Before the Internet, businesses could largely control their brand story through carefully crafted ad campaigns, collateral, retail design and public relations. Today, any customer, contractor, employee or reseller with a large and engaged Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Yelp following can influence or even rewrite a brand's narrative in a matter of days. E-commerce giant Amazon experience the full effect in 2015 when current and former employees took to Glassdoor in droves to corroborate a scathing New York Times' expose about a tough company culture.

Smart businesses are recognizing the need to dialog with their diverse constituents, now labeled the Extended Enterprise, and are getting innovative and aggressive in trying to influence these key stakeholders' conversations about their company. If you're looking for a master of this new communications strategy, I'd point you to Oprah Winfrey.

In my opinion, no one understands the power of the extended enterprise better than Oprah. And few, if any, have achieved her level of success in managing and leveraging that power. How does Oprah do it? She identifies her many audiences/stakeholders and then uses technology to continuously educate them and inform the stories they tell about her brand. Her omnichannel approach leverages technology to help keep her brand promise, "helping you live your best life," consistent across her extended enterprise; no matter where the touchpoint.

Businesses looking to do the same should take two important pages out of Oprah's playbook and be prepared to demonstrate these strategies effectiveness with hard dollar, bottom line metrics.

Educate Your Audiences
It's obvious from even a quick visit to Oprah.com that Oprah is committed to keeping her audience educated on how to 'live your best life.' In addition to her O Magazine, Oprah now connects with her audience anytime, anywhere via streaming entertainment and by offering inspirational online courses. Everyone consuming that content is absorbing Oprah's point of view on the product, experience or life style choices she's advocating. And then has the opportunity to broadcast her perspective, often with the reader's added comment or endorsement, to their own social and professional networks.

When you take the time to catalog all of the audiences for your brand story, you'll probably be surprised by the number and their size. Prospective, current and former customers and employees represent six core audiences common to virtually every enterprise. Add to that, vendors, resellers, distributors, franchisees and other business partners. To exert influence on your brand's story, you'll first need to define the key messages you'd like them to hear and share. Then choose the appropriate channels to deliver those messages. In some cases, the right channel might be a live event, such as Apple's Developer Conference, Salesforce's annual Dreamforce convention,and the new Etsy Labs Meet & Make events. But for greatest reach and cost-effectiveness, you'll likely want to leverage online channels. Here are some examples of how customers of our online Learning Management System (LMS) are doing just that:

-CCC Information Services, a leading provider of advanced software, workflow tools and enabling technologies to the automotive industry educates their customers and employees through over 300 online courses built by in-house instructional designers, Subject Matter Experts (SME's), and technical writers. Key metric: dramatically reduced customer support costs and, therefore, improved profit margins.

-Bluebeam, a wholesale software developer proactively trains it's resellers on product details via tiered video courses. Key metric: 400% business growth among resellers who complete the course.

-Uber, the world's largest ride sharing company, uses self-paced, anytime and where online training to educate 4,000 contractor drivers a week. Key metric: higher revenue and higher rider satisfaction through having more drivers on the road.

Nurture Existing and New Connections

Oprah knows the power of relationships. She famously extends her brand by tapping talented people for her own personal improvement and then turning them into household names. There is a pretty impressive list of people who can thank the 'Winfrey effect' for their fortunes; psychologist Dr Phil, interior designer Nate Berkus, chef Rachel Ray, fitness coach Bob Greene are just a few. She also continually seeks new relationships, always looking for the "next voice who can spark big a-ha moments that will help you move closer to your best life."

Leverage this strategy for your enterprise by nurturing connections with former employees or prospective clients and candidates. Here are some examples of companies who are seeing bottom line success from this strategy:

-When a McKinsey consultant leaves the firm, it's usually to lead an organization that's a current, or great potential, client. Recognizing that, McKinsey continues to communicate with their alumni offering hundreds of annual knowledge and social events driven via their dedicated alumni portal. This investment helps keep alumni up to date with the consulting firm's offerings and research, and positive on the brand. Key business metric: dramatically lower costs of new client acquisition.

-Procter & Gamble supports a very active alumni program that connects former employees across the globe and keeps them up to date on each other as well P&G. It's proven to be an excellent way to attract higher quality new candidate referrals and valuable "boomerang" rehires. Key business metric: lower recruiting costs.

-At my own company, Mindflash, we offer a public course that anyone visiting our site can take for free. The course educates prospective customers and employees on how our eLearning software works. Key metrics: lower cost of sales and recruiting costs.

As the speed and reach of customers' and employees' personal digital networks grow, and as the trend toward companies outsourcing more and more of their product's production, delivery and sales accelerates, the power of the extended enterprise should only increase. And with that, the imperative for more companies to proactively use technology to put their stories in front of the right audiences, and make customer and partner training an explicit part of their strategy. No question it's paying off handsomely for Oprah. Having educated and influenced her new partner, Weight Watchers, to adopt her consistently "holistic" messaging regarding weight management, the company announced both a new "beyond the bathroom scale" brand as well as other product offerings. The key metric from Oprah's investment in a 10% share of the company? Weight Watchers stock increased 103% that day.

Published on: Feb 9, 2016