Should the platform for interacting with your customers be "open" both ways? ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

These next few weeks, my posting-rhythm will slow down due to personal issues, sorry about that. It does however feed into this topic here.

Premise: A couple of things happened these last few days, which I think are noteworthy. The Zuckerberg-interview on SXSW got slaughtered by the twitter-crowd (though there's a human behind every trigger), and which is an example of a BAD interview. There's Steve Balmer, who came across as both human (sympathetic) and capable, an example of a GOOD interview. And there's John Battelle, who wrote two good posts on that every business is a media-business and every business should find a way to engage with its customers.

It's all about PR of course, and somehow some people got it into their head that social media—blogs, social networks, web-sms (my term for Twitter, Pounce, Jaiku,etc.)—is a good way to relate to the public. The problem, if I may call it that, is that these are two-way conversations between people that are essentially observers: users + media. And that, as the Zuckerberg-interview shows, when users + media get angry, they get ANGRY. Now, you could argue, bad publicity is still publicity, I just consider it disruptive.

skynet.jpgBusiness, in my opinion, is two things: a machine that produces output, and engineers that seek to optimise the machine and increase its output. Arguably, user-feedback is useful for tweaking the machine to perform better, and optimally get more users to purchase its output. And outward PR (marketing) also means that more people are aware of your great machine and want the output. Ah, machine-analogies, gotta love them.

Just like the life-cycle-model of a product, which evolves from slow to strong growth, to maturity, and ultimately decline, our machine is very susceptible to tweaking at the early stages, can produce extra output, etc., but ultimately reaches a saturation-point. The same, I believe applies to user-feedback and marketing. The return on investment levels off after a while.

You have the PR, which is the interviews and other kinds of marketing, and there's the user-feedback, which should be restricted to the product-level. And, aside from the life-cycle-model, there is general a limit to the value of both. You don't want a mob disrupting your interviews, no matter how bad they go. You don't want a mob disrupting your business, period, unless you're developing something like a nuclear weapon.

What I'm essentially arguing against is that companies should be 100% social. They should be social enough in order to improve their products and let the people know about them. Should they engage in a two-way conversation? Only if it's directly product-related or your business is bad for the environment (arguably a government-issue), should you engage and customers should vote with their wallets. Note that I'm referring to business-PR here; individuals can blog about whatever they want, if you ask me.

There will always be the "backroom-talk," the social-media people who have opinions on anything, from using Plaxo-scripts to milk Facebook-data, to 17+ ways on how you should (not) run your start-up. And there will always be "Skynet"—the realm of the machines—which have to keep running because social media will not put that food on your table, the farmer will.

This somewhat-cynical article will NOT be mirror-posted on Tech IT Easy tomorrow


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