Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

The Future Really Is Now!

The exterior of the Spaceship Earth ride at Disney World’s Epcot park is perhaps one of the most recognized landmarks on Earth.  Housed in the giant geodesic sphere that serves as the gateway into the Future World section of the park, the ride is one of Disney’s finest examples of audio-animatronic magic.  Created in 1982, this ride takes the traveler on a journey through the history of communications technology starting with cave drawings and ending with Disney’s vision of 21st century communications.  After 25 years, the ride was updated this past February but its amazing to to consider how accurate the original vision of the future was.

The final scene of the old ride depicts two teenagers talking to each other; not on the telephone, but over an audio/video link using a computer and flat panel display.  The kids are neighbors of sorts, although in this future view, they are part of the same “global neighborhood”.  One is apparently in the US; the other in Asia.  They can see each other and the computer is translating their words into each other’s language.

In 1982 when the ride first opened, this idea must have seemed fantastic, but in the last few years, the technology and bandwidth have become generally available to enable this type of interaction.  The realization of the future really being now hit home this afternoon as my family was sitting outside enjoying a warm October afternoon.  As teens like to do, mine was pretty much ignoring her mom and I, and was instead, having a conversation with three friends.  Of course, teens no longer tie up the landline phone for this activity like they did back in 1982.  Mine prefers to use her computer and social sites like BlogTV which enables video streaming.  The friends she was talking to were neighborhood kids.  Global neighborhood kids to be more accurate; from Norway, Sweden and Austria.

Consider the implications of that for a minute. What was considered part of a fantastic future just a few years ago is now an everyday activity for teenagers. Soon, they will be starting their careers, building families of their own and generally running the place.   How fast will their ideas and trends travel as the distance and barriers between different cultures becomes smaller and smaller?  How much will they begin to see and respect one another for what they have in common instead being fearful of differences?

Spaceship Earth image courtesy of Jeff B

Don’t Get All In a Twitter Trying to Explain Twitter

Fellow Blogger Socialite Greg Verdino shared a new video explaining Twitter from the Common Craft gang. This is a great way to explain your Twitter Addiction to your friends and co-workers.

If you are already on Twitter, you can follow me here. If not, what are you waiting for? It’s fun and if you are worried that others won’t understand it, send them the link to the video along with an invitation.

How Do You Top The Age of Conversation??

aoc2_3.pngMarketing is not my profession, but it is something that I am keenly interested in and enjoy discussing. Last Spring, I started following the blogs of some pretty insightful marketing professionals. About that time, two of those professionals came up with a very innovative idea: the creation and publication of collaborative business book entitled The Age of Conversation (buy it). AOC began as a challenge between Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton but ended up being a highly insightful collection of essays from over a hundred marketers, writers, thinkers and creative innovators. AOC was also a testament to the power of community AOC raised more than $10,000 for Variety the Children’s Charity and was listed among Advertising Age’s “Books You Should Have Read in 2007.” If you aren’t already familiar with AOC, you can get read about it here.

One of my big regrets for 2007 was not joining in that particular conversation. I’m not going to repeat that mistake this year because Drew and Gavin have decided to do a sequel and I have already signed up. Once again, it will be a collection of writings from more than one hundred authors. So what’s going to be different this time around? Drew and Gavin have decided to let the community decide the topic. They have proposed a short list of topics (Marketing Manifesto, Why They Don’t Get It, and My Marketing Tragedy) and are asking the community to vote for the one they’d most like to see as this year’s theme. By the way, if the topics seem a little vague, you are very perceptive.

You can read Drew’s announcement here.

So do you want to join the conversation??? — send an email to Drew and let him know. If you don’t plan to write for the book, we still want you to help us decide what the topic will be so go ahead and take the one question survey here by January 31. I’ll be providing updates as the project progresses.

(image courtesy of Greg Verdino)

Reviewer or Critic?

My new Twitter friend Justin Kownacki wrote a great post last night on the subject of criticism. Justin talks about the role of the critic and the impact they can have on an an artist’s success. He also makes the point that everyone is a critic and challenges people to consider our own personal motives for recommending or trashing a book / movie / TV show / song.

Justin asks:

“Is a critic’s primary function to be a guide for the audience or the artist? Should a critic support the work of an artist who has the potential to become great, even if that work isn’t yet fully commendable, because the risk of smiting that dream too early might mean the absence of new work that could someday change the world?

Or, should a critic be exceedingly harsh and unrelenting, fostering an environment where only the strongest survive?”

There are a number of excellent comments addressing the question. Here’s my take:

There’s an interesting take on the question “What is a critic” over at filmreference.com.

It says that the people who write about the latest release in papers are “reviewers”. They may call themselves critics, but the write to deadlines and their primary goal is to entertain, which drives their writing style. They are concerned with recommending the things they review (or not) to a readership assumed to be primarily interested in being entertained. Like you said, they know their audience and don’t tend to stray too far from what the audience will agree with.

To the point of your question, I believe “critics” should be guides for the artist. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. What we have in our high-consumption, instantly-disposable culture are “reviewers” who, by necessity, are guides for an audience that doesn’t have the time or patience for serious discussion.

You point out that we all have the opportunity to be “critics”. I would add that we can also be (and often are) “reviewers”. The next time you write about something “critically”, are you going to be a “critic” or a “reviewer”?

Is “Conversation” Cliché

I’m in Washington, DC this week getting new hire training from IBM. As fate would have it, three of my favorite on-line friends were also in town to speak at the Era of Conversation event. Last night, I had the opportunity to have dinner Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni and CC Chapman. After dinner, Geoff suggested that we make an impromptu video, so we did. After an awkward couple of minutes trying to decide what to talk about, Geoff asked if the word “Conversation” had become cliché. Here are our answers:

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Ah, the vacation. I remember when I was a kid (pre-teens), we would go to Va Beach and rent a “cottage”. It was usually an old, weather worn structure with wooded (sandy) floors and no air conditioning. Other families would join us making for a week long party. Every day, the Moms would packed lunches while the Dads packed Styrofoam coolers with sodas and beer (Falstaff or Schiltz as I recall), and you and the other families would spend the whole day at the beach. If you needed to make a phone call, you walked or drove to the nearest Bell System phone booth. You might get a newpaper, but that was not likely and you didn’t watch much television because the closest station was 40 miles away.

Instead, you played games, listened to music, had conversations. It was a big party. The adults had amazing staying power. They could be on the beach all day long and then party until 3am, much to the annoyance of the kids who wanted to sleep (or wanted to be part of the action). It was extremely “Social”.

I’m at the beach this week with another family. We have been doing the beach thing together for 20 years and we do our share of social activities. We do come up for lunch everyday because we love air conditioning. Yesterday, as I was finishing my lunch (and Twittering), I looked up to see four other people at the table with me. Each was on their own computer.

Five people sitting around a table having lunch at the beach should be talking with each other, but instead, they are all in their own digital worlds. I’m more guilty that ever this year as I take the iPhone to the beach everyday to Twitter, read blogs, etc. It used to be that I went to the beach and read a good book. Now, I go to the beach and read good feeds.

That lunch table image and my own realization of being too plugged struck me as both funny and sad. We have become so accustomed (addicted) to our hyperconnectivity and our digital networks that we can’t take a vacation from them.

I think I’ll head back to the beach with the boogie board instead of the iPhone.

US Airways Want’s My Help. What’s In It For Me?

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USAirways sent me an email message this week asking for my help. The message was titled “Show Your Support for Our China Service”. It seems that USAirways would like to offer a Philly to China flight, but needs the US Department of Transportation to award the route to them. The DOT is apparently influenced by public opinion so USAirways would like me to “Get Involved” by signing their petition. From the email:

We need your help! The DOT heavily considers public support when they award new service. Please take a minute to sign our petition — it’s quick and you can do it online. We have to submit these petitions by August 2 and every signature counts.

Why should I do this? What has USAirways done for me lately (ok , ever). In the message, they list four reasons why I should support them:

  1. With service to China, we can grow internationally and offer you even more destinations
  2. We’d have a connecting flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia for more choices for the southeast U.S.
  3. We’re the only major U.S. airline without service to Asia
  4. Today, there are no nonstop flights between Philadelphia and China

Clearly, these reasons primarily benefit USAirways. They offer no other tangible incentives for me to support them. I’m sure there are rules prohibiting that sort of thing anyway.

This is the first time that USAirways has ever asked me to help them. Perhaps, if they had been engaging me as a customer, asking for my input on ways to provide better service, this request wouldn’t seem so self-serving, but they haven’t and it does. Perhaps USAirways should have taken the time to target this request to people who might find it valuable; perhaps people who have flown USAirways to other international destinations.

Email marketing is cheap, so companies might have a tendency to simply blast a message out to every address in their files. I don’t remember the last time I flew USAir and I have never used them for international travel, so why did they think I would be interested in helping them get the China service? Instead, my opinion of them went down just a little because they want my help without offering anything of value to me in return.

Did you get the e-mail? What do you think about this case?

Do You Twitter?

A few months ago, I began using Twitter. I jumped in not really knowing why or understanding what the value would be. As I recall, I noticing that David Armano had started using the service, so I decided to check it out.

Some people have described Twittering as microblogging, but it really isn’t blogging at all. Blogging is like standing up on a soapbox and communicating your opinion. Sure, conversations happen through comments, but they tend to focus on the topics of the individual posts. If you follow bloggers over time, you can develop a sense of where they, and to an extent, their followers, stand on certain topics. While Twitter can be used in many ways, the real value for me comes from the insights I get about the lives of the people I follow.

To those who haven’t used the service, the short, 140-character messages from Twitterers may seem trivial and a complete waste of time. Since I started using the service last March, I’ve posted hundreds of “tweets” and had some really fun conversations about everything from the Dewey Decimal System to beef jerky. You may be asking yourself, why I should care that someone drank Margaritas and fell asleep in the hammock or that someone else missed the train to work. Individually, I don’t, but as I have been following the tweets of certain people, I have gotten to know a lot more about them. I have a much better appreciation for their daily routines, their sense of humor, how they spend their free time, what they are doing at work. The sense of community is greater than anything I’ve seen from blogging because Twitter is more conversational and I believe more personal than blogging.

While it is personal, Twittering is not about getting individual recognition. Hugh MacLeod recently asked Anyone notice the complete lack of kvetching about “A-List” Twitterers and Facebookers? Unlike blogging, nobody seems to care etc…“. Sure, there are sites that rank you based on the number of followers you have, but where blogging tends to encourage individualism, Twitter is more about collectivism. Wired’s Clive Thompson recently wrote a nice article that makes this point and discusses the Twitter effect of creating a shared understanding of what’s going on within a group and how that makes the group larger than the sum of it’s parts.

If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s fun and a bit addictive. Also, check out Matt Dickman’s excellent video overview. If you already Twitter, I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Either way, feel free to add me as a Twitter friend.

The Thinking Blogger Award: Who, Me?

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I began writing this blog a little over a year ago as an outlet for my passion for subjects like customer experience and innovation.  Like a parrot, I found people who spoke about these things and I attempted to do what they do, although typically without the same level of authority.  Through this experience, I have made friends with many of those people who I look up to and have had the opportunity to engage in some very rich, thoughtful and entertaining conversations, which after all, is the main reason for getting involved with social media, is it not.  I see myself as a student and many of them, my teachers.

This past weekend, I was honored to be given The Thinking Blogger Award by one of my favorite teachers, Becky Carroll.  Becky is a Customer Experience passionista with some serious credibility.  She also pens a fantastic blog on CX called Customers Rock.  It’s at the top of my blogroll and should be on yours as well. 

Back in February, 2007, Ilker Yoldas started the ball rolling by highlighting blogs that he felt were truly “meaty” with great content.  He started the Thinking Blogs Award to help publicize great blogs.  In keeping with the rules of the meme, I will now share five of my favorites with you.  Following the path back from Becky, I see that many of my favorites have already received the award, so I’m going to attempt to throw some new content into the mix.

Dominic Basulto – Endless Innovation: Dominic’s aptly named blog covers innovation on all fronts.  He brings stories of great innovation  to the conversation and consistently challenges readers to think about approaching innovation as an evolutionary process.

Michael Urlocker – On Disruption: Disruptive shifts within industries are frequently followed by a changing of the guard in terms of industry leaders.  Businesses that aren’t sensing and responding to disruptions that impact them will invariably find themselves struggling.  Michael’s blog is one of the best sources out there for analysis of the disruptions that are occurring right now.

Greg Verdino – Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog:  Greg has his finger on the pulse of new media channels and is a great source of information about their evolution.  He always shares his perspective and opinion on a story and consistently challenges readers do the same.

Katie Konrath – getFreshMinds:  I just met Katie (virtually) last week.  She visited NextUp after seeing Becky’s award to me in her feed reader.  I’m glad she did, because it allowed me to discover her blog about “Ideas so fresh….  they should be slapped”.  Really great stuff. 

Matt Haverkamp – The Digital Perm: Matt covers advertising and goes a great job of highlighting innovative campaigns and suggesting missed opportunities.  He’s also a bit obsessed with Roger Federer.

So there you go.  If you aren’t already familiar with these great blogs, do yourself a favor and check them out. 

The New Delta

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A few weeks ago, there was considerable buzz about the Delta Airlines Twitter page. There were initial hopes that Delta might actually be behind it. In the end, it appeared to have been a Delta employee, but whether he/she was acting alone or for the company is not known. The page has been quiet for 2 weeks so one can assume that the experiment is over. That said, It looks like Delta is trying some new ways of connecting with their customers and adding value to the travel experience.

Today, I was invited to check out their new microsite: Siteseer Travelcast. It contains short video travelcasts of featured destinations presented by delta employees. Think about the air travel experience. It’s generally unpleasant. You do it for the destination. When you are traveling to an unfamiliar place, its great to get suggestions from people who have been there on what to do, where to eat, etc. Does Delta have untapped assets that they could use to provide this guidance to their customers? You bet they do! Flight attendants, pilots, ground crew live in most of Delta’s featured destinations and know the landscape. Now I am not naive enough to believe that there isn’t some “paid for” placement of advertising for the shops and restaurants presented in some of these videos. Nevertheless, I’m getting some really useful information presented with a human face, and that helps me to engage with the brand.

Siteseer is only one element of Delta’s new customer focused approach. On their website is a link to another microsite that discusses all of the innovations they are currently testing. Things like zoned seating, language lessons, RFID baggage tags, restaurant buzzers, etc. It also has a place for you to leave your ideas or travel tips and the plan is for the site to evolve into a truly collaborative forum:

Delta.com/change represents a whole new way for Delta to connect with the global community and, ultimately, redefine the travel experience. Out of the gate, this site will serve as an informative tool, tracking all the exciting changes going on with us and showcasing travel tips and ideas from people like you.

Very soon, though, it will evolve into something truly collaborative—truly revolutionary.

We envision a forum for open, honest dialogue between airline and air traveler. A place where your ideas may very well influence how we operate in the future. And a stockpile of user-generated tips that will make travel more enjoyable and sane for us all.

All of this is really good stuff and I applaud Delta on the steps they are taking. From a Sense & Respond standpoint, they are really reaching out to Sense what their customers want them to be. The challenge will be for them to consistently deliver all of these great new innovations while at the same time, getting the basics right. I have not flown on Delta in over a year. Perhaps you have. Have you noticed a difference in Delta?

A Clean Slate is a Beautiful Thing

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I typically don’t write about my professional life, but today is different.  After 23 years as an IT professional for a Circuit City Stores, my position was eliminated.  For the first time in 23 years, I am going to be actively seeking employment.  With today’s revelation, came a dark rainbow of negative emotions: frustration, anger, uncertainty, fear, sadness.   Over the course of the day, I reflected on those feelings, the pros and cons of my former job and the implications of the event.

Where I’ve Been

If you have explored my blog, you may know that my “day job” has been management of IT development.  Not very sexy stuff and frankly, not a very creative outlet for the stuff I am passionate about.  Nevertheless, after 23 years, you can get really comfortable with a 3 mile commute, a good salary, and lots of longtime friends, so I have never seriously looked elsewhere. 

About 2 years ago, I was asked to join an internal innovation team.  This cross-functional team, made up of all sorts of people with other day jobs, was given time and resources to design and test as many new ideas as they could come up with.   Recognized as someone who was never content with the status quo and who frequently pointed out opportunities to improve the customer experience, I was later invited to join a special team who worked with company execs and Gary Hamel’s consulting firm, Strategos, to develop an new strategic framework for the company. 

What I Learned

It was the most invigorating 10 months of my career.  I learned how to synthesize consumer insights, emerging trends, orthodoxies and competencies into a differentiating strategic architecture.  I researched and developed 7 year forecasts for consumer technology, social trends, retail store design, and the American retail workforce..  The team delivered several solid proposals, all of which had differentiating customer experience models, and eventually selected one to move forward with.

It was during these last few years of Innovation and Strategy work that I really discovered my passion and point of view around delivering great customer experiences.  It’s also when I became acutely aware of the shift of power from supplier to customer, and the need for companies to start using social media tools and other emerging channels like virtual worlds to engage their customers and employees in conversations.   These are the things I had become passionate about.  IT Management was my job and one was getting in the way of the other. 

 Who I’ve Met Along the Way

The same social media tools that can enable this amazing conversation with customers and employees has also allowed me to make connections and share insights with like-minded people all over the world.  A few months back, David Armano wrote a “emotion” piece entitled “Shared Experiences”.  In it, he asked if the digital relationships that we are forming through social media can ever be as close those we create through actual interaction.  I think they can.  I watch the banter between digital friends on Twitter.  I learn what people like, what they eat, what makes them laugh, their musical tastes, their kids names; and I share the same about myself.   Those of us who have adopted these vehicles of personal publication tend to share our thoughts much more freely than those who haven’t.

When I Twittered about getting laid off this morning, I was both surprised and delighted by the replies and offers to help from my digital friends.  You know who you are and I really appreciate you reaching out.  Though most of us have never met, I really do consider you my friends.

Clean Slate

Now before this post careens completely out of control (is it too late?), I think I need to get to the point.  I was dealing with all sorts of negative feelings this morning, but why?  Was it because I wasn’t going to be managing financial applications development projects any more?  Or perhaps I was going to miss that next meeting where we go over, in excruciating detail, why one team needs to adjust a testing schedule? 

No. 

These are the uninspiring elements of my former day job that were a necessity because I had not taken the time to look for other opportunities where I could do work that I really cared about.  Now I’m sitting here with a clean slate and it’s a beautiful thing.  I have been given the opportunity to find something new to do; something that I want to do.  The negative feelings from this morning are being offset with optimism, excitement, hope, happiness.

Having to find a new job is a challenge.  Contemplating a career change after so long is daunting, especially when you don’t really have a resume that reflects what you want to do.  My newfound positivity might erode in the coming weeks if the opportunities don’t pan out.  But for now I feel really good.  I love new challenges, I know what I am passionate about, and I know that I have a network of new, like-minded friends, who’s opinions I respect, ready and willing to help.

Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy

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“As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited,” reads the first paragraph of the article Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine. The article was published in February, 2007, but I just found it this weekend and it blew me away.

Nussbaum profiles several Gen Y’ers; early adopters of social media, many of whom have been using the tools to record every detail of their adolescent years. It’s a fascinating look at the new generation gap where young people willingly and openly share the details of their lives in a way that is unimaginable, even shocking for older adults.

As a 21st century parent, I had been feeling good about how well I have kept up with the next generation. The things that defined the generation gap of the sixties (specifically music and cultural attitudes) are not big differentiators between me and my 13-year-old. What I have noticed over the last few years as she has adopted various social tools and creative outlets on the internet, I have noted her willingness to create and connect with people outside of her local sphere. This is way beyond anything I would have imagined at 13 because the capability simply did not exist. For this generation, it’s seems perfectly natural. Describing a 26-year-old named Kitty, Nussbaum writes:

She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and Lastnightsparty.com and Flickr and Facebook and del.icio.us and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

Parents of this generation have lots of opinions on this new level of transparency. Most worry about risks of sharing private information on the net. There are also the concerns that today’s youth can’t develop real friendships through the computer, that they have no attention span, and that they are only interested in getting attention. Nussbaum counters this argument with a theory put forth by NYU professor Clay Shirky:

“Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues. “You didn’t behave like that because nobody gave you the option.”

It could be jealousy, or it might be that it’s just not natural for those over 30 since they did not grown up with in a hyper-connected, always-on, reality-based entertainment world.

I don’t share most of the concerns of my parent-peers. I find the honesty of this generation is refreshing; I believe great friendships can and will continue to be made without physical interaction; and what looks like zero attention span might just be an conditioned ability to multi-task which exceeds that of the previous generation.

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would. One 2006 government study showed that 61 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds have a profile online, half with photos and these numbers are rising rapidly. So what’s different between us and them? They have a completely different definition of privacy. They think that the overly cautious nature of “their elders” is strange. Nussbaum suggests that there is a reason for this shift:

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

A different perception of privacy isn’t the only difference evident here. Professor Shirky suggests that there may be real neurological changes at work here:

They think of themselves as having an audience. They create content and once others begin to consume it, they feel motivated to continue providing and improving it.

They have archived their adolescence. I can barely remember mine. Today’s youth will not have that problem. They take the time to capture the details of their life and make them available for the world to see.

Their skin is thicker than ours. Nussbaum writes, “We live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not such easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square.”

There are a couple of powerful concepts being discussed these days in some of my favorite blogs. Developing your personal brand is one. Conversation Marketing is another. The thinking is that these are important concepts for marketers and businesses to understand and leverage as the consumer has fundamentally changed. Business leaders are having difficulties understanding the importance of embracing social media. The don’t see the point of much of it because they are from that other generation. Instead of trying to figure out the value of the tools, they should focus on understanding the Gen Y consumer. Understand how they are fundamentally different from you in the way they communicate & collaborate, how they create and maintain relationships, and what it is that they value. Reading this excellent article would be a good place to start.

Who is Your Employee Having a Conversation With?

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Greg Verdino posted a really thought provoking piece On Friday.  Seems that someone created a Delta Airlines Twitter account and the conventional wisdom said that it wasn’t Delta Airlines.  From a scan of recent tweets, it seems that they may be coming from someone inside Delta acting in an unofficial capacity, but the net result is really interesting:

revamped the award ticket system for you SkyMiles me”mbers recently: http://www.delta.com/awardt… – you can shop around, calendar-style

sending out flight notices/reminders to those who’ve signed up for my messenger service: http://tinyurl.com/29xt5f

Happy Mother’s Day! Did you know you can donate miles to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation? http://tinyurl.com/yudbdo

Verdino comments that having “an active Twitterer acting as a mouthpiece for the brand (and responding in real time to direct comments and questions from other Twitter users) is truly revolutionary.”  “Sanctioned or not, the Delta Twitter-er literally is the voice of the brand for anyone following his/her tweets”.  Verdino goes on to discuss the implications of individuals claiming brand ownership and question of whether or not companies should be locking their trademarks.

Using a social tool like Twitter to engage with customers in real time IS revolutionary, but how many companies even understand the potential here?  If it weren’t for the attention that popular marketing blogs (Jaffe, Waldman, AdPulp) have given this story, would Delta even know about it (do they now?).  

So many companies are totally oblivious to how the world is changing around them. They see social tools as distractions and time wasters.  My company, a major US retailer, just blocked access to Twitter from inside our corporate network.  

Why???

At a time when we need to be finding new ways to engage with our customers and employees to design better experiences for both, management is focused internally on productivity and security.  It came as no surprise that company leaders were unaware of the over 350 MySpace pages created by current and former employees.  Every one of them references the company name & logo.  Many of them are private groups for individual stores. The public ones are great resources for gaining insights into cultural and engagement issues.  In an organization of 45,000 people, most of which are 18-25-years old, there is an amazing amount of conversation going on.  Rich consumer insights, potential employee morale problems, operational issues, poor management, you name it.  It’s all there in the conversations that are happening in the “unofficial” channels of your organization.

So here’s the point: Whether your executives like it (get it) or not, your employees are having conversations with each other and with your customers, and are doing it under your company’s brand.  Is that a good thing?  Perhaps, if it is identified and supported.  Your Gen Y employees certainly have a better understanding of the communication tools and channels that their peers, and increasingly, your customers favor.  Sure, there may be messages that aren’t strictly in line with company communication guidelines, but the voices are human.  Internally, they build a sense of family which is much more genuine than what comes out of your periodic employee engagement campaigns.  Externally, they can establish a dialog with your customers in ways that your highly structured, talking point-ladened corporatespeak simply cannot.  Overturn your Orthodoxies.  Let these voices show you the way.

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