My sense is that companies don’t get it. Technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and other collaborative tools are pretty much mainstream. Really, trust me on this, the Internet is here to stay and despite the überhype, Web 2.0 is REAL.
The problem is that companies view these technologies to something akin to a faster server–something that will give them a productivity gain or solve a business problem. These companies have to wake up. Anyone tuned into popular geek culture will know that there is a revolution underway.
So why do any of these technologies matter to business? They matter not because the technologies are the latest and greatest. They matter because the technologies are mainstream and are forcing a rethinking on the relationship companies has with their own people, their customer, their vendors and even their competitors.
For example, over the years, much lip service was given to the premise that the biggest asset a company has is its people. If so, why is there currently even less workplace satisfaction than ever and the negative health-effects of workplace stress continue to climb?
Structured properly, the implementation of technologies that allow people to collaborate easily and relate more openly will level the hierarchy in large companies. This allows people to interact on a more human level and as equals. I know this is shocking to big business, but most of the great ideas in a company do not come from the C-level suites!
One of the biggest opportunities for social media is in changing how a business relates to its customers. For decades, in the golden age of big business, it was the companies and the marketing firms that told us what we need and should desire. I would posit that we are at a stage where we are so saturated with advertising being pushed at us, that the tables are about to turn.
As the saying goes, he heart wants what the heart wants…the consumer is starting to tell companies what they want and how they would like it. Why fight it? Instead of paying for market research, consumers are telling you want they want!
At Threadless, you find people competing to have their T-shirt designs printed. The designs submitted each month are entered into an online contest. The site’s members vote for their favourites and the winner gets their design professionally printed by Threadless. The shirts are then sold online in a limited edition until they are gone.
In this model, the designer has a shot of winning $2,000 of cash and prizes. Happy customers get a chance to collaborate, and gets the product that they truly desire. The business, of course, gets free designs submitted regularly, the opportunity to print a design that it knows will be a winner, and…PROFIT!
This use of social media can promote an authentic relationship between a business and its vendors, competitors, and especially its lifeblood…its mighty customers. Companies are going to have to work hard at figuring out how to engage and delight their customers with the new tools available to them.
Companies that don’t “get this” will be trounced by those that do. This isn’t something to be taken lightly. Regardless of its size and position in the market currently, companies that continue to ignore the changes brought about by social media will stagnate and slide into oblivion. Scary stuff, indeed!