Many of my readers know I publish a newsletter called The Marketplace Master™ as a companion to my book, Marketplace Masters, How Professional Service Firms Compete to Win.
The focus of my May 2007 issue was social networking -- arguably the strategic springboard for professional service firms’ embrace of social media – blogging, podcasts and other digital conversations. I figured I’d have an easy time finding firms that have considered the strategic implications of deploying digital “conversational” marketing and business development vehicles before plunging ahead.
I figured they’d have thought about how profoundly “social networking” is already changing their marketplace (actually, I believe, for the good), with the way it breaks down the barriers between the exchange of knowledge, and the way it stimulates a two-way, community-oriented conversation.
I had a devil of a time finding a professional firm that has devoted substantial thought to social networking. As I engaged in my own social networking to find the best examples I could find, I bumped into Tim Gilchrist and Stephen Fisher, co-founders of Microengagement. They had some fascinating observations that deserve some air time. Here’s Part 1 of my 6-part Q&A with them.
Lowe: My impression is that professional service firms are enormously unprepared for how social networking will shift their marketplace. Is this your experience? Why do you think this is so?
Fisher: That rings so true, based on my experience of about 12-13 years of consulting. Some of the reasons have to do with pride: “We are very smart guys and we can figure this out ourselves”. There is very much inertia against getting on board with social media and I think that is going to change over time.
Gilchrist: There is a certain hubris going on in the business world, where people in positions of control do not want to include even their own customers in the decision making process. A book I was interviewed for, The Cluetrain Manifesto, really turned me on to the power of seeing the market as a conversation (a conversation with your customers), and the power that that has. The fact is: most professional firms actually lock their customers OUT from idea / brainstorming parts of product development and service development.
Fisher: It very much is the “not invented here” mindset. The idea of calling somebody for additional expertise beyond what we had was very much an anathema to us.
Lowe: I’ve watched as professional firms are beginning to embrace blogs, podcasting or other social media techniques. Do you think these firms have embraced a strategy of social networking, or do you think they are just feeling their way?
Fisher: I think a lot of people are very overwhelmed by all the different choices. A lot of them don’t completely understand the differences between the types of social media and, from a strategy perspective, what will really fit their business, as opposed to my experience at my consulting firm years ago. We wrote a quarterly newsletter. We put in some neat charts and graphs and wrote about timely topics. We sent them out to existing clients and we got some phone calls. Or we conducted seminars where we would invite clients to come together and share information. These were very much ‘old media’ techniques and it still does not mean they are not relevant. But this is a whole new world.
Tomorrow: crowd-sourcing, Gen-Y'ers and how professional service firms should move with their market