Facebook has 700 million-plus members. LinkedIn, the business equivalent, has well over 100 million members. Twitter has a user population well in excess of 100 million as well. A business looks at these social media tools and wonders what benefits they bring to the top and bottom line.

Is there a business case for public social media? There certainly is a communication conduit in social media. This is well proven as long as businesses choose to represent themselves through a cause or event and don’t openly promote themselves as a brand. This strategy has resilience within social media platforms like Facebook.

Human Resources departments have found LinkedIn to be of considerable value when assessing the merits of candidates. I dare say they can also point to Facebook as a great way to eliminate prospective job candidates, particularly when personal sites exhibit undesirable personality traits in the individuals they are vetting.

There are numerous examples of social media business case successes, from companies like IBM, Cisco, SAP and Microsoft that have adopted internal social networking platforms to breakdown corporate silos, create online developer communities, and flatten the organizational structure. There are examples of organizations that have reached out to customers in companies like LEGO, Gillette, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

The Diversity Business Network

Recently I began working with a business social media platform with a very different purpose. Called the Diversity Business Network (DBN), this social media platform is focused on the issue of increasing supply chain diversity spending by government, large corporations and NGOs. It is private. There are different levels of membership paying annual dues. The site is both a platform for information sharing on best practices, as well as an exchange where companies can post bid requests, RFPs and RFQs where diversity is measured in the responses. The network attracts diverse-owned businesses by offering mentorship through industry leaders and companies that represent distinct vertical markets and that are seeking increased capacity through sub-contractors so that they can respond to bid opportunities.

In the United States, minority-owned businesses are given opportunities to get involved with large corporations and government to fulfill on procurement requirements. In Canada, where DBN operates, there is no strong legislative initiative to encourage diversity in the supply chain. There are compelling reasons for this to change as Canada’s population increasingly reflects the diversity resulting from immigration. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is now a city whose motto is “Diversity is our strength.”

Serving a Diverse Community Online and Offline

DBN serves the diverse community several ways. First, the organization acts as a lobby to industry and government, encouraging them to look at supply chain diversity spending. Second, DBN acts as an aggregator to attract diverse-owned businesses to join and interact. Third, DBN creates expert communities within vertical industries with industry consortium leaders appointed to work with DBN members to mentor and support them so that they can participate in contract opportunities. Fourth, DBN offers organizations interested in diversity in the supply chain an audit and assessment service to help them identify deficiencies in their current procurement strategies. Fifth, DBN has created a roadmap and the steps for organizations wanting to implement best practices in supplier diversity. And finally, DBN is an exchange where organizations can list opportunities and members can respond by submitting bids.

All of this interactivity and information exchange occurs online. To supplement the online, DBN does meet ups, seminars and an annual diversity conference. In 2010, the founding conference attracted more than 300 diverse-owned businesses.

PanAm Games Partnership

With the PanAm Games coming to Toronto in 2015, the organizing committee has agreed to partner with DBN to ensure that all bid requests award 10 points out of 100 for supplier diversity. Infrastructure Ontario and Waterfront Toronto, organizations responsible for over $50 billion in spending, have made supplier diversity an element in their bid process as well.

Use of Virtual Rooms

DBN has all the elements of public social networks and a few extra wrinkles. Using the concept of virtual rooms, DBN members can organize by creating rooms for projects, RFP responses, knowledge sharing, meetings or just for social interaction. Every room is owned by its creator who has the authority to invite others to join, and can give others the rights to post documents, pictures, video and other resources. All rooms have a calendar for organizing activities. DBN offers all its members chat, alert feeds to external email, an internal email system and personal profiles.

A Path for Change

Combining social cause, a strong business case, and the power of social media architecture, DBN is changing the way Canadians do business.

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