2Degrees: The Social Network for Business that Changes Everything

In business, surely the name of the game is to compete: produce the highest quality good for the lowest cost, protect your trade secrets from competitors and screw them over where possible.

But what if it isn’t? Not any more, anyway? That’s what 2degreesnetwork.com suggests to its members: the chance to cooperate to solve problems by sharing strategies without the threat to one’s place in the market. The network may have just launched in the US but it has already proven itself as a driver of a new kind of capitalism in the UK and Europe.

Says Stephen Nemeth, Head of US 2degreesnetwork working groups, “We are a new model of doing business in more of that wikinomics kind of mode of collaborative efficiencies.”

A good example of the way 2degrees is challenging mainstream business competition is the way the network facilitated a transport cooperation agreement between major electronics manufacturers Panasonic and Sony under the squeeze of carbon emissions regulation for their European Transport.

The competitors agreed to share truck space on trucks from a garden furniture company during the Christmas season– when garden furniture sales are at their lowest and electronics sales are at their highest.

“Once you have a network getting people to communicate and collaborate, you always needs some direction, it’s almost like that dating agency kind of role,” explains 2degrees commercial director Oliver Hurrey, “By working on a platform and helping everyone as a mass group of businesses we can spot companies that have similar problems and connect them up with each other.”

What 2degrees offers that existing social networks for businesses don’t– like LinkedIn– is that the 2degrees forum is moderated. Working group managers moderate the forum and participate in setting up blinds for members having a challenge, like the electronics transport case. Managers are experts on their working group area, they know the members and can make connections to facilitate solutions as “trusted advisors.”

The managers initiate a dialogue between competitors by having them analyze where they compete on sustainable business practices and then asking them to distinguish areas where it “makes sense” to compete and where it might “makes sense” to instead collaborate.

In the electronics example, Hurrey explains the logic, “they compete on the shelves and how good their products are. They don’t compete on the efficiency of logistics, the margins are just too low.”

2degreesnetwork is aiming at several targets in its US expansion (though to be fair, before launch one-fifth of their membership was already made up by US business): first, it seeks to help US businesses understand what they need to know about environmental and carbon regulations in the UK and Europe. The 2degrees website has become a repository of learning materials: they have documents related to topic areas, forums, podcasts, and webinars all at member fingertips. Second, they want to provide a space for best practices to be shared between businesses.

Says Nemeth, “a lot of the challenge in the US is not only marketing to sustainable practitioners but also saying to people, ‘hey we can actually provide you a lot of value, you may just not think of yourself in that way’.” 2degrees might be facing an uphill battle in the US, where there is less awareness of what sustainability means, even among those who already might be doing it.

2degrees is free to join but you have to pay to access the resources (documents and media). Membership in 2degrees is costly though– in order to participate you have to pay an annual fee. The only possible criticism of the network is that it’s pricey for smaller organisations and businesses– especially startups with no funding– even with a tiered pricing plan. It’s $90 a quarter for an organisation with under 50 members.  But despite this, 2degrees says 55% of its members can be characterised as SMEs.

2degrees has successfully done what social networks should do– and exemplary ones at that– they create space and facilitate communication. That facilitation role is why they have succeeded in the UK and Europe why they will succeed in the US.

Ann Danylkiw is a freelance writer and digital media producer. Her background is Finance and Development Economics.While writing for Triple Pundit, she is currently producing her first social experiment / digital documentary, the 21HoursExperiment.com.Ann lives in London but visits 'home' in Wisconsin during the summer.

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