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?
Gilchrist: Part of the beauty of the whole movement toward social networking is that a lot of these companies are left with no choice. Look at YouTube, which sold for $1.65 Billion; you can’t ignore that. In the end, it’s a good thing. Companies that otherwise would not engage their customers at all now are having to do so. The market conversation will continue with or without them. The smart ones are going to sit down and think ahead about things that might happen, like when customers design and produce TV commercials [about their firm] and put them on the Internet. Look at the example of Microsoft’s Channel 9 and Lego: at first suing their own customers for hacking software and then embracing them and turning it into part of their production (Lego).
Lowe: When do you think the business world is going to “get it” about social networking, and what will it take?
Fisher: A lot of business-to-business companies I dealt with did not “get” even talking to their customers on a regular basis, even through just traditional media: getting on the phone or conducting a feedback survey, let alone leveraging the new social media. So the answer to the question is: it depends upon the company and how customer-oriented it is. You might find that 20-25% of companies say they are really close to their customer, and the other 75%, to varying degrees, are either not that close or don’t even bother to talk to the customers at all. It’s not in their comfort level. Inertia is a big factor.
Gilchrist: The thing I like to focus on is the new crop of kids, call them Gen Y or whatever. I refer to them as ‘natural born crowd sourcers.’ Think about just a few of the facts of their upbringing and how they think. Look at Gen-Y’ers, and contrast that to a 40-year-old. We did our homework alone. They wouldn’t know what that is. For us, ‘play’ involved getting on a bike and riding. They just jump online. So they really do approach collaboration differently. Their heroes are not the sort of brilliant misunderstood geniuses that overcame everything; their heroes are more the (famous) people who got where they are by collaboration.
Tomorrow: Are professional service firms less sensitive to clients' needs than they could be?