar screen.

Fully a decade after that first adventure in the hype-saturated, soon-to-crash world of the New Economy, SustainAbility returned to the topic. In mid-2009, we conducted research on the implications and applications of the new wave of social networks on corporate accountability and transparency, with the trust equation very much in mind.

Our conclusion was that, while the business case for social media was still emerging, there were major opportunities for greater transparency, engagement and collaboration. Harnessing these opportunities requires companies to engage in genuinely honest, open and, perhaps, difficult dialogue, not simply to use these channels to broadcast messages. Indeed, the hardest concept for many companies to grasp is the idea that they should accept some loss of control, that allowing the conversation to evolve unedited, ensuring an unfiltered and often self-balancing exchange, offers the richest opportunity to gain feedback from advocates and critics alike.

Copyright National Cheng Kung University