Will you give up control online?


Heard Charlene Li speak at the PRSA annual conference in Washington, D.C. The last time I heard her was in Toronto in 2009 when  Groundswell evoked much curiosity. This time, Li has come out with a new term Open Leadership. She urges companies to have ” transparent control” with customers and adds that creating relationships that engage people will help businesses become relevant.

Three highlights about Open Leadership:

  1. Learn how to give up control but still be in command
  2. Create a strategy for leadership
  3. Be in a state of preparedness

Li cited Best Buy and it’s online efforts to create a rich experience for its customers. When Best Buy secretly tried to open up a VIP club for its customers, the news got leaked and its 6.8 million customer base was angry. Irate customers complained about this move forcing the electronic retailer to offer an apology. The apology, a sincere blog by one of the company’s top leaders   regenerated trust in the company. Best Buy also allowed their employees to begin Twelpforce on Twitter enabling employees to develop a location-specific relationships with customers. This created a groundswell among employees and gave them competitive advantage.

She also cited a  similar experience at Starbucks. The coffee chain started allowing people who didn’t want to wait in line to swipe their cards and get coffee. This initially failed at several stores as staff had to realign their priorities towards customers in line and had issues with their production process. But Starbucks was generous enough to let its customers know

Salesforce.com is another company making efforts to have transparent control over its B2B base. They have  clubbed together their influential sales aficionados to a group called “Chatter-ati.” Salesforce.com has decided on paying these key influencers to monitor what their customers need. Compensation for key influencers has its own ethical dimensions but the value they create for the business is a key factor for RoI.

“You cannot integrate social media without discipline and you need to be more focused as an organization. She also suggested the different ways in which RoI can be measured. Preparation to fail is another hallmark of launching a social media strategy for companies. She suggested the example of Google that has failed several times with its different applications (Google Wave). In crafting a social media strategy, Li highlighted three key points:

  • What kind of relationship do you have with your customers?
  • How is leadership going to change that?
  • Will you care for them in future?
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