Little Italy, 1900. (Source: Wikipedia)
If you have been following me these past few months (I mean following me in the traditional way, not in the social media sense of the word), no doubt you will have noticed that at least half my job now is speaking with HR people. There was a time, not too long ago, when it was PR people. The common thread is the “R” in both professions – “relations.” What both professions have in common is that they actually speak to people for a living. So it should come as no surprise that one would quickly adapt to the marketing side of social media, while the other would adapt – albeit more slowly, and methodically – to the business-operational side. But what may come as a surprise is that the two worlds are merging. What used to be a neat line of demarcation – the firewall separating what’s inside and outside the enterprise – is blurring.
For me, nowhere is this more obvious than in corporate diversity, one of the most interesting areas for innovation in both HR and marketing. As I noted in an article for Forbes this summer – conveniently timed to publish just after Independence Day – corporate diversity programs might be the next big thing in enterprise 2.0, a subcategory in social media that today is focused mostly on collaboration inside the enterprise. But just as enterprise 2.0 has grown up and extended its reach beyond the firewall, corporate diversity programs have grown up, too. And social technology may soon become the big enabler of diversity programs that have an outward (market) focus. Three reasons why:
If you speak with any forward-looking diversity officer, you will hear what I like to call the market-driven model for corporate diversity. Diversity and inclusion are not only the right things to do in a world that’s increasingly diverse, but they’re also good business. This is most obvious in consumer markets both here and abroad where not understanding the diversity of your customer base could leave you at a serious disadvantage. And we’re not just talking about market messages nicely tailored to different customer groups, but actual products and services that meet new market demand. I recently spoke with a diversity executive at a global consumer products company and she shared how the corporate diversity program sensitized the company to a new market opportunity – serving an important population – that they might have overlooked. And she agreed that this was an area where social technology could lend a big helping hand. By selectively crowdsourcing ideas and aggregating social data (the way many companies are already approaching product innovation in general markets), businesses could accelerate the product innovation cycle in diverse global markets.
Another thing to consider is a strategic approach to marketing that has evolved in the era of social media: the inside-out, or employee-driven model. The idea is simple: the people most qualified to have conversations with your customers are not just in marketing and sales. Often, they are customers themselves, and often they sit somewhere else on the corporate payroll. With the emergence of social media, a small range of companies have begun empowering their employees to have conversations with their customers – customer service questions mostly, and product/service Q&A’s – and the success of these programs are encouraging other companies to follow suit. So how does this apply to diversity? Well, if your workplace reflects the diversity of your marketplace, those conversations with customers could be a lot richer. What some companies are beginning to understand is that in a world where your customer is changing, it sometimes “takes one to know one” (where the customer is matched with someone who truly understands them).
The Long Tail of Diversity
Obviously, you don’t have to be an Italian Puerto Rican to sell to an Italian Puerto Rican (like me). And, by the way, there are a lot of other things that I care about other than my ethnic identity. But a company that is sensitized to the wide range of diversity that exists in today’s markets – age, sex, gender, race, and even intellectual habits (what some folks call “cognitive diversity“) – is likely to be more nimble and responsive to the needs of its employees and customers. It will also be in a position to nurture a stronger culture, making those bonds with employees and customers more sustainable.
In conversations I’m having with marketing and HR, there’s almost universal agreement that this is the way to go. The only question is how. My hunch is that the efficiency and effectiveness of social technology platforms will hasten the time-to-market for new programs. I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop. I’ll wager that many will be led by people with a strong diversity point of view (POV). They will not necessarily need to be “Puerto Rican,” but when speaking to Puerto Ricans, they will need to have a Puerto Rican POV. But no doubt, they will be featured prominently, somewhere in the organization.