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One of my coworkers recently told me about a high school game his son was taking part in called assassin. All players are secretly given the name of another classmate. The task: Track down (in your spare time) and shoot your target with a water gun. Players are eliminated until there’s only one left standing; winner gets bragging rights and some extra spending money.

The game has been going on for a couple weeks now, and there have been a few emerging trends...

The remaining players have apparently developed trusted allies. They help one another avoid danger and share information on other targets. Kids without a strong social network were easy targets. Interestingly, many of the most “popular” kids have not survived.

The most successful players are interacting, listening, and getting the right information at the right time.

They’re surviving by being social with one another.

So how does this relate to enterprise social?

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Which Customers to Listen to, When,” SAP Innovator Maxwell Wessel wrote, “In business, if you’re not listening to the right customers, it can all disappear before you realize what’s happening.”

He mentioned a number of once-great companies — AOL, Nokia, RIM, Kodak, DEC — that failed to effectively detect and react to change.

They couldn’t survive disruption.

In social media, you’re never too big to fail.

Social media provides a very powerful opportunity for organizations to effectively deal with common business challenges: customer service, campaign management, etc. Organizations that are socially engaged, at scale, have the ability to listen — really listen — to their customers. They’re hearing what their customers are saying to the brand, to each other, to their peers, and to even the competition.

Social media truly levels the communications playing field. The chatty contributor is put into proper perspective. The distant, more reserved voices are given opportunities to shine, as well. Good social listening skills (along with the right social infrastructure) will allow you to hear the right customers… not just the ones who shout loudest.

But to do this well takes a commitment to actually being social: listening and connecting. It’s a consistent, ongoing effort that allows your organization to be a part of conversations. It’s an opportunity to create memorable (i.e. valuable) social experiences.

The secret to surviving disruption is…

Just as the high school kids winning the assassin game have formed diverse, trusted connections, large complex organizations can be more attuned to disruptive moments by unifying the various subdivisions (marketing, sales, PR, IR, corporate communications, etc.) of the enterprise. They can win by breaking down business silos to become a truly social enterprise.

The future of your business depends on your ability to identify, at an early stage, the disruptive forces in your space. Leveraging the breadth and diversity of your organization to socially engage with the surrounding community is an incredibly powerful way to gain insights, maintain a pulse on the world, and create and maintain strong social relationships.

As a socially engaged enterprise, you’ll be smarter and better able to detect and react to changes when they occur. So when disruption knocks at your door, you’ll be ready.

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