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On Asking Questions

April 1, 2009

One of the hallmarks of social media is that whenever a brand talks about adopting a strategy the first thing they are told is that they need to ask questions. That this is a space that requires genuine engagement. People may be open to your product but you have to be invited into that space.

Asking questions implies that you don’t have the answers to everything. There is humility in asking questions and that is what is so humanizing about social media for a brand. Not only can they provide their service and have a core message like they always have, but they can engage their customers on a one to one level and form a deeper relationship that can lead to more meaningful feedback. The danger with this is that the consumers who you form the relationship run the risk of going native. They can drink the kool-aid just as easily as you can inside the company. That is why it is always important to continuously by reaching out to the community in hopes of generating valuable feedback.

The point of being in these spaces shouldn’t being moving product, but in finding out how you can serve your customers better. These spaces provide opportunities for outreach and feedback that can be surprisingly valuable and meaningful. The potential customer can feel safe communicating with you because they aren’t on your territory. You are on theirs. In the end they hold the power and I believe this is what makes the space so frightening to so many brands.

Not to go to upper level, but this makes me think of the political theory class I took in college. We talked about the idea of the sovereign. That is who controls the power in a society. The idea is that the king might be the sovereign, but is he really. At any time the people could revolt and exercise their authority as the sovereign. That debate aside, I believe most brands have thought of themselves as being the ones who wielded the power when in reality they were only allowed control of conversation because of the tools at hand. It was easier to allow them to have the voice. To communicate to a large group of people required great sums of money, but now it does not.

Can brands create and participate in genuine conversations? Are they willing to change their ways when the conversation goes in a direction that is not positive? Should they?

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