Monday, April 6, 2009

10 Questions With Chris Brogan

We are debuting a new feature here on the Amver blog. It's called 10 Questions With ... and it will feature ten questions with an influential person in an interesting field, usually maritime related.

The first person we interviewed isn't really a maritime expert but he sure knows about social media. Chris Brogan has helped us on our journey into social media and we thought his knowledge and expertise would be beneficial to our readers; government and otherwise.

The world of information sharing is changing quickly. We will either adapt to it, or be overcome by it. Let's see what Chris has to say and see if we can't adapt our business practices to this new way of communicating.

Without further adieu; ten questions with Chris Brogan.

1. There is lots of talk today about Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and Twitter. Reporters, celebrities, and our children are all using social media. What is this thing called social media?

I like to call it the two-way web. In the old days, the web was basically a place to get information: read a page and go home. Now, it's a place where people can gather in different configurations and share information, opinions, and communicate.

2. Should businesses be using social media to communicate with their customers and employees?

Internally, yes. It's a lot easier to use than email and has more value. It's searchable, less cumbersome, has ways to store important information, etc.

Externally, there's a question: is your business ready to answer a new "phone?" To me, social media technology is a lot like installing a new kind of phone, and it requires answering. Are you hoping to engage with your customers and prospects (or your suppliers)? These tools are really important advances. The improve the way we build business (and other) relationships.

It's not just a "shoot and run" event, though. It requires a bit of a plan for HOW you're going to integrate it in. It's not like throwing a fax machine up in printer room.

3. Can public relations/public affairs departments simply dump traditional techniques for spreading the word about their company or products and start a Twitter feed or blog?

No. I don't think killing the traditional channels is the right idea. Instead, I think it's an opportunity for PR/PA departments to determine just how much effort is finding impact. Blogging means more than publishing your press releases onto a blog, though that's not always bad. It means that there are opportunities to connect in more meaningful ways.

There's a transition, a bridge, a sens of what these new tools can do for PR/PA groups. Think about video for a moment. That wasn't how PR worked even last year (widely), but now, if you're not using a Flip video camera and throwing up fast little clips from time to time, you're missing many opportunities.

4. We have seen instances of emergency management agencies using Twitter and the White House started a blog. Even our own Commandant has his own blog. How can government use social media?

Governments have so many opportunities to use social media. They are. The TSA blog is brilliant, for example. Yes, they get hundreds of negative comments, but they also get lots more engagement than many other government agencies from passionate citizens. Governments can use Twitter to build fast communications channels for emergencies, for news, etc. The CIA is using the heck out of social media right now, and not just for investigations.

5. What about the Chief Information Officer? How can employees and users convince the C suite that social media is right for the company?

If you're a CIO, this is a kind of freak-out moment, but it's also a very important shift in business. The business part of companies is starting to drive IT decisions more than in previous years. Social tools have spurred changes in Enterprise tools, and employees using social platforms like Facebook have changed our desire to use similar tools for business.

CIOs have a lot of opportunities in this new space. The tools are less expensive. They are modular. they are mostly web-based apps, so can run off the Internet or behind the firewalls. It's a chance to try new things for low money and with potential new yields in productivity and innovation.

6. What training or books are available for practitioners to learn social media?

This is where it gets tricky. Tools are springing up every day. If you're getting a book, it's about six months out of date by the time you buy it, and that's assuming you bought it on day one. It doesn't make the books bad. I've got a collection of them stored up on Amazon.

Better still is to learn from a series of blogs, and/or to attend a few conferences that relate to the space. Different people are crafting different takes on educating people in social media. The LEAST best way to learn is by buying a solo individuals training product. My guess is that it won't be inclusive enough, and it will cause you consternation and send you down the wrong paths.

Getting good B2B information, and/or government-focused information is tricky, but then the U.S. Air Force has some great blogger guidelines, so it's not unheard of.

7. The maritime sector is rather niche. Can social media work for such a unique sector?

The beauty of social media is that it addresses niches. You don't have to swim around in the open ocean. You can build your own safe harbor, dock your own resources, and send out supply ships for what you need from the outside. That's EXACTLY what social media is for.

8. What advice would you give novice social media practitioners?

Be helpful. Always. If you can help others, it will always come around. Also, realize that this is a pit like planting crops. If takes soil-tilling, fertilizing, weed-pulling, and plain old fashioned time to wait for the food to grow. Don't jump in and expect the world. Learn the land, and get involved.

9. What if my company blocks social media applications? Are there really any risks to letting employees access social media sites? Are the gains worth the risks?

There are risks for sure, but they are the same kids of risks that email policies cover. I don't know how companies will be able to keep social applications out. With smartphones, we're bringing our networks with us.

10. Will we be left in the dust if we decide social media doesn't fit our business model?

No. There are plenty of business models that might not connect well with social media. If you're in a high security setting, this is opening up a whole new set of holes. If you're in a business where you can't afford to care about the opinion of your customers (be those internal or external), then maybe it's not the right tool. Don't let all these crazy consultants fool you. Not every wave that hits is your wave to set sail upon, but you know that.

Chris has certainly helped Amver learn about social media. The United States Coast Guard has also embraced social media and issued its own guidelines. Our Commandant, Admiral Thad Allen has his own blog and has even posted his thoughts on social media through a video post.

I hope these questions and answers spark a dialogue in your own organization about the use of social media. If you are already using it perhaps this answers some of the questions you have about it. If you are on the edge, perhaps this will spur you to action. Either way, we hope you enjoyed our first 10 Questions With... segment.

What do you think? Are you using social media? How are you incorporating it into your organization?

(Photo credit: Fotolia)

1 comment:

Boating Rob said...

Great interview. I'm a fan of Chris Brogan. He is always able to synthesize social media practices into it's basics. Good job.