Posts about big

Caveat conglomerate

Beware the big company that tries to venture into this, the small world owned by its individuals, without proper respect and perspective. Consider:

* Flickr natives are planning a revolt against Yahoo for consolidating identities.

* Look at the comments under my interview with CBS blogger Vaughn Ververs. I tried to warn CBS that objective blogging wouldn’t work and, sure enough, bloggers threw tomatoes.

* MySpace folks fretted at the purchase of their world by News Corp.

* Though hardly a major media conglomerate — yet — Weblogs Inc. found itself the target of a few snowballs over its contract. A company’s a company, a contract’s a contract, money’s money, that’s life, and I’m not sure there’s a thing they should have done differently. But even this is illustration that this is a newly delicate dance.

The issue is that we, the people, believe we own this space — not just blogs, not just online, but anyplace where we put our effort and trust and money. And isn’t it modern corporate nirvana to be a “we company” instead of a “they company”? But you have to mean it.

Dell calling

So I finally got a call from Dell because of my blogging about problems with the company’s products and service, two months after it started.

Jennifer Davis of the corporate communications department rang me up and we had a pleasant chat: We discovered our sons share the same name. She said her mom thinks she’s famous when she gets quoted in media stories such as the ones on this corporate kerfluffle. Then there was an odd moment when she asked whether she was speaking to me on a cell phone and whether I was recording the call. I said I was taking notes. She said that was fine. Made me wish I had a recorder.

But nothing new came out of the call. I’ve spent so many years listening to PR people (and politicians) who are adept at sticking to their company line, I finally know when there is no hope derailing them to get anything more.

Dell’s company line is that they are trying to improve their customer service and that will solve everything.

There is no realization that there is an opportunity (and, don’t they now know, a danger) in this era of the empowered consumer-as-publisher. I kept coming back to that as my uncompany line: You have the chance to talk with consumers, to build a new relationship with the public in public.

“We do talk to people in public through the standard major media and through our forums,” she said.

She said they read blogs now as a means of getting “feedback from customers.”

But they refuse to see that they could connect one to the other: Rather than just talking to consumers, they could talk with consumers.

They “monitor” the blogosphere, they say, but they don’t engage in conversation in it. Davis said she “can’t comment on when or if that will change.”

She did then add they they are “looking at ways to leverage the blogopshere.” Leverage us? How? To promote products, she said. In other words, they’ll use it to sell.

I asked her whether she had a message to the blogosphere. One last time, I got the company line about being committed to improving the customer experience, blah, blah, blah.

They haven’t learned a darned thing and I hereby give up trying to help them to learn.

: SEE ALSO: Seth Godin on why negative feedback is more valuable than positive.

: Here’s a link to my piece about all this in today’s Media Guardian.

But this is more than a sort-of-happy ending to a consumerist nightmare. This is a story of customer relations in the new age – an age when, to quote blogger and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, “‘consumer’ is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. It implies that we are all tied to our chairs, head back, eating ‘content’ and crapping cash”. Now consumers don’t just consume. We spit back. We have our own printing presses.

We’re all marketers

Hugh MacLeod is in love and here’s the reason, a wonderful wrap-up of “neo-marketing”:

Being heard

In various reports about my Dell fit, the point is made that this is a larger blog and I got media attention. But the truth is that (1) I didn’t get one bit of help from Dell because of the blog or any media attention but only because I found a VP’s email address and (2) it doesn’t matter how many readers you have but only if you have the right one: that is, if the person in the company you’re talking about is smart enough to care what his or her constituents are saying. Case in point [via Jay Rosen]:

What happens when smaller fries harp online? Does corporate America listen?

Most of the time, probably not, but it’s interesting to watch when a blog post actually catches a company’s attention. That occurred earlier this year, when a North Carolina blogger, Jon Lowder, made a quiet complaint about his hometown paper, the Winston-Salem Journal, and compared it, unfavorably, with a newspaper 30 miles to the east, the Greensboro News & Record.

Part of the post read, “I live in Winston-Salem. I have the Winston-Salem Journal delivered every morning. But I don’t feel like I know anyone there… I get all the N&R blogs via RSS. I don’t get their paper… yet. But I still feel closer to the N&R.”

There are a million and one wistful comments like this on the web, but somehow this one got traction. For one thing, it was quoted by NYU’s Jay Rosen, the author of the PressThink blog, a widely read site.

For another, both the Winston-Salem Journal and the Greensboro News & Record responded to Lowder’s original blog post. Indeed, the News & Record’s top editor posted a brief reply.

More remarkable still, though, was what happened at the Winston-Salem Journal. Not only did the paper respond to the post and supply contact information, but it went and created an RSS feed just days after Lowder’s original post.

Now that’s customer service.

Now read Jon Lowder himself and see how damned impressed he is that he was heard. A thousand people could have read him, a million. But if the guy who could turn the right switch was asleep at it, then it wouldn’t have mattered. But somebody smart, somebody who gave a damn heard Lowder and did something. That is how any smart company should act in this new age. You don’t wait until the volume of complaint is deafening; you don’t have to. Now you can go online and search for what people are saying and then do something about it. You don’t need a megaphone or a press or a broadcast tower. All you need is a conversation.

Who wants to own content? (Cont.)

I keep concentrating on the media and citizen end of the explosions in content and distribution. But here‘s a post from my friend Will Richardson, the educator who understands blogs and citizens media better than any I know, and here‘s another from a a librarian looking at the question of who wants to own content from their perspectives.

Says the librarian:

So, one thing this suggests is that the parts of the content industry that have experience with relationships and trust–like libraries–should be in the ascendancy. Are we dismantling the fences and walls and expanding our trust circles? Slowly.

Says Will (my emphasis):

Schools used to own the content they delivered, but no longer. There is better content, in most cases, to be found on the Web than in standard texts. There are richer databases of information, more knowledgable experts, and more diverse sources of uniquely pertinent material that we can draw upon now. And that renders the one-textbook-for-all approach basically irrelevant. While these resources may at first blush appear more unwieldly and complex than those comfortable, traditional texts, we do our students a disservice by not tapping into their diversity and timeliness.

We need to create our own texts, because we can. Our students need to help us, because they can. We need to ask relevant, diverse, living sources to participate, because they can. This is a totally changed world we’re entering, and we need to begin serious conversations at our schools as to what those changes mean and what strategies we can use to take advantage of them.

It helps to analyze the future of media from more perspectives than just the newsstand or the bookstore: like the classroom and the library.

: SEE ALSO: Libraries offering downloads.