Business Challenges 2.0

Alan BelniakSocial Media7 Comments

I had dinner at Rendezvous in Cambridge with a great friend a little while ago, and we spoke at length about social media.  He’s a bit of a skeptic, so it was a fun dinner for me.  I’ve been asked from friends and family and others to help them ‘get’ social media.  In my head, I have my own variations of an elevator pitch that run 60 seconds, 2 minutes, or 10 minutes.  This was a great, casual dinner, so I got to use the 10-minute version.

My friend is a senior manager of an architectural/engineering consulting firm.  His firm provides design, consulting, and permitting services for public, private, and institutional clients in areas of land development, transportation, and environmental services.  So, this runs the gamut from parking lot designs, to site layouts, to traffic signal design, to wetland delineation… you get the idea.

We were talking about how social media has changed the way that consumers interact with businesses, how businesses interact with consumers, and even how businesses interact with each other.  I was giving a few examples, and most of them (because they are the easier ones to give) revolved around a company making a fixed good (like a widget).  Below is my rant (excerpted from a forthcoming draft blog post):

The advent of “web 2.0”technologies has permitted two-way communications, rather than strictly one-way communications (and broadcast one-way communication at that).  In this new day and age of media, it’s letting people say something back.  And, if nurtured, this response can grow into something valuable: your customers telling you what they want.  Here’s an example.

Say you ran a business and you only had ten customers (and you only needed ten customers to remain sustainable and/or profitable).  You obviously care a lot about what these ten customers have to say about you, your company, your brand, and your products, because they are your only ten customers.  You really want to know what makes them tick.  To the extent that you can, you’d tailor your offerings to make them happy, because if they are happy, they keep returning.  Maybe they’ll even tell a friend, and soon you might have eleven customers.  So, you engage in conversations with these ten customers.  You ask them what you do right, what you do wrong, what they like about the products you sell, what else you can add to round out your offering… you get the idea.  And they tell you.  Because you asked.  They say that the prices are OK, but the quality could be better.  Point noted, you say.  They say that the green and the blue widgets are nice, but red ones would be nice, too.  Another great point.  You work to get these changes into your product line.

Here’s where it gets good: would you have ever known that people really wanted red widgets (what’s wrong with green and blue)?  Or that the price was actually OK (you thought it was kind of high)?  No.  But if you ask people what they think, they’ll often tell you.  The reality is, you have more than ten customers.  You have tens of thousands of customers.  But that doesn’t obviate the need to do the same exercise.  You just need to find a new way to do it.  This is what it means to be social.  Your medium in this case was a face-to-face conversation.

The point of social media is really using the second word to emphasize the first.  Use the “new” web 2.0 tools to be more social, permit two-way exchange of ideas, and bring those ideas back into the organization to affect change.  Otherwise, it’s just broadcast media.

He started to nod his head.  This was a break-through, from an earlier conversation in the evening.  He posed a question to me, though. “How do I use social media?  How am I going to use this in my firm?”  Since my friend doesn’t make widgets, but rather creates solutions for clients (with respect to land development, transportation, and environmental challenges), he wanted to know how, for example, Twitter was going to win him his next big job.

I smiled a bit.  The example I gave (to those of you that follow this space) is still applicable, though not 100 percent.  I even thought of a few other examples, on the spot.  But the better thing I thought of was this.  I said, “Let me get back to you.”  And I filed away, mentally, this conversation.  I said to myself, I’m going to blog about this, and open up the comments section for others to post ideas about how a services/consulting company can meet the challenges of Business 2.0 using web 2.0 tools. Instead of me prattling on and on about the solutions, I’ll send him a link to this blog post, and show him.  “This is the power of being social”, I’ll say.  “Here are ideas that others had, and I got those ideas by asking!”.

So – can you rise to the challenge? Can you help me rise to the challenge?  If you can, take a moment and jot a quick note in the comments section about how you think web 2.0 tools, and more specifically, social media and social networking tools, can aid someone in the consulting and services space.