Editor’s note: This post is by Jeff Korhan, new media speaker, blogger and writer.  We think it is thought-provoking for those contemplating building the value of their businesses in anticipation of a sale sometime in the future.  Here is a link to his site JeffKorhan.com and the original version of this post.

Today I read an interesting post by Robert Scoble about Yammer.  If you are not familiar with Yammer, it is almost exactly like Twitter – with the exception that its population of users is specific to one enterprise or corporation.

In other words, Yammer is a private version of Twitter.

2011.2.11 Yammer

When I first heard about Yammer I didn’t get it.  What’s the point of having a social network that is restricted to a limited population? Thanks to Robert’s recent post, now I get it.

A Yammer network is an ecosystem much like the larger Twitter ecosystem.  Sharing among the community members keeps the ecosystem healthy.  Everyone benefits from the free exchange of valuable information.

The only difference between Yammer ecosystems and the one you and I are familiar with is they are closed and ours is open. If you are a small business owner who has never worked in a corporate environment, I can assure you those closed networks can be as just scary as one that is completely open.

The Value of Customer Relationships

When I was operating my landscape architecture and construction business we had a system for recording information and activity with clients.  A few of us used it well. The customer information that was shared proved to be invaluable in subsequent years when we did additional work with those clients – or when they referred us to their friends.

That information also proved to be especially valuable to the new owners of my business.  This is when I began to understand the value of capturing the experience of customer relationships that go back 10 or 20 years, or more.

This is the overlooked value in virtually every small business that has worked for decades to earn customer loyalty that translates to repeat business. I realize now that our engagement with our markets on the social networks is another business benefit that will only grow in value over time.

Social Sharing Builds Digital Assets

The day will come when you decide to sell your small business. Potential buyers will naturally be interested in your client list, which in my situation proved to be my most bankable asset. The historical financial data associated with that list is typically the most reliable predictor of future revenue and profits that it can produce.

Now imagine you had a database of contextual conversations in the words of your customers that speak to their loyalty and willingness to engage with your company on future projects?  I tried to convey these conversations to the new owners of my business by using the stories that were only in my memory.  As a result, they lacked some credibility.

Traditional thinking says that to assess the value of a business is to start by reviewing financial statements and existing contracts, as well as any other goodwill represented in a business.  It’s rare for a small business to get paid for goodwill, but it is possible.

This is why the challenge is to create a digital asset out of what is normally considered goodwill – which are those incredibly valuable customer relationships. How is this accomplished?  It’s not easy, but it is possible.

To Robert Scoble’s point, consider providing incentives that encourage every person in your company to engage and share with customers on appropriate social networks – and then capture that soft data in as many ways as possible.

Here is an excerpt from Robert in his blog post about using Yammer in a corporate environment to share information that enhances the value of the ecosystem – the corporation:

” … Yammer and a host of other companies are trying to convince people to do their work “in the open.” In other words, instead of writing down some detail about a sales account in email, or in a contact manager only one person has access to, put that up on a news stream and into a contact manager everyone can see.

This freaks many employees out.

Why? Being open is antithetical to how they were trained. Many people think they are compensated by the value they hoarded.

Think about a lawyer. They went to school to gain exotic knowledge that they hoarded. People paid them for this hoarded knowledge.

Today? We’re asking people to blog, Tweet, put up YouTube videos, and to use Yammer and other systems ….

That’s scary for a lot of people.

Conversations with Customers

As you can see, it’s just as scary for a small business to turn their staff loose on Twitter and Facebook as it is for a large corporation to do the same on a private network like Yammer. In the case of Yammer the challenge isn’t the network, it’s the politics of the enterprise or organization.

The challenge for small businesses is learning how to use the open networks such as Twitter and Facebook for similar purposes – to accomplish business networking objectives while also enhancing the health of the open ecosystem where your customers live – and capturing it as digital assets.

Is this possible?  I believe it is.  Sharing on the social networks creates a vacuum – the more you share the more that is shared with you. You then become a trusted source of information, an authority in your area of expertise that attracts new business and partnering opportunities, as well as new customers.

While closed networks may work well for large organizations, open networks are ideal for small businesses for staying current and connecting with customers and new resources. My suggestion is to begin to see them as more than communication.

Think of them as something physical and tangible – a bankable asset that happens to contain what is most valuable to any business – conversations with loyal customers.

Feel free to share this with your friends by clicking on the Facebook Like button below, leave a comment, or consider subscribing to the feed.

Have a great weekend,  Jeff

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