Digital technologies are changing the lives of customers and patrons. Social Media provides them with a new voice. Mobile devices and online platforms alter what people expect from businesses. And ‘big data’ is giving organizations the opportunity to understand and fully engage with their stakeholders – whether these are members or customers.
In light of this, it is important to ask how your co-operative is using digital tools. It is equally important to explore how your co-op is performing in these four areas: Social media, mobile and digital customers, Big data, and Governance.
Social media impact
Social media is not a one-stop solution. The digital revolution is developing so quickly that it is essential for businesses to stay on top of developments and trends. In a fast-moving world, it is easy to get left behind.
Like other business entities, Social media can help co-ops build their brand. It empowers you to go beyond corporate messages and communicate specific and everyday activities directly to customers, members and the wider public.
Co-operatives, particularly those with a membership that includes employees or suppliers, may want to use social media as a means of getting closer to members. In smaller co-ops, social media tools enable members to talk and collaborate more regularly. In larger co-ops, where direct engagement is often limited, social media offers a new opportunity. In case you want to publish longer and descriptive content, you may want to publish a Blog aside your website.
Mobile technology has had a big impact in the finance and banking sector. With mobile banking on the rise, there are now more points of contact with customers and members than ever before. For financial co-operatives, mobile has clearly begun to change the relationship with customers and members. You may want to create web and smartphone apps to respond to your customers’ wishes for easy access to their accounts.
While the development of mobile platforms may be most obvious for the financial co-ops, it is impacting agricultural co-operatives too, enabling farmers to connect with one another and their co-op, and run their businesses more efficiently.
Agricultural co-ops should also adopt a system of engaging with members via mobile technology in different ways, from simple operations such as checking weather forecasts and the price of grain, to managing data about livestock, plots and finance on the farm.
If patrons and consumers have become more digitally connected, so have co-operative members.
For many larger co-ops, the use of digital tools is an effective way to give members a sense of proximity to the business. This is of most pressing significance for big co-operatives which cannot provide simple or regular ways for members to meet or physically interact with the co-operative. But it is just as important for smaller co-operatives, giving members more opportunities to engage and interact with the business and with one another.
A crucial ingredient of member democracy in a co-operative is an informed membership that can be in regular communication with the executive and governing bodies. Many co-ops have identified social media as a means of communicating with members. For many, the flow of information is one-way – from co-op to member – but two-way interaction is also possible.
Co-ops should also adopt the use of digital tools to allow members to vote online and facilitate discussion and decision-making among board members.
Digital tools, it seems, are proving an important part of co-operative governance. The importance of digital tools is even more significant for the future.
Whether it’s engaging with customers and members, running daily operations or governing the co-op, digital tools will play a vital – and increasingly important – role in the future of co-operatives.