Want to rev me up? Equate the participation of corporations in social media discussions with “bad thing,” as Bill Weye insinuates in his worry piece about what might happen to PodCamp Boston, now that Microsoft signed up to participate. Here’s a very small snip-quote:
…but after looking at this growing list of companies (with some very big ones, like Micro$oft), Iâ€™ve been wondering how this â€œunconferenceâ€ is going to change this year.
Markets are Conversations
If we are to go the route of the Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations. Is Microsoft evil? Not at all. Do they do dumb things sometimes? Sure. Don’t we ALL do dumb things from time to time?
But didn’t you follow the “birth story” of Robert Scoble? He went from inside guy to OUR guy on the inside. The human face of the evil Borg. And that was the blending of social media and big organization that brought that around. Has Microsoft changed over the last several years? In some ways, especially around their consumer products, I’d say yes. Long way to go? Sure. But don’t we all? (By the way, Scoble just welcomed a new baby into the world. Drop by and wish him and Maryam and the family well.)
Sure, some organizations are more prone, perhaps through their culture, of doing things we don’t like. Great. So do we shun them, or do we communicate with them? Do we show them potential other ways? I say yes.
From Faceless to Human
It’s REAL easy to throw stones at a company. Earlier in the year, I found the startup where I worked, Network2, in a situation where a passionate community had some disapproval of how we’d done certain things with the product. And the fire from the community was hot. People were passionately against how we’d done certain things (it was essentially an opt-out vs. opt-in issue).
I found myself in the position of being the “face” of that organization, and showing people that I wasn’t a big company, or an evil corporation. I was a guy, a guy who made mistakes like everyone else, and a human. Further, I wasn’t just someone capitalizing on the community. I was part of it. So, three dozen apologies later, and lots of attempts to better understand people, I discovered a better path. I believe, all this time later, that what little standing I have with that community was earned by showing them that I’m a human representing an organization.
There Will Be Stumbles
There have already been several cases of “bad” social media participation. In some cases, it’s HOW things went down, like when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey snuck around on Yahoo forums posting anonymously for his gain. There have been the laptop scandals, and several less-clear situations.
Some people had issues with the so-called “blogola” accusations, where companies offered products to bloggers, and empowered them to try out the products, and if so inclined, blog the good and the bad. To this day, I think that DISCLOSURE is the key to all this. Others said that it was a more complex issue (one that I’m not interested in re-hashing, but YOU can, if you want, in the comments).
But aren’t stumbles better than letting corporations sit around and “do it all wrong” over and over again? Was GM wrong for the Tahoe campaign? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it was a matter of implementation. Should they try again? Another way? Damned straight.
There’s a new world for you and me. It’s a weird mix, because in lots of ways, we’re now empowered in a way we weren’t only a handful of years ago. If we don’t like the shows we’re watching, we can make our own, or find the ones we want. If we don’t like the ads for the products we love, we can make our own. If we want NO ADS EVER, there are ways to make that happen, some more legal than others. We have power over our media consumption in a way we never did before.
And some say that this empowerment stretches into how we do our job. Remember, I’m a guy who left his cog-in-the-machine day job to pursue quite a rockstar fun time as a guy making events, immersing into social media, and doing what I consider the most fun you could pay me to have. I got that ALL from social media. I started by empowering myself with the knowledge I gained from podcasts like the great stuff of IT Conversations and some of John Furrier’s interviews with tech companies at PodTech. And from starting PodCamp with Christopher S. Penn.
But this empowerment goes in an interesting loop. Lots of us still work for big organizations. We now have knowledge and power that we didn’t have before. This gives us an opportunity to be effective for our organizations, AND it allows us to be our own brands within these organizations. The choice becomes ours, and with all things I’ve learned over the last 14 years, CHOICE is the most important metric in how we proceed with our careers and lifestyles.
Geoff Livingston, all around superstar, points out corporate participation studies here. There’s lots to this post, if you follow all the links. I think Geoff’s got the pulse just right, especially with who he references. Pay special attention to the case studies part.
What’s Your Take?
If we’re going to say that big companies don’t “get it,” shouldn’t we be helping them? One way I’m going to help is by encouraging corporations and marketers and investors and all the other people who are accused of not getting it to come to PodCamp Boston, to participate with the new media creators who’ve lived this stuff, and who are blazing trails because they weren’t really following the roads that came before anyway. I’m hoping for a two-way exchange of knowledge. There’s lots I want to ask of these organizations who are coming. And there’s tons I want us to show the people willing to come and meet with PodCampers.
So, are you part of the conversation, or are you in the “corporations are evil” camp? I want to know.
Photo credit, Christopher Chan