Recently, my neighbor undertook a significant project. With the warm weather, he decided to invest in redoing his back deck. He wanted an ‘Outdoor Room’. In talking to him, it was going to be a real masterpiece, or so it sounded. Two tiers with a gas fireplace, sitting area with a pergola, built in outdoor kitchen. The works. My neighbor, Tom, had gotten the idea from another neighbor who had a similar set up. They’d had a party Tom had attended and he was hooked.
Looking back, things started to go wrong even prior to him starting. Tom thought about what he wanted. Built in gas grill. Check. Beer tap, check. Fireplace, check. Large sitting area, check. A few other amenities. Check, check, check.
What he didn’t think about was how to integrate it fully with his current set up. Hot tub. French doors off of two rooms. Landscaping. View of the surrounding area and surrounding areas view of him. How he’d use the room. Parties, entertainment of large or small groups or just family. Oh and those pesky neighborhood covenants.
Tom was also in a hurry. He wanted to get to the end quickly…and he is somewhat cheap. He got two estimates for his list of stuff. One contractor he didn’t really like because he was “too pushy”. When I pressed him on this (as I’ve used the contractor myself and found him to be excellent), Tom said that he was challenged on his list and layout. As the CEO of a manufacturing company, Tom doesn’t like to be challenged.
Both contractors were “too expensive”. Tom was delighted to find out one day that one of his employees had a brother that was a handyman and could build anything all for $30 an hour. Tom had him out. “No problem” the handyman said, looking at the big job and likely drooling. “I can do it. I have a few friends who can help out with the masonry stuff. Take about a week to do.” Doing some mental math and estimating the cost at a little over half the cheapest of the two quotes he got, Tom jumped at it.
That weekend, pallets of brick and stacks of lumber and other materials were delivered. The demolition commenced and the the construction began. That minute problems began. Problems with design, integration, layout and materials. Oh, the handyman’s ‘friends’ never showed up, so he was on his own.
Moreover, Tom didn’t plan for how he’d use his outdoor room. He focused on certain shiny pennies he thought he wanted or needed (like the outdoor TV that couldn’t be used except at night because of where it was placed and the glare).
Focusing only on price, he used the wrong contractor who had no real plan and not enough experience to source the right materials in the right amount. Tom lamented he should have seen it coming, as the contractor never talked to him about unforeseen problems and work-arounds taken, as well as, the materials sitting in his driveway which where being used in ways that seemed inconsistent to him. It all came to a head when the president of the neighborhood association emailed him and told Tom he was out of covenant on his build out.
Almost a month after the project began (this last week) Tom fired his existing contractor and hired the original one he thought too pushy. He has 1/3 too many bricks he can’t return and not enough of the other material. The new contractor has to demo virtually everything that was done and redo it the right way.
Watching this whole thing unfold, I saw a clear similarity to the approach of brands and the adoption of social media. Specifically:
-Having a strategic plan.
-Ensuring proper integration into existing assets.
-Ensuring you understand the impact of your actions from all angles; both internally and externally.
-Understanding how the enterprise plan’s on utilizing the enhanced business tools.
-Aligning needs, priorities and expectations of all parties.
-Ensuring the right people are involved with the right experience, as well as, ensuring that open collaboration occurs at each phase of the program.
Does Tom’s story resonate with you? I bet it does. Virtually everybody has had some problem or incident that is similar to this on some scale. You get the cause and effect.
Problem is, translate this into adopting new or enhanced social activities and a number of executives turn instantly into Tom.
Whether building an outdoor room or a rolling out a social strategy the cause and effect is the same. Focus on the wrong things, budget incorrectly, skimping on the vendor selection process, etc. will 99 times out of 100 end badly.
Take your time, understand your priorities, how your program will integrate into your existing program and visa versa, your appetite for risk, your timelines, your budget. Insert the right people and the right number of them….and always have a blueprint. If your firm has deployed a social program and it isn’t working up to your expectations, I’d wager that the approach was a lot like Tom’s.
Social works. Like anything else, it is harder than it looks and it requires a disciplined and pragmatic approach.
Today’s “Theory and Practice” column in The Wall Street Journal was about the shelf life of CEOs’ “hunker down” strategies. It seems that the Great Recession inspired some leaders to innovate and seek customer or employee input. One example was Regus, PLC, a company that introduced several new pricing packages for its outsourced office space. The company held focus groups and discovered they were not providing the range of pricing and options desired by its customer base. Before the Great Recession, the company didn’t “bother” to seek customer insights very often. The customer-driven pricing models and packages not only were a success in winning back existing clients, but Regus also opened whole new markets.
Another example was Duke Energy who turned to their employee base for ideas on how to save an aggregate $100 million. The company met its goal and issued bigger bonuses, based on the economies achieved
The executives interviewed for the column claimed that these initiatives would survive past the economic downturn. To me, this is like seeking salvation on your death bed after ignoring your family for decades, and then living past Extreme Unction. While the death bed heroics may force the person to behave differently, imagine how much richer the repentant’s life would have been had s/he practiced a few basic principles like listening, engaging with others and building meaningful relationships before they thought they were going to die!
All of us have experiences with companies every day that leave us stunned and wondering why we are not listened to and treated better. Just yesterday, I tried to print out a boarding pass from home. I had used miles to upgrade and owed a stipend for the privilege. Although I have a current credit card on file with the airline, and have been a member of their loyalty program since its inception, I was not allowed to pay online. Even though it clearly said on “my Itinerary” at the site that I was cleared for online check-in. A call to the airline got this response, “Oh yeah, we get complaints about this all the time. Just go to the kiosk at the airport and use your credit card there.” As it was, I had to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make my flight and wanted to avoid any extra steps when I got there. But, no dice. It didn’t seem to matter to the airline that I was one of their “best customers”.
Obviously, I can only use miles to upgrade if I fly your airline a lot, which means I have an opinion about your products and services. Yet you have never asked me anything. Hello, are you listening? A whole bunch of your best customers have complained about the exact same thing. What are you doing to correct this, or at the very least “message” your online check-in process differently.
Maybe this airline will get religion on its deathbed. In the meantime, lots of smart companies are using both traditional and social channels for seeking customer insights. The really smart ones are acting on what they hear and engaging in real, meaningful conversations. It should not take a Great Recession for a company to decide to get ideas and feedback from customers, employees and other stakeholders. And, this behavior should not be rewarded as “innovation” by one of the most respected business papers around.
Community 2.0 was held in Boston May 3-5, 2010. Some interesting facts—First, there was virtually no mention of this “new technology” or that “new app.” Second, the conference was absent of the typical avalanche of buzzwords.
Only two really stuck with me and I thought both were appropriate: “Mocial,” meaning mobile social engagement and “Glittering Generalities,” meaning pundit speak that sounds nice but states the obvious, like “Be Authentic”; there was a tiny bit of this but not as much as I expected. Lastly, it was a small group, under two hundred people, however, of that group, about 2/3 were senior brand team executives. People with experience. This wasn’t a conference where the senior people sent the 24 year old ‘newbie’ to figure this stuff out. In large part, they came themselves.
Overall, the conference's participants were universally higher up in the company hierarchy than any other social conference I have ever been to…did I say ever? Yes, ever! The group in attendance was all business.
The conference was missing the usual euphoria of “isn't this cool?!" and "this is the next new killer app.” Participants wanted facts, figures and know how. Great questions were asked in the work sessions and in the hallway. In general, great answers, great processes and great learnings were shared.
The Community-Roundtable also presented a new Community Report. Rachel Happe socialized this and it was well received.
I want to share this report with you in the hopes you'll like it and find it helpful as well. http://community-roundtable.com/socm-2010/
In case you missed the conference or didn't follow it on twitter, here is a good recap:
I love my Kindle. It’s a joy to download books while I’m stuck on the tarmac or sitting on the beach. As a road warrior, it’s wonderful anytime I can jettison poundage from my carry-on, and the Kindle helps me do that in spades. I can even email PDFs to my Kindle and review them from there.
Kindle just announced it is going social. In addition to new features, Kindle owners will be able to share book passages with friends on Facebook and Twitter. While this sounds fun and engaging, here’s my beef. I want to be able to share whole books with people. When I read a book, part of the pleasure is thinking about whom among my peeps would also love the book or who would learn something important. Passing along books is part of the community of readers. You never just hand a book to someone without telling them why you think they would like it. And later, you circle back and talk about the book; maybe even debate its various twists and turns. Sometimes people hate the book I thought they would love, or have dramatically different reactions to characters or plot. Talking about it becomes part of the DNA of the relationship.
When I purchase a “real” book, I own it and can share it as I please. There is no copyright infringement if I give the latest Baldacci to my mom. My quid pro quo when I pass a book along is that the recipient does the same when finished reading it. I love to think about the book’s journey, touching, entertaining and enlightening people as it travels from person to person.
Why don’t I own my Kindle books? Why can’t I pass them along to other Kindle owners? I have been a Kindle evangelist and either have influenced the purchase of many Kindles or given them as gifts. What do you think?