If the last 100 years was about gaining efficiency and innovation through scale and tight control of resources and communications, the next 100 will be about finding more fluid, open models of collaboration and cooperation. Playing on this new field has different rules. It requires shifting our concept of business from a legalistic model to a social one. Social contracts are very different from the business contracts that dominated the 20th century corporate mentality. In the business contract, the organizing metaphor is the binding, legal document, and the motivator that constrains bad behavior is the lawsuit.
By contrast, the organizing metaphor for the social Web is relationship, and the building blocks are trust, reciprocity and authenticity. The motivating force that constrains bad behavior is social pressure and cultural norms. This is not to say that we will see the disappearance of legal contracts—they remain necessary. But in a social world, your reputation is everything. Your word is your bond, and sometimes admitting a mistake or saying you’re sorry is the best method of keeping both.
Businesses that ignore the call to be “social”—that is, to abide by a social contract with their constituents (customers, partners, resellers, employees)—run the risk of appearing pathological. I see “social” business as an inherently healthy change. Social contracts generally involve listening and talking, give and take, and trust—built over time through honest engagement.