Monday, July 2, 2012

How to enable your customers to connect with subject matter experts within your business

I remember starting my working life in the 1990’s.  During this period, here in New Zealand, the ‘modern’ business was removing hierarchical structures in preference of becoming a flat organisation.  The idea being that, the leadership would become more accessible to the people on the shop floor.  The aim was to increase a sense of belonging to a team along with improved productivity.

While this would have worked well for small to mid-sized businesses, there would always be challenges for the geographically dispersed organisation.    Bearing in mind, when I started work only a handful of privileged people had email.  The technology which would enable access to the relevant people or expertise would soon follow.

Yesterday, I was at an event where I got talking to an artist from Africa, Gordon Howard.  As we spoke, the subject of blogging came about.  Gordon was interested in knowing what value there was in blogging.  Explaining the value of blogging to a beginner was a great reminder to me of why I blog.

Blogging is important for the modern brand.  It allows your customers to directly access expertise within your organisation.  Customers are able to recognise your employees as experts and leaders in their field.  This provides a high level of social trust through transparency.

Myself, and other IBMer’s have been blogging for a number of years.  This includes some of our higher level worldwide executives.  Take Ed Brill as an example, Director of Product Line Development – IBM Collaboration Solutions.  Through his blog he has been directly available to worldwide customers and business partners for several years.  Even today as I visit businesses here in New Zealand, it’s not uncommon for them to talk about recent interaction with Ed.

As I travel around the country I’m often greeted by people who claim to know me.  They are readers of my blog.  I once worked for a company where their marketing department had not quite been sold on the idea of Social Media.  I had a fun time as the marketing manager and I manned a stand at an event.

During the event we stood next to the stand which had a screen displaying some key messages.  The typical approach most companies seem to take at events.  We were no different to any of the other exhibitors.  In fact, this is the very problem; most companies don’t have anything which makes them stand out.  As the event began,  I was talking to the marketing manager about the value of blogging, but she just didn’t get it.

Within moments of the doors opening, the room filled with attendees.  A lot of faces I’d never seen before.  Within a few minutes something started to happen.  People began to approach me.  Yes, they were readers of my blog.  Some of them had been reading my blog for many years.  It was as if they knew me.  There was already a relationship in place with my readers which was enhanced further as we meet in person.

When you meet someone for the first time, the conversation is often about small things like the weather while each party looks for common ground to enter into deeper conversation.  However, this wasn't the case.  My readers already knew enough about me to go straight to topics which really mattered.
At the end of each conversation, I would turn to my marketing colleague and say “see what I mean?”. 

If your employees are not blogging at the moment, then I would encourage you to enable them to do so.  I understand that you'll have all sorts of concerns.  What if they say something wrong?  What if they share something which is confidential?  The list goes on.  I have dealt with some of these concerns in past blog posts.  You'll need to empower employees with a set of guidelines which will model your expectations.

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