Companies have been saying they make strides to join the new conversation. Some even designate someone to monitoring the blogosphere for mentions of their name. As we continue to talk about the impact of social media, citizen marketers, customer engagement, and employee empowerment we almost believe our own words.
All of these initiatives are just buzz words. I'm saying this for good reason; I've seen it on the inside and the outside of organizations.
It's Your Ship, but you Choose to Miss the Boat
A few years ago, our business group, Fast Company readers' network, had the opportunity to host then brand new author and former Commander of the USS Benfold Mike Abrashoff. Mike is a sought after and well paid speaker, and a friend of our network. For that reason, and because his father lives in the area, we planned an event with our group around father's day.
Mike founded Grassroots Leadership and was coming to us at the hills of a big publicity wave. Because he had been so gracious to arrange to come, we wanted to help him book at least a couple of informal events at local organizations -- all free of charge. It's really hard to get on people's calendars so we were doing all this well in advance of his visit.
We went to three different companies that had sizeable local representation and are known for wanting to offer their employees every advantage and training. Our offer to book Mike with them for an hour during the day was made through employees at a reasonably high level, which means well liked and networked inside those organizations. One of the comments I received afterwards was to the effect: "If we had known! We would have loved to have him." Does anyone speak 'opportunity' when it knocks? It's your Ship, and indeed you choose to miss the boat.
ING Direct Goes Dutch -- Pay to Play
Most recently we proposed an event at the ING Direct Cafe' with author and blogger Lisa Haneberg. The event would have been appropriate for the edgy cafe' and bank because the topic is Two Weeks to a Breakthrough, from Lisa's new book. I worked with the Cafe' in the past, as I posted recently, and was excited to bring together two great groups -- theirs and ours. In my enthusiasm, I even pitched Arkadi Kuhlmann to propose Lisa as a speaker for an employee event at ING Direct.
Imagine my disappointment when I received a quick voice message that the cafe' now charges $500 per event. I suppose from their standpoint it makes sense -- $500 today is quantifiable, they can put it on the books, vs. a few savings accounts opened (including mine), at least one mortgage refinance and the ability to publicize their new checking account. All in a relational environment in front of business people where permission is already established. Would you rather interrupt us? Why go Dutch on customers?
These are just two examples, of course. There are many more daily instances in which we miss the opportunity to connect. Maybe the answer is the breaking up of organizations into self-sustaining groups that have greater leeway in conversing with the marketplace -- sort of like microbrands. I'd like to think that the organizations in question do not really know what they are missing -- or they would be joining in.
How can organizations be brought up to date on the fluidity of the market conversations? Aside from wanting to apply to social media the old ways of doing business in a stick-on fashion, and hope that customers will continue buying, how else can we help companies figure out what they're missing?