Interesting article in the 7/20/09 WSJ about an online suggestion box set up for the CEO of GM. I guess you spend enough taxpayer dollars on a bailout and you get some social media out of it!
DETROIT — General Motors Co. Chief Executive Frederick “Fritz” Henderson is launching a public-relations salvo this week, activating an online suggestion box called Tell Fritz.
The initiative, part of a wider assault the auto maker is waging to repair its tattered image, is designed to enable the 50-year-old executive to further distance himself from what has become known as the Old GM, or the auto maker that existed before Mr. Henderson steered the company through bankruptcy court in about 40 days.
Mr. Henderson created the effort in the week leading to the auto maker’s July 10 emergence from bankruptcy protection, after having discussions with expert bloggers about how to rebuild trust with the public.
My $0.02: The article doesn’t address the issue of whether this is true engagement, designed to alter strategy based on what they learn from customer, versus just a place for customers to vent and executives to preach. I checked a few of the blog entries by Fritz and while there were 100+ comments on some of them he never once commented back. This is not a conversation and not the best way to use this channel to rebuild trust.
The article mentions that his predecessor “Wagoner employed a “deeds not words” strategy when it came to communication” so he didn’t want to blog or communicate in that way. While that phrase may sound at first like a statement of integrity, it subtly builds in the implication that deeds are not influenced by words from the public; that conversations will not precede and will not affect the deeds.
I believe that words are not “just words” – conversation has to mean something if it’s an activity worth doing for an executive. This resonates with me since I wrote a suggestion box app at a credit card company in 1996. It turns out there’s a suggestion box rule that says if you (management) know you’re never going to change what you do anyways, it’s better not to even ask for the suggestions. The same thing goes for HR and those employee satisfaction surveys. People get annoyed when they see that their words (on a suggestion form in this case) never translate into a change in actions. In the web 2.0 era, that same rule applies to conversations between companies and their customers, partners, and community as well.
A test for the intentions of whether a suggestion box or blog is meant to facilitate conversation versus being a venting/preaching platform is to see who owns it. If PR has near-exclusive ownership and controls consumption and contribution of material on the site, it’s PR. If marketing (product development) and customer service are heavily involved in reading, responding to, and internally talking about applicability of community postings, then it’s a conversation. That conversation can act as a hearty supplement to the marketing guidance already obtained from focus groups and by analyzing sales statistics.
Recently I posted some guesses as to what features Microsoft will put into Office 14′s content creation tools (the productivity suite consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote). But those were guesses about what Microsoft would do, not what they could do or should do.
There’s a lot of interest in O14 since professional pundits (and swivel-chair pundits in fuzzy cubicles everywhere) want to speculate about whether the 800 pound gorilla known as Microsoft Office can be brought down by plucky upstarts like Google or Zoho, or free options like OpenOffice or IBM Symphony. But this speculation is misplaced. I start the NextGen authoring section of my content creation seminar with a prediction:
If Microsoft is ever dethroned in the content creation market, it will not be because they were beat on features or marketing … it will be because of a fundamental shift in the content creation market for which they failed to adapt.
In other words, it is not Vendor X that will beat them by being cheaper or more feature rich. It’s Suite X that will beat them with a different set of technologies that addresses a unique but growing subset of content creators. There is a fundamental shift in how content is being created. It has bubbled up from old concepts such as collaborative editing and been picked up by web 2.0 and its Gen Y adherents who think in rapidly produced, hyperlinked, searchable content chunks instead of ponderous, static, e-mailed documents. I introduced the NextGen content creation trends here (with further description here). This is how I see the content creation environment today:
Note that I chose to visualize this as a central core being expanded by these new needs rather than a versioning depiction such as 1.0 —> 2.0. That’s because the core needs will always exist in enterprises, but we need to acknowledge a new set of needs that is not well met by the core authoring tools and that will account for an increasing percentage of content creation as Gen Y’ers enter the workforce and information workers get used to authoring in new ways via blogs and wikis.
We are at an inflection point in the way content is being created. Microsoft would be unwise to pass up this opportunity to segment the market. Microsoft may be able to get through one more major version of Office by stretching traditional document-related technology to fit. But this anchors their attempts to address new content creation needs to a 1990′s document-centric mindset. By carving out a new target market, they build incremental revenue (most buyers of this suite would still have needs for core Office as well), plant the seeds for a new franchise that would be small but grow more rapidly than Office, and compete better with innovative vendors that are unencumbered by entrenched bureaucracy and sunk costs. And all while helping to mitigate the bloat and complexity of Office by separating out features that will be unused or confusing for many core Office users. There’s a chance that this would cannibalize Office 14 upgrades, but my instinct is that it would make no or a minor short term loss (since the new target market is small) and pay for itself within the next two versions of Office. It could be rolled out on half-cycles with Office to help avoid cannibalization and steady the famously spiky revenue stream and attention that Office releases garner.
Accordingly, I argue that Microsoft should create a new product (a SKU in industry parlance) for the NextGen content tools rather than continually trying to bolt onto Office Pro. It could be called Office Extended, although some more thinking would elicit a more clever term. Here’s how I would start:
- OneNote would shift over to anchor the new suite. With new branding and development, it can finally stand up as a new type of content platform that allows for content components, real-time collaborative authoring, and improved linking rather than just being a productivity add-on aimed at students and meeting notes. OneNote will only be truly understood to represent a different paradigm when it breaks the chain it has to the Office Home and Student suite
- The Live Writer blogging tool would finally get a real home here
- Microsoft would have a place to create a real wiki rather than the SharePoint template that stands in as the official “Microsoft wiki” for lack of anything better. No one – not even SharePoint folks – asserts that SharePoint’s wikis are in the league of any best of breed tools, and I can’t think why Microsoft would not want to compete for a best of breed wiki any less than they want to have a best of breed browser. And remember the pain that being too slow to recognize a “good enough” 80/20 browser wasn’t enough caused them.
- Microsoft would take an 80/20 swipe at the XML content creation market with a new Xmetal-like tool, much as they grabbed a new low end of the records management market with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
And that’s just a start. Part of the idea is to give this new market segment a new matching suite to grow with. This idea fits Microsoft’s software+services direction since a few of these products (wikis and blogs) are not purely client-based, so services are needed. I guarantee the evolution of content creation is not over, so the new SKU provides a place with plenty of room to stretch and grow new creation mechanisms the market demands without having to add a 14th pound of flour to the 10 pound bag of Office.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
I hope you have been enjoying my blog postings, but I believe there is always room for improvement. Therefore, in a constant quest to improve the quality of my communications, I have turned to the doyenne of etiquette, Emily Post. The original 1922 text of her book “ETIQUETTE IN SOCIETY, IN BUSINESS, IN POLITICS AND AT HOME” is available on Gutenberg.net. A simple find&replace of “letter” with “blog posting” resulted in some sage advice that I intend to follow from now on.
CHAPTER XXVII – NOTES AND SHORTER BLOG POSTINGS
In writing notes or blog postings, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, naturalness and force.
Those who use long periods of flowered prolixity and pretentious phrases—who write in complicated form with meaningless flourishes, do not make an impression of elegance and erudition upon their readers, but flaunt instead unmistakable evidence of vainglory and ignorance.
The blog posting you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character. A “sloppy” blog posting with the writing all pouring into one corner of the page, badly worded, badly spelled, and with unmatched CSS themes—even possibly a blot—proclaims the sort of person who would have unkempt hair, unclean linen and broken shoe laces; just as a neat, precise, evenly written note portrays a person of like characteristics. Therefore, while it can not be said with literal accuracy that one may read the future of a person by study of his writing, it is true that if a young man wishes to choose a wife in whose daily life he is sure always to find the unfinished task, the untidy mind and the syncopated housekeeping, he may do it quite simply by selecting her from her blog postings.
From “ETIQUETTE IN SOCIETY, IN BUSINESS, IN POLITICS AND AT HOME” by Emily Post (1922), with just a few minor modifications
Ah … as true today as it was then. I will be brief now and close out this entry, so you don’t think of me as the type of blogger who has broken shoe laces. Guess I should be checking my wife’s blog more often though …
As information management increasingly imposes itself on everyday life, will our online lives be reduced to metadata? This thought occurred to me when I was pointed to a news story on a pseudo-celebrity that is now involved in a court case. But it’s not the article I found interesting – it was the metadata panel to the right of it.
The E! website (really, someone pointed me to it – I’ve never seen it before) has data sheets for celebrities it shows to the right of articles. The metadata consists of a photo, related stories, and metadata tags. In this particular case, the tags under her smiling visage are “Contraband, Rx, Rehab, Dawgs, Courthouse, Busted, Hookups”. That’s the complete list – don’t think there’s more depth to round the person out.
I looked around a bit more and found sometimes the metadata seems to be related to the story, such as in the case of a pair of married celebrities who earned themselves two simple metatags: “Courthouse, Weird”. While namecalling was considered rude when you were on the playground, it’s apparently de rigueur once the demands of information management, hyperlinking, and tag clouds come into play.
If you’ve led a public life to any degree, chances are there is currently a lot of metadata out there labeling you as one thing or another. And chances are it’s not a very nuanced picture. All the more reason to get your unfettered thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere before your metadata defines you.