Waiting For RSS To Disappear

When will RSS really be successful? Like all fundamental technologies, RSS will be a success when it becomes invisible.

Chris Selland writes:

“RSS is still very much the realm of early adopters (which is why only early-adopter-focused companies like Audible, Woot and HDNet are using it). But as RSS readers become more powerful and more ubiquitous – and particularly as they become more closely entwined with e-mail applications – expect the use of RSS to dramatically accelerate.”

Agreed, but here’s the kicker. In the comments here, Adam Shapiro writes:

“As far as RSS – isn’t that an old Soviet secret service group? That would be the response of 95% of America. Like Web services, fuel injection and the spring inside my pen, it will be most useful and used when nobody needs to consider that it’s there.”

Spot-on, my friend.

Corporate Blogging, Wikis, RSS All On The Fast Track, Says Gartner

Gartner has published their most recent “Hype Cycle” report, this one covering emerging technologies. The report covers 44 technologies, and prognosticates when they will reach the “plateau of productivity”…that is, mainstream business use and acceptance. Corporate blogging and RSS are flagged as technologies that will take “less than two years” to reach the plateau, with wikis on their tail in the 2-5 year window.

The interesting thing about Gartner’s analysis of all three of these technologies is that all are still positioned as being before the “trough of disillusionment” — that is, the inevitable backlash to their initial hype is yet to come. (n.b. Podcasting’s hype is still on the upswing, according to this, if you can believe it…)

Opinion (mine, not Gartner’s): Of these technologies, RSS is going to be the one that is going to have the greatest challenge slogging through the trough to true mass-market (i.e. not early-adopter) usage. Until there is a truly “zero-training” method of publishing, finding, and subscribing to RSS feeds (which might not even be called RSS feeds in a couple of years), RSS will have a challenge crossing the chasm, to use Geoffrey Moore’s terminology.

(hat tip: Steve Rubel for the initial link. Of course we went out, did some research, and dug a bit deeper to find the details ::poke:: But that’s what we do.)

When “Content” Isn’t Enough

With increasing frequency, emails of this format have been hopping into inboxes around the planet:

Dear [blogger],

[Some organization] has a new website for info on [some new product]. Could you blog about it to get some more exposure for it?

[random URL here]

Thanks,
[Someone you don't know]

At this point, maybe the URL gets a click, and the almost inevitable reaction is “thanks for the spam.”

But what if the note doesn’t come from an organizational flack, but instead comes from a passionate true believer? Is “content” always king, prima facie, or does “content” have other, subtle dimensions of intent, and purpose, and earnestness that augment the words on the page?

Chris Pirillo recently received the following email:


Chris,

The Virtual Earth team has a new website for info on VE. Could you blog about it to get some more exposure for it?

http://www.virtualearthinfo.com/

Thanks,
ZG

The typical initial steps and instinctive reaction follow. Pirillo:

“My first thought was: ‘Why do these PR flacks even bother?’ I immediately shot an email off to my MSN contacts, asking about this person. They searched the company directory and came up with no results.”

Upon deeper digging, however, a surprise was uncovered:

“The name was passed around and, ultimately, it belonged to a stepson of a Virtual Earth team member! It wasn’t marketing spam after all – merely an innocent request by a kid who is very proud of his father’s work.”

The same words, sent in the exact same way, carried two completely different meanings. In the “default” case, it’s just another shill hawking just another product. In the second, it’s a real request from a real person who is not even directly involved with the product, who happened to think it (and, more importantly, the folks involved with it) were neat, and wanted to get the word out.

Same words. Same medium. Very different meanings.

Ten Things To Do While Waiting For Dell Tech Support

Crushing Jory for this one, big time.

10 Things to Do/Places to Visit while waiting for Dell Technical Support.

Brilliant. A few excerpts:

#2: “Get all of the unpleasantness over in one fell swoop is my philosophy. While you wait for Dell Customer Support, call up Sprint and try to negotiate out of the lifetime contract you inadvertently entered into when you reduced your minutes; return those obligatory calls to relatives.”

and

#7: “Have a Dell Customer Support party. Invite over others who are on hold. You don’t have to go through this alone!” (here ya go: the DellHell IRC channel – ed.)

By the way, Jory’s mom Joy just started a blog as well…The Joy Of Six.

Customer Reviews: A First Step To Conversation, Community

Laurie Kawakami writes a nice piece in the WSJ about companies that are providing customers the ability to review products on line. (Read the whole thing.) Kawakami writes:

“Customer product reviews are popular among online shoppers and an increasing number of merchants are rolling them out. But some retailers are struggling with how they should handle a flood of submissions, and in particular, negative reviews that could make it difficult to sell a product.”

Companies that still believe this are in denial. Every customer has his or her own printing press. Exhibit A…check out the top 10 posts for “U-Haul” here, which as of this writing, includes this one and this one and this one (and this one at number 13 and this one at number 16).

The last ‘graph is spot-on:

“But retailers must be prepared to keep the review process open and honest, accepting both positive and negative reviews. ‘If you get caught’ censoring complaints, he says, ‘you’ve blown so much more than one or two bad reviews. You’ve essentially lost the trust component.’”

There we go.

From Transactions To Community

IvyladderHave been road-testing this model over the past few months, most recently with the fine folks from Blue Marble Marketing, and would love your feedback as well.

The interactions between customers and vendors are in a state of flux, and, as best as I can tell, are moving up through the levels shown in the graphic to the right. These are as follows:

The Transaction stage: At this point, both customer and vendor are thinking of their interaction as a “one shot” deal. The vendor’s trying to sell something, the customer is going to buy something, and that’s it. Historical knowlege of the other party, as well as the potential for future interactions, is not even really part of the equation. At least in most “traditional” markets, most organizations are still mired at the “transactional” level. Push, push, push…the vendor creates a product, markets it, spins it, and tries to reap as much short-term profit as possible. It’s a “one size fits all” type of interaction, and if the customer doesn’t like it, he or she can go elsewhere. And customers will.

The challenge in going from “Transaction” to “Conversation”: You need to stop talking, and listen.

The Conversation stage: This is the first realization from the vendor’s perspective that, huh, whatta-ya-know, customers might have some opinions and beneficial input into the process of doing business. Everything from features (both pro and con) to terms to future direction of the organization are things on which the customer may have an opinion. The vendor starts to listen, and starts to create a dialogue, at least for some period of time. The conversation may take place around a particular transaction (i.e. the customer and vendor work together to collaboratively “discover” all the aspects of a particular transaction), or the two parties may be exchanging information and each go off on their own afterward.

The challenge in going from “Conversation” to “Relationship”: You need to stop thinking in terms of “making this quarter’s numbers” and start thinking about how you can contribute to the conversation over weeks, months, years.

The Relationship stage: Conversations are good, very good, in fact. However, managing them over time takes effort, again, on the part of both parties. First off, participation in a conversation over time requires commitment. Commitment to follow up and execute on agreements that have been made, commitment to continue to contribute to each others’ well-being, commitment to work shoulder-to-shoulder (as opposed to confrontationally across a contract) when challenges emerge (and they will). A big part of building relationships is committing to having a long-term memory, as well as a long-term future view. There are a few folks who are eidetic; the rest of us need to have processes and systems in place to augement our feeble crania. Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. But regardless of the mechanism that is used (be it a bazillion dollar software package or a set of 3×5 notecards), having some way of recalling past conversations and their associated commitments, and noting what future commitments are in place, are all required components.

The relationship level is where things start to get really, really interesting. Customers aid in designing products with a vendor. Vendors do things for a community without (necessarily) expecting an immediate quid pro quo in the form of a sale (but believe that doing the right thing now will make everyone better off down the line). Loyalty, customer satisfaction, and not incidentally profits, start to blossom.

The challenge in going from “Relationship” to “Community”: You need to give up control, and trust your customers.

The Community stage: Major tectonics come into play when moving from relationships to community. First and foremost, everything discussed up until now is primarily pair-wise, that is, it occurs between two parties (for this discussion, primarily between a particular customer and a particular vendor). However at the community level, the partitions between sections of the walled garden fall away, and everyone starts to connect with everyone else. For an organization trying to make a buck (pound, yen, yuan, etc.), its role changes markedly at this point. Hopefully, when exiting from the “transactional” view of the world, this evolution already took place, and the vendor organization realized that it cannot dictate the conversation. At the community stage, vendors need to realize that they need to step back even further, and in many cases may not be participating in a some conversations at all (but certainly better be listening to them).

(Another great view on the “community” level of this, from Lee LeFever.)

At the community stage, the role of the vendor changes to that of enabler, providing the venue where great things happen and solutions get created. Perhaps the vendor is providing infrastructure, or knowledge, or support, or expertise, but…whatever is being provided…it’s just a part of the whole picture. In many cases, the customers in a community will be aiding each other (think forums, think user groups, think collaborative development). The vendors that will excel at this stage of the game will be the ones with enough confidence to act as gracious hosts, providing the rich soil where the important ideas grow.

Note: A huge thank you to Doc, for this loamy conversation, from which this thinking has sprouted.

(And I’m afraid I’ve just sown an entire field of perennial gardening puns…)

TikiBarCamp

While a few select folks are at FooCamp and a few more are at BarCamp, we here at The Social Customer Manifesto are this weekend hosting TikiBarCamp in Half Moon Bay, in preparation for leaving next weekend for that thing in the desert. Here’s the map of our village.

So, in addition to geeking of the normal sort (ya know, sending bits over a wifi connection, making plasma in the microwave, etc.), things we’ll be doing at TikiBarCamp:

Drop us an line if you wanna help! TikiBarCamp is open to all. Flickr photo stream to follow as the weekend progresses, tag: tikibarcamp.

(n.b. Flickr seems to not be indexing the tags right away; direct link to photostream is here)