If your business is hurting and money is tight, I have an idea: How’d you like to deploy an application that lets you get closer to your customers, hear about trouble before it gets serious, and doesn’t cost much? [This is part of the Tough Times series.]
It’s like this: if you work for an organization of any size (company, government department, church, rock band, whatever) you know perfectly well that your clients are discussing you online: praising you when you’re good, flaming you when you’re lame. Wouldn’t you rather be part of that conversation?
Whenever I become anyone’s customer—a bank, a TV company, a phone company—they should give me an online account where I can talk to the other customers about how things really work and how to use the service.
I don’t think it’ll be hard to compete with the elephants, Facebook and so on. It looks to me like the world’s online social networks are partitioning themselves and becoming more vertical; there are going to be lots of them, and I don’t see why anyone with lots of online customers wouldn’t have one as a matter of course.
The good news is that these are pretty easy to set up using cheap-as-in-free Open Source software, and there are already operators out there who’ll offer you a pre-built one as a service. Furthermore, they don’t burn that many cycles, so you’re not talking about a lot of hardware. At the most basic level, turning everyone in your company loose to blog is a really good, really low-rent way to get into the conversation.
The bad news is that it’s probably just not going to happen, because of the ranks of attorneys and marketers saying “But we can’t just let our employees and customers say anything, they might get in trouble or say something bad!”
They’ll say bad things all right, and I’d think you’d want that happening close to home, so to speak. As for getting in trouble, we’ve got approximately fifteen thousand blogger-years of experience under our belts here at Sun and the number of problems has been tiny; the number of serious problems, zero.
But anyhow, it won’t happen unless a smart and well-tuned-in CEO tells the antibodies to shut up and Make It So.