300 people showed up in Times Square wearing red shirts and sunglasses. They disappeared within 5 minutes. We all thought – that’s odd.
50 high school students showed up at a 7-Eleven and grabbed potato-chips, soda and beef-jerky and disapeared within a few minutes before the owner could do anything. We all thought – that’s not right.
In early April 2009, 10,000 young Moldovans materialized out of nowhere to protest against Moldova’s Communist leadership. They trashed government buildings and rioted against the police. Uh oh – “Houston we have a problem!”
What do these three episodes have in common? They all used social networking tools to organize rapidly. In the case of the recent uprising, their weapon of choice was Twitter. It is as simple as creating a Twitter feed and then having everyone link to it. Simple messages can be sent to thousands or millions of people instantaneously. The power of these tools is mind-boggling.
You cannot ignore the power of social networking any longer. You also cannot sit back and hope that they will go away. They are here to stay and they are becoming more, not less powerful. So, the real question is, “how do we harness the power and turn it to our advantage?”
In business, information, communication and acting on that information is everything. Having the ability to listen and communicate with your customers is key. Businesses need to learn how to use social networking tools to improve their communication with their customers.
As an example, there was a time when we would launch a product and then base our success or failure on the number of customer support issues. If there were a high rate of customer support issues, we had time to retool the product line and release a new version before the reputation of the product was impacted. This is not the case anymore. There have been several cases in the past six months where product lines have been released and initial negative press spread so fast through blogs, online communities and Twitter, that the brand was damaged beyond repair. The feedback mechanism is so efficient today, that companies are unprepared to respond. This is no different than the communist riots.
The product marketing teams were as unprepared for these customers as the 7-Eleven owner above. What is the answer? Embracing the customers prior to the product launch. Become part of the dialog rather than sitting outside the conversation. Empower the customers to be part of the product design process. In essence – eliminate any surprises. Yes, your customers are organizing – are you?
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