And there is no such thing as being half pregnant.

Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler of Forrester Research have a great article available at the Harvard Business Review Online on empowered employees which is adapted from their soon to be published book on the topic,  Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business.The concept of the empowered customer is essential to understanding the social world and Josh and Ted site three of the most recent and most illustrative  examples of what can happen when the connected, empowered consumer use social media to highlight the outcomes of tone deaf customer service.

Dave Caroll stands alone at the intersection of customer empowerment and entertainment with United Hates Guitars but Dooce meets Maytag and Nestle meets Facebook were just as damaging even if there is not a sing-a-long tune to reverberate around inside your head. Three of my own most frequently read blog posts are about similar customer service fiascoes with Petsmart’s Banfield Pet Hospital, Hewlett-Packard, and Sprint. The Banfield post dates back to 2005 and gets a ton of search traffic to this day! It’s probably safe to say that they haven’t fixed their issues or improved their customer service. All of these companies spend huge amounts of money on advertising, some of it promoting the quality of their products and their service but don’t seem to have integrated customer service into their customer value proposition.

A possible ROI equation might be the effectiveness of X amount of dollars spent on advertising and promotion is reduced by Y when employee interactions (typically customer service or tech support) negates the expectations of the customer value proposition with indifference, lack of expertise, lack of authority or worse. Further, the real time web can point out these flaws in a nano second and then the challenge can be exacerbated as the whole world watches the resolution or lack thereof.

An Ad Age article this week asked the question: Are Major marketers Training John Q Public to Whine on the Web? Well, I would say that some marketers might just be trying to use “the web” as their customer staff…and some of them are succeeding. However, I think the key point that Empowered is trying to make is this one, “build strategy around empowering employees to solve customers’ problems”….all of your employees, online and offline. This is what the integration of social into not only the marketing mix but the entire business model is all about.

And simply setting up a Twitter channel and designating it “customer service” is not the same as empowering employees nor does it mean that your company is understanding the value of using social technologies. Some recent experiences on Twitter demonstrated the difference. Charter has had notoriously poor customer service and tech support to the point where only their low prices enticed me enough to give them another chance a year ago. Well their telephone customer service is every bit as awful as it always was and their tech support is only slightly better BUT the team of guys they have on Twitter rock ‘n roll! I haven’t had a problem yet that they haven’t solved…they are accessible, professional, and empowered! And positive word of mouth about them is spread not only online but offline.

I can contrast this with two recent experiences on Twitter with AT&T and with Charles Schwab.

Over a recent weekend, with no warning email or even warning web site blurb, the AT&T wireless site was down for “updates”until Sunday afternoon….the announcement said to call 611 on your wireless or the listed 800 number. Both of the numbers led me through their annoying voice system only to both say that they were closed until Monday. I Tweeted that their site was down. I checked to see if they were on Twitter and the last Tweet said, Twitter CustomerCare will be back on Monday.  I finally resolved my issue Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, the AT&T Twitter guy called me and although I appreciated the call on one hand, I didn’t appreciate being kept on the phone to discuss which phone number I had called (the one of the web site that I was told to call) and the fact that he had obviously not been informed about the entire situation.The website was being updated and someone had either decided not to inform customers or had neglected to inform customers, the back up phone numbers went to closed departments closed over the weekend (perhaps a mistake or an over site) and the Twitter folks don’t work over weekends, even this one.

A few days ago, I was having a problem connecting to Schwab’s StreetSmart site and a message came up that said, “if you are having  problem, try again later. If you continue to have a problem call tech support at a given 800 number. Not wanting to waste my time calling tech support if they were having a system problem,  I sent out a Tweet asking them if there was a system problem. The response I received on Twitter was the same one that I got on the web message. Neither the AT&T experience or the Schwab experience were big deals. However, the expectations that I have for Twitter based customer service is that they will be knowledgeable, accessible, and add some value over the other channels. Otherwise, why bother?

The opportunity for businesses is to use the built in advantages and benefits of social technologies to improve their value proposition. Training and empowering employees is essential to success….after all, social business is technology driven by people. People have to turn the keys, align the wheels and steer. Otherwise, your business won’t arrive at the desired destination.

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And Speaking of Search…

And aren’t we always speaking of search or thinking of search as we set strategies for social media marketing? If not, we should be, because although it is the quality of the content that we produce on our topic not the number of times we use the keyword for our topic that drive influence, engagement, and turn readers into subscribers and followers into fans….getting found in search is where it all begins. To quote Brian Clark aka Copyblogger “Compelling content drives the Internet, so the content is the marketing.” However, you still need to be “known” for your keywords because when people search for you, what you do, your location they use those words and phrases.

YouTube has a fun little Search Story Creator that allows you to type in your search words and to create your own search story. It can be a visual tool for ‘Googling” yourself for reputation management, for checking your keyword sync and tweaking as necessary. Here’s mine.

And for the creative and advanced user there is apparently the opportunity to create this adorable Father’s Day Search Story….well maybe only Google can create one of these.

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Open Leadership by Charlene Li

I was able to finish reading Charlene Li’s newest book, Open Leadership on the airplane traveling to NYC for the RWW Real-Time Web Summit and the topic of the real time web presented an interesting parallel to the topic of open leadership. Open Leadership is an awesome road map for corporate and business leaders seeking to understand the new culture of open and how to use the social technology tools to strategically lead their organizations to open success.

At the opposite side of being proactive and setting the course for an open strategy is letting your organization become a victim of social technologies by a refusal to recognize their existence and to embrace rather than ignore them. The first session that I participated in at the RWW Real Time Web Summit began with a discussion of the malicious distribution of false information in real time. This would be the extreme risk that an organization would have in failing to recognize the need for establishing social strategies; United Hates Guitars , Charlene Li’s Chapter One example of what can happen when a corporation ignores their customer’s legitimate issues, hoping they will ignore them into silence and then are reminded that a catchy tune and a YouTube video represent the shift in control of broadcast media and the diminished influence of the millions of dollars spent on “Fly the Friendly Skies” in the face of it.

OK, so that’s the bad news…..Open Leadership is about the opportunity to be open and benefit from social technologies by giving up the belief that information and communication  can be tightly controlled.  The great thing about this book and Charlene Li’s work in general is that there are plenty of definitions, context, data and case study examples of what it all means in the real world. It is not a sit down and read in an hour so that you can be an expert, too book. It is not a sequel to the Groundswell either.  While Groundswell explained and chronicled “a world transformed by social technologies” Open Leadership has a more specific target, those leading the transformation inside organizations.   With that in mind it begins with an organizational assessment, the Openness Audit and then challenges the reader with the question: What are you trying to accomplish? Which is always a great question to ask as one ponders social technologies in light of existing business objectives and strategies because as the book points out it’s all about YOU using social technologies to transform the way YOU lead.

Assuming that the organizational leader has come to terms with the concept of “openness” and accepts the empowerment of employees and customers, Charlene breaks down the “what are you trying to accomplish”  into what she says are the “four underlying objectives integrated into almost every successful strategic plan”: Learn, Dialog, Support, Innovate, and again relates those back to how each fits into individual organizations’ objectives and needs and what the benefits might be to various organizations.  As far as the nuts and bolts of what to do now that the decision has been made to lead, this books provides a checklist for setting social media guidelines and examples from implementation in other organizations, a how-to for mapping the social readiness of your employees and customers, various organization models and even a checklist for an Open Strategy Plan. Checklists are a very good thing…another recent book I highly recommend is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

If there was a giant FAQ list from corporations considering where social technologies fit into their businesses and answers to these questions with the information and instructions to overcome the hurdles, assess the benefits and the risks,  and then to move forward, that would be a way to describe Open Leadership. There are lots of books on transformational leadership and lots of books on using social technologies but this is the first one that I have read that links the two together. And really whether corporate leaders accept it or not, social technologies have already profoundly changed the concept of leadership thus making this book a must read. In fact it would be interesting to re-read some of the important leadership books of the past few years in the spotlight of social technologies….I think it would seem as if they needed a social technology revised addition.

Returning for a moment to the RWW Real Time Summit in light of Open Leadership…..Twitter and Facebook are most likely the real time web experience most familiar to mainstream corporations at the moment. And with Twitter  especially we have a new kind of content that is faster, less controllable, more public, less verifiable and more verifiable at the same time than the social technologies that preceded it; but maybe the most important thing about it is that it is the beginning of another shift and thus the real time web needs to be integrated into the open leadership paradigm. Corporations and businesses are using Twitter to promote their brands, improve customer service (to “be” customer service), to gain competitive information and so on all in real time. However, this is just the tip of the real time iceberg…..as Sarah Perez of RWW noted recently,

The Web is no longer static pages of text and still images. It’s alive with tweets, tweetups, live video conferences, uStreams, live-blogged product launches, webinars, live auctions, virtual world meetups and events, time-limited sales and contests, live audio and video podcast recordings, live chats, and more. And it’s all happening in real-time. If you happen to be online during one of these events, then you’re a part of the action, a part of the now-ness of the new Web. But if you log off for a minute (gasp!), you could miss it all.

Or as Marshall Kirkpatrick noted in his Keynote at the RWW Real-Time Summit, Myth #1 is that the Real Time Web is Twitter and Facebook–

50% of the links shortened by Bit.ly are now created outside of Twitter. Real-time search engine Collecta, too, doesn’t just index posts from Twitter, but also collects millions of post from platforms like MySpace and WordPress every day. Besides these social tools, it’s worth noting that a lot of real-time information is now being passed between machines and Internet-connected sensors.

Marshall Kirkpatrick
So, whoa….now a revision for leading in the Real Time Web? Ah but by the time that was written, real time will have moved. The concepts in Open Leadership transcend a specific technology yet the newer technologies such as the real time web make the need for beginning the journey all the more relevant.

Charlene has also generously provided a link to the eight critical resources that are needed to get started with Open Leadership which includes the tools to define your starting point, the Openness Audit, all the way through spreadsheets to measure the value of social technologies in your organization. There is some really great info here!

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Read Write Web Real-Time Summitt

I have been looking for a reason to start blogging again and this week I think I have three., no four.  So, first things first….The Real Time Web Summit 2010 in NYC. (It’s real time so it has to go first, right?)  And please excuse me if I am going all gushy here but it’s an unconference on real time technologies with the 10 incredible people mentioned here (OMG Baratunde Thurston!) and my first real time face to face with Marshall Kirkpatrick one of the first friends I ever met blogging way back when blogging was as real time as it got! (I warned you about the gushy). If you aren’t registered to go, there is still time to get in on 40% off for 24 hours!

The list of people going just keeps getting better and better so the summitt keeps getting better and better….plus I get to go on a Manhattan Magical Mystery tour with CK whose newly B2B branded blog also keeps getting better and better.

Yes, Yes, Yes!!! And now 3 more blog posts to follow.

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