Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Corporate Anarchy?

In the last few posts I've been developing an idea that has been rattling around my brain for some time now. It can be summed up in the following questions: Is the social media revolution we're experiencing right now a result of new technology, or is it the other way around? In other words, is the quiet revolution sweeping through our society in response to new technology -- or, this new way of communicating something that we have called into existence? Could it be that the rise of Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed are a reflection of people's desire to break down the old barriers and speak directly to one another? Are we seeing the end of the "expert" era, in which all knowledge and understanding is filtered to us through a select few?

It seems to me that this is a generational thing. My parents generation, the children of the 1960s, started some kind of revolution. It was in many ways a flawed attempt. As the writer Ken Wilbur has pointed out, for all its good intentions, the boomer generation was immensely narcissistic. It had (and still has) a tendency to blow its accomplishments up out of proportion. And it was very much still stuck in an "us/them" paradigm. In fact, the whole idea of a generation gap is based on that! However, there's no denying that our parents generation -- with their anti-war protests, long hair, and rebellion -- shook up the old order for good and all.

Then came my generation - Generation X. We were a bit lost for a time. They called us slackers, because we tended to be introspective. We couldn't exactly rebel, because our parents had already done that, so we kind of came up with our own way. When I was in college, I took to calling myself an anarchist. This was partly to annoy my parents and professors. But it was also my way of showing my dissatisfaction with the dual options that were being served up as my only choices -- Democratic v. Republican, Left vs. Right, Women vs. Men, etc.

Now, there's a new generation--I believe they're calling it Generation Y. They seem to evolved a whole new stance. It's as if they have taken the best of the boomer generation and my generation, and melded them into something entirely new.

They're not rebelling. They're talking. And, lo and behold, no one is left out. It may have started on the campus of Harvard University, but now Facebook is open to all. Even Walmart has a page (though many of the wall comments aren't terribly kind).

The new generation seems to intuitively understand something that for all its free love, the hippies never completely got. That is, we are a human family -- all of us connected to one another. When we try to deny it, we experience the opposite. Alienation. Loneliness. Anger. All of the things that seem to ail our society today.

The great marketing guru Seth Godin (who I generally like and agree with) showed himself to be stuck in the old paradigm with a recent post, "You Matter." In it, he lists all of the situations that show that you matter. They were all very heartfelt. For example:

"When you love the work you do and the people you do it with, you matter ... When kids grow up wanting to be you, you matter."

The list goes on. However, the new paradigm is as follows: "Everyone matters. Period." You could be having the crappiest day ever, and feeling no love whatsoever for your fellow man. You could be a protestor on the streets Tehran. You could be a tech startup struggling to get noticed. Or, you could be Apple.

No one is left out of this. Everyone matters.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The People Factor - What you Must Know to Succeed

In my last post I talked about two stories making the tech news rounds that both suggested that human interaction is hugely important to business. This may seem obvious. Businesses are, after all just collections of people when you come right down to it.

However, what I really think we're seeing is a massive consciousness shift. This is happening at the same moment that social networking is taking hold worldwide, connecting people in ways we never could have imagined. It may be that social networking brought all of this on -- or it could be that it is a by product of a societal change. Either way, it is here, and it's going to make or break your business.

I've started calling this the people factor. I'm somewhat borrowing from marketing guru Robert Middleton on this phrasing--he talks about the "contribution factor," which is an important personal barometer for business success. So, how does the people factor play out?

Here are some examples.

James Andrews, an executive at Ketchum flew to Memphis to meet with a big big client, FedEx. When he arrived, he tweeted the following on Twitter: "True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.’” An executive at FedEx happened to be following his Twitter feed. He was about to pay someone to come up with a brand strategy for FedEx who was insulting its headquarters. And Memphis isn't just any city as far as FedEx is concerned. It's the place that has nurtured and supported FedEx from its humble beginnings in 1973, when it supported a fleet of 14 small aircrafts, to its position today as a market leader in shipping.

Had some newbie to Twitter made this mistake, we could call it ignorance, but this was a man whose job is to usher people into the digital age. His moniker on Twitter is "key influencer" and his new venture (he has left Ketchum) is as a social media strategist. Let's hope he learned his lesson well -- and it's not a bad idea to heed it ourselves.

Another example -- this one on the positive end of the spectrum -- is my client Ocarina Networks. A Silicon Valley startup, they are a brand new entrant in an industry that is, by high tech standards, fairly entrenched and traditional. They were going to have to make a splash, or they'd be in trouble. Their product is truly innovative and useful -- they shrink down files to a fraction of their former size, thus saving on storage costs -- but that's not enough anymore.

Our approach was to make social media a significant portion of the overall marketing and PR strategy--and the client was completely on board with this idea from the start. A little over a year later, there is immense buzz around the company. When people talk about data deduplication -- a major news item recently in light of the battle between EMC and NetApp to acquire deduplication pioneer Data Domain -- they almost always mention Ocarina as well. It is on the map, as they say. How did we do this? We didn't just broadcast or blare out the story. We talked to others about it. We made Ocarina part of the conversation by conversing -- and this includes that key activity known as listening. The results speak for themselves.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself. Am I listening? Am I part of the conversation, or just sitting on the sidelines? Am I patient enough to use social media as a way to connect with others, or am I rushing ahead to try to get the "pay off" by treating it as a way to trumpet my company's offerings?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Culture Clash

Here are two stories that are getting a lot of ink this week. They appear unrelated on the surface, but in fact they have a lot in common and could be a sign of a larger trend.

First: the open letter that EMC CEO Joe Tucci sent to the employees of Data Domain, which it is bidding with its rival NetApp to acquire. In it, Tucci reassures them that their new parent company would respect their company culture:

"We are very mindful of culture—respecting and preserving the various cultures that made the companies we acquired successful in the first place. In nearly every instance, after joining EMC, these businesses have grown faster, advanced the development of their technologies more rapidly, reached more customers, and provided greater career opportunities for their people than they had been able to do on their own."

However, some observers can't help but position the battle between EMC and NetApp for ownership of Data Domain as a battle of east coast vs. west coast culture, such as in this article on Enterprise Storage Forum.

Second: Another topic that is making the rounds this week is a new study showing that the top 10% of Twitter users are creating 90% of the content. In addition, as TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld reports, a greater number of followers correlates to a larger number of tweets on a daily and weekly basis.

What this really means, says Schonfeld, is that the types of people who are actively involved with Twitter are also the ones that others want to follow and pay attention to--not a huge surprise if you think about it. However, the numbers are starker than one would originally suspect.

While many have taken these statistics to mean that Twitter is mainly about "broadcasting" rather than "interacting," in fact, the numbers don't really tell this story at all. If you look at some of the most active Twitter participants -- Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, and many members of the storage community -- what you find is that they themselves are very interactive with their followers.

What's the connection between these two stories? They both show that business is really about people more than anything else. Whatever you choose to describe as "culture," it's clearly very important to us, and will sometimes even take precedence over considerations such as revenues and per share price. With the rise of social networking, this may be becoming more true--and it may be more democratic and transparent than ever.

Note: this post appeared in a slightly different form on my client blog, Online Storage Optimization.