Saturday, July 31, 2010

Measuring up?

Out of necessity I have been doing quite a bit of travelling these past couple of weeks, and most of these trips have involved spending a lot of time on the road. For those who routinely visit this blog site it shouldn’t come as a surprise to read of how I continue to commute between Boulder and Simi Valley a trip, I believe, I could now do blind-folded. Or to read of the many times I have driven to Cupertino. There’s not a billboard or exit along any of these highways that I haven’t seen a dozen times and there’s little I come across that surprises me anymore. I’ve pretty much seen everything!

It was on one of the recent trips to Cupertino that I crisscrossed the Californian coastal ranges and checked out a number of “wine trails” – around Solvang, Paso Robles and Cambria. Anyone who recalls the movie Sideways would recognize many of the vineyards that I visited. However, it’s not just the vineyards that hold my interest – roadside cafés often prove to be an interesting adventure as well. While on this trip I stopped at a Greek restaurant that is part of Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos, just outside Solvang.

The local cheese that was on offer was fabulous, as was the roasted lamb sandwiches, and it’s a place I can strongly recommend visiting. On the other hand, it’s often the lesser known establishments that can draw a crowd and recently, out on highway 46, heading west between Interstate 1 and highway 101, I passed a café serving BBQ pork and the number of motorcycles pulling into its car park provide a compelling testament to how good the BBQ must have been. The picture above is of me outside my favorite BBQ café in Boulder, a place I often visit for good BBQ pork!

As much as I enjoy BBQ, however as an Australian, I was raised on the tradition of oven-baked lamb and it wasn’t until much later in life that I became aware of how good lamb tasted when roasted over an open pit. Even though we had easy access to pork, and I have to believe that many who lived in “the Aussie bush” knew how good it tasted, it wasn’t until I made the move to America before I really came to appreciate pork roasted over a pit. For many years at Tandem, it was hard to resist an invitation from Roger Mathews to join him for his annual pig roast - and most of Tandem folks would show up and party all night!

Talk of pig roasts takes me back to a recent quote in the August 2010 issue of Car and Driver, where a reporter talked of how his enthusiasm for a car was “about as much as a pig enjoys being measured for a pit!” While I cannot recall the actual car responsible for this remark, it certainly provided an unambiguous picture of exactly how the journalist felt as he climbed behind the wheel. I could easily add several of my own experiences and develop quite a list of activities I relish enjoying about as much as that pig enjoyed being measured.

Kees den Hartigh recently posted on LinkedIn a link to a blog entry from the Harvard Business Review titled “Fire Your Marketing Manager and Hire a Community Manager”, that also had me thinking of that pig, particularly, as I read through the many comments that followed the initial post. This Harvard Business Review blog posting reflected many of the same observations that I have made with social media. While I’m not a proponent of firing marketing managers, the arrival of social media is opening new doors to the way information is being shared and for some marketers staying abreast of all that’s going on across all the channels can be quite the challenge.

“A community manager actively monitors, participates in and engages others within online communities. These communities can be on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, intranets, wherever groups of people come together to converse and interact with each other,” the blogger David Armano suggests. And this is where the post aligns well with my own observations. So often I have written of how across our community, for every 100 readers, 90 will only do so from time to time, 9 will do so regularly, and just 1 will post a comment. Fostering additional interactions among the community is something I would earnestly welcome!

So, what is a community manager? According to the post by Armano, one possibility may be that “a community manager acts as an ambassador for your organization, whether that person is an employee or contracted to manage your social web presence. A good community manager gives a human form to the faceless corporation … A community manager must be a good or great communicator. He or she of course needs to be social, and understand the social mores of the communities served, and have a strongly developed sense of ethics … Enthusiasm is also required. Finally, a good community manager will be well connected, forming relationships with the right people in your communities, the individuals and groups you want on your side.”

All too often talking to readers of social media, including those who regularly read my blog posts, I get the impression that there’s very little enthusiasm to engage with the rest of the community by posting a comment. There’s interest in reading and in learning of what’s going on, of course. However, when I look back at all the comments posted to this blog the majority come from a core of readers whose commentaries quite regularly show up in other blogs as well. It’s as if the majority of readers show as much enthusiasm about posting comments as do the pigs being measured for the pit!

While I appreciate the message Armano is conveying, I am not all that sure that good marketers aren’t already well versed in what is being provided today in social media. The more I talk with the NonStop community the less I think I would try and persuade corporations to create such positions independent of their other communications channels. If the creation of such a position turns out to be a sure-fire way to help people become comfortable interacting with the community at large, then I am all for it. We all have our critics and there’s no escaping the fall-out from not checking the facts, but this should not deter most of us from becoming involved one way or another.

Vendors are relying more than ever on what is actively portrayed as the current sentiment within their communities and in what is important to them. Java? Clouds? Clusters? Scalability? New markets? All these subjects are ones where the NonStop community is beginning to make its opinions widely known – just check out the number of comments posted recently to LinkedIn groups Real Time View, Continuous Availability Forum, and even comForte Lounge. You will see a variety of subjects including “Do you know SCADA ?”; “Calling all Java Enthusiasts!”; “Cloud Computing”; and even “I'm thinking of setting up 4 data centers, all active, any worries??”

My own observations on the value these interactions provide is by now well known. I am a huge supporter of social media and of the instantaneous way information flows and how that, even with only a handful of voices being heard today, meaningful observations and commentaries are being provided. This represents a very big change in the way we find out how others are pursuing solutions to business problems we probably all face. You can’t always unconditionally accept everything that’s posted but generally, patterns emerge that become obvious to all. Social media is changing the very manner in which product management, for instance, goes about its business – and in a very positive way.

Yes, we could appoint Community Managers. Yes, we could ensure companies have an ambassador for their organization present within the communities founded on interests important to them and to their business. Armano quotes a BusinessWeek article “Twitter Twitter Little Star” and of how it “describes social media as a booming industry which has caught the attention of corporations everywhere.” The effectiveness however is totally dependent on as many of us as possible becoming energized to convey our own observations and express our own points of view.

Posted to LinkedIn a short time ago was a link to a study titled “the coming of Porous Enterprise” where the writer, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy, Orange Labs SF, made the observation “What seems to be happening is a shift not only from information to knowledge but from knowledge to creativity. Indeed, given the power of networks, knowledge is slowly becoming a commodity. What is becoming precious is the authentic purpose from management that drives employee engagement and passion.”

I can think of no better way to transition from being knowledgeable to being creative today than engaging more proactively in social media. Engagement and passion help move us beyond just knowing the basics, and surely, innovation is best served when pursued by creative individuals. After all, when you think about it, isn’t it time for all of us to put to one side our fears of the chef’s measuring tape?

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