Social Engagement: Finger on the Pulse or Finger in the Wind?


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Do you serve the market? Or create it? It’s a tough question because it’s so easy to go wrong in both directions. But the explosive growth of social communications as a kind of constant focus group has tilted the scales in favor of professional servitude. And let’s just say I’m a little skeptical.

There’s a real potential genius in the idea of crowd-sourcing, exponentially expanding the pool of both ideas and feedback. And I’ll admit, when I heard the word “Wiki-brands,” I got excited about a new model for business — something cooler, less hierarchical, and more dynamic. This, of course, was followed by Eric Ries on lean startups, urging founders to stay agile and flexible, open even to a complete shift in the product or service if that’s what the market seems to demand.

Taken in context, that’s the right suggestion, but I see a lot of companies these days — even large enterprises — valuing chatter over vision. And not to take issue with Alan Jackson, but too much of a good thing ain’t a good thing.

Obviously, there’s a huge appeal here for the communicative type if relationships and conversations become the defining element of business. And the market is the ultimate test of an idea. But while customers have certainly signaled that they want to be heard, I’m not sure that translates neatly into having them effectively run the company.

As anyone who has ever served on a committee (or asked a small gang of children to “work it out amongst themselves”) knows, a plethora of opinions is no guarantee of a positive or productive outcome. It can just as easily create total paralysis, or a lowest common denominator result. So what’s a company to do if its direction is being decided by hundreds or thousands of disparate individuals with little or no actual stake in the product? Is that really the model of futuristic industry?

I suspect not. Crowd-sourcing can be a brilliant tool, but what distinguishes one company from another at the end of the day if there isn’t some kind of creative direction from the top down? Purely bottom up company design sounds to me like just another example of information overload, and as anyone who follows tech these days could tell you, big data is great, but using it is all about the filters.

You have to understand your market, yes. And you have to listen, communicate, and build a real sense of relationship and investment. But a huge chunk of the foundation of loyalty is respect. And strategy-by-focus-group tends not to command it. Just think of the political realm, where politicians are derided for making decisions based on poll numbers rather than principles. It’s a fine line, but while public input is important, at the end of the day, people want to know that they’re dealing with a leader, not a chameleon.

Where does this leave the value of social engagement? High on the list, but not in the driver’s seat.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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