Stakeholder engagement is now a key part of many public and private sector projects, particularly around the issue of sustainable development. The last few years have seen a massive shift in business communications as the competitive advantages of two-way dialogue between organizations and their stakeholders are being recognized and exploited.
Despite the importance of engaging stakeholders from initial project development stages and the significant benefits of the internet in providing an accessible and flexible platform for such dialogue, many organizations are overlooking the opportunities of online stakeholder engagement as a way of moving forward on achieving corporate sustainability goals. While organizations have come under some political pressure over the past decade to strain towards sustainable activity, businesses are now facing increasing pressure from the media, consumers and the supply chain to go beyond one-way communication and reporting of sustainable activities and consider the views of their stakeholders in business decisions.
The current political climate has left the words "corporate responsibility" on everyone's lips and businesses have for some time now been aware of the marketing benefits to be gained by claiming the environmentally positive impacts of their products and actions.
However, whilst the importance of sustainable business practices is understood and the focus on sustainability is shifting beyond marketing, many are yet to fully realize the competitive advantages of engaging their stakeholders in their activities.
Stakeholders are invaluable for the success of business, not only because they include employees, suppliers and customers, but also because of the contribution they make to project and product development. The earlier stakeholders are involved in project development, the lower the risk of consumer rejection of the final product, the greater their sense of ownership and the greater their trust in the organization.
This element of trust is crucial for commercial success. Loyal customers, employees, suppliers, local authorities and communities are won through relationships built on two-way dialogue.
Furthermore, the engagement of stakeholders from the initial stages of projects may well drastically alter the project itself. Understanding the requirements and the opinions of stakeholders through effective two-way dialogue will affect the way products and processes are designed and carried out.
The specific knowledge and expertise that can be gleaned from stakeholders during these initial stages provide vital insights into markets, competitors and consumer needs that can improve organizational processes.
The importance of online engagement is becoming increasingly apparent as more businesses are deploying the resources offered by the web in their communication strategies. One of the main benefits of the internet in stakeholder engagement is its continuous accessibility from anywhere at anytime.
Online engagement offers an opportunity to involve stakeholders who would normally opt out of face-to-face meetings for various reasons such as time constraints, accessibility or privacy. Businesses are no longer limited to organizing face-to-face meetings during the working day and stakeholders are able to offer their feedback whenever is convenient for them, making the consultation process simple and objective, which may generate a greater response rate.