One week outside the echo chamber
I've been on the road since Tuesday morning, travelling first to a Chicago suburb to give my social media 101 presentation to the consumer relations group of an international consumer products company and then to Cincinnati to give a similar talk to the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs Annual Meeting.
Presenting to mostly newbie audiences stands in stark contrast to my recent panels at Blogworld Expo and BlogHer, where the folks in the audience were active social media users looking to expand their knowledge about specific things, whether it be monetization of the blog, how to balance personal privacy with public blogging or the best way to integrate Twitter and blogger relations into a social media strategy.
The events this week were also convened for entirely different purposes than to talk social media. The first was an offsite for the consumer relations team and the second an annual meeting of AAA affiliate clubs in Ohio. My social media presentations were one very small part of a packed agenda focused on business issues, not blogging.
It was an incredibly refreshing week outside of the social media echo chamber. While both organizations were very interested in learning about blogs and social networks, social media wasn't the only topic of discussion. As a result, I had an opportunity to hear about the pressing issues driving their businesses.
This perspective is invaluable. We get so caught up in the echo chamber, we sometimes forget that for social media to be relevant, it has to be solving real world business problems.
Which it does. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that social media participation is a critical component for 21st century customer engagement. It just needs to be grounded in the needs of the business. And its customers.
Not the needs of the companies flogging the latest widget or tool set.
Some thoughts that were validated this week in my time outside the echo chamber.
Large multinationals face a crossroads that smaller companies may never see. Who “owns” the relationship with the customer? Both marketing and customer service/consumer relations have a legitimate “claim” to this relationship, and due to organizational size, they tend to operate in silos of responsibility.
Marketing and consumer relations also have very different reasons for listening to and engaging with customers. Marketing listens to understand what messages motivate purchase. Customer service and consumer relations are charged with resolving customer problems or complaints, and sending the customer feedback up the chain to product marketing.
But the consumer doesn’t see or care about these silos. She does NOT divide the experience with a product into before sale and after sale. She just buys a product. It is going to require executive commitment at the highest levels, cross-functional teams and deep, deep cooperation to get this right in these large multi-nationals.
AAA faces a similar challenge. While the brand is national, the clubs are locally owned, independently operated businesses. It’s a mega-franchise.
It also has more than 50 million users nationwide, which is a helluva base for an online community. The trick will be for the national organization and its clubs to figure out how to divide the responsibility for online customer engagement. Some of it needs to be done nationally. Other elements will be much more successful at the local level. Again, deep cooperation will be required.
The good news is that the organization understands that its members, current and future, are online and has started to ask the right questions.
A brief aside about AAA, since I told my flat tire horror story during the session and I expect that some of my listeners will be reading this post. I forgot to tell this story during the speech and it is one of the times I have been most glad to be an AAA member.
I’ve been a member all my driving life. When I got my license at 19, my mom gave me her used car (so she wouldn’t have to schlep me to college) and an AAA membership.
In the mid-80s, my apartment in Lawrence Mass was robbed. Stereo, tv, jewelry but most sadly, my porcelain doll collection. The responding police officers told me it was a long shot I would ever see my stolen goods again, but if I did happen to see them in a pawn shop, to call the police first and wait for them to go in and claim the goods.
I didn’t have much hope.
A few weeks later, imagine my surprise when, driving back to my office in Methuen after picking up some airline tickets for my brother at AAA in Lawrence, I happened to glance over at a pawn shop window, and saw some of my very unique porcelain dolls in the window. This was before cell phones so I pulled into a parking space, and used a pay phone to call the detectives. They came and we got my stolen property back. All my dolls.
Nothing else was recovered, but we did learn who pawned the goods (and probably stole them in the first place) and they were prosecuted for receiving stolen goods.
All because I was driving back from AAA in Lawrence on my lunch hour.
Back to my week outside the echo chamber.
I've decided that I definitely need a better way of introducing Twitter. It needs a demo. A screen shot and description don't cut it with a truly neophyte audience. They don't always ask for more explanation. Luckily, in one session where I did have some pretty confused folks, I got an opportunity at the break to show it to them on my BlackBerry and explain things a little better. Enough that I'm expecting some new followers in the near future.
It was a great week, but I am glad to be home. My deepest thanks to both organizations for inviting me into their programs. I hope they got something out of the experience. I certainly did.
Next on Marketing Roadmaps: I taped both of my panels at BlogHer Boston, and hope to post some decent sound files over the weekend. Stay tuned! Fair warning, though: this post will only go up on the new site, so change your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions now :-)
Posted @ 9:10PM in Blogging
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