The Cluetrain Manifesto, written some 10 years ago, quite accurately predicted what has become known as web 2.0.  It envisaged how social networking would change the way companies talk to their constituents, beginning with the statement: "Markets are conversations."

This month, we are very excited about one of the most significant developments in this area in Australia and something that perfectly illustrates a part of what we mean when we talk about "The Social Enterprise".

In an Australian first, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has deployed a visionary social crowd-sourcing application, built on salesforce technology, to garner public opinion about the future of banking technology in Australia.  According to the press release, it is "a new idea-generation site and online community that allows customers and budding inventors to help collaborate, create and shape the future of banking."  This bold project – dubbed ‘IdeaBank’ – is one of a series of social initiatives to help mark the CBA’s 100 years' serving Australian customers

(Read more about this project here at ZDnet Australia.)

"The interactive platform gives the community the ability to discuss, promote and demote others' ideas, democratically elevating the most popular ideas and bringing these to the Bank's attention for possible implementation," explains the press release.  We think nothing of this scale or ambition has ever been attempted before in Australia and it signals an important new departure in the way Australians can engage with leading corporations in shaping a joint–future together.  As such, we share CBA CMO Andy Lark's own excitement: 

"Never before have our customers been so empowered to both contribute and vote for innovation and improvement.  I'm delighted to be able to pioneer in this space and harness the collective power of our 10 million plus customers."

The Bank will reward the creator of one of the most popular ideas with a $10,000 prize. In 2012 the new site - officially launched December 8 - will diversify to include more categories of the Bank's banking and financial services, not just technology.

The concept helps CBA to grow “big ears”, enabling thousands of people to all collaborate together, brainstorm ideas, prioritise thinking and come up with a set of ranked priorities. The project is best summed up by the line in the above video: "We know that the best idea about the future of banking won't come from us, it'll come from you."   

We think any organisation can unlock ideas, empower people and transform their business by tapping into its communities through new technologies such as this. Companies like CBA can find better, faster and more cost effective paths to real innovation that deliver tangible returns quickly.  (And as Forbes Magazine's "Most Innovative Company", we like to think we know a little bit about innovation!)

So, if you've got a big idea burning a hole in your pocket, head over to IdeaBank and bounce it off one of Australia's leading brands - who knows where the conversation could lead!