MAD Perspectives Blog

 Who's in Charge? Customers or Companies?

Peggy Dau - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Facebook privacy issue and questioned whether it was about privacy or control and discussed the corporate focus on operational issues when commencing their foray into social media.  Thus, addressing the legal, security, network and business goals around their foray.  However, the question of control in a digital media world goes beyound that initial discussion.
Company business models have been based on control - control of all aspects of their operations, financials, product and messaging
.  Why?  Companies want to build meaningful products, build market leadership and sustain competitive differentiation with the overall goal to create profit and margin.  Companies protect their intellectual property, technology and business processes as they often provide that competitive differentiation.  Companies have controlled the flow of information about their products and their product roadmaps.  However, there is a major shift that has been underway for some time, but that is exaggerated by social networking.  Customers want information whenever and however they can get it.

Look at Apple's veil of secrecy around every new product launch...and the hoopla around Gizmodo's "lucky" and early access to iPhone 4.  Steve Jobs seeks to control the introduction and messaging around every new product.  However, the internet buzz around the product(s) creates demand for insight and discussion, and we can imagine, product.

Companies control access to their products and solutions to create interest and demand.  In the 'old" media world, broadcasters created programming and determined the schedule for when each program would be broadcast.  This created demand for the program and allowed advertisers to target ads to the programs audience based on their demographic.  We have seen this model challenge on multiple fronts as advertisers sought incremental outlets (i.e., the internet) and consumers sought alternate channels to access content (i.e., the internet) or new devices allowed consumers to watch content when they wanted (not when the broadcasters wanted them to).

The tide has turned and B2C companies are responding.  Broadcasters make their content available via multiple distribution channels.  Airlines offer discounted tickets to followers on Twitter.  Local businesses offer coupons to consumers in their neighborhood (i.e., Groupon, Foursquare).  Consumers are using social media to "get what they want,  when they want".  If you have a question, you tweet or facebook about it - and, you get an answer.

How will B2B companies respond?  While they will (and should) protect their core assets of IP and technology, they are figuring out how to leverage social media.  They are uncomfortable with ceding control to their customers, yet they are beginning to see how customers can give them an instantaneous opinion on products, support and company.  B2B companies can gain great insight on product features, customer satisfaction and company image.  Whether their customers are actually gaining control is still an unanswered question, but customer influence is growing

How is your company addressing social media impact on control and influence?  Are you listening?  Do you particpate in social platforms, communities, discussions about your industry or niche market?  Do you actively engage your customers to prioritize your product roadmap?  Do your customers have an online community to discuss support challenges?  Do you enable your customers to help each other?  Ceding a little control can gain great benefit.

What's your perspective?