More Thoughts on Social Computing

I have had some time to think a little more deeply about the Forrester Consumer Forum experience. Everyone was looking for ways to leverage social computing, seemingly already convinced that it would deliver high value to their businesses. So valuable in fact that I heard people say it was “the next wave” or “there’s no stopping it.” I heard it said many times that it is the consumer taking control of brands and messges and products. But consumes don’t have to answer to a P&L or present in front of a board of directors quarterly. That gives them much more freedom to say and do what moves them. Perhaps that’s where the power lies; in the freedom. Corporate America has the really big master to answer to in profit. Consumers (let’s stop the clinical speak, it’s people) want to be moved emotionally, want be treated with respect, and want stuff to work with ease.

Halfway through the forum I began to make a fundamental shift in my mind away from thinking that people have taken control and towards the concept that they are merely becoming active participants. People want to particiapte. No big insight there.

Henry Jenkins, Co-director, MIT Comparative Media Studies Program spoke on the last day and helped clarify this. Unshackled from corporate ties, he said that the conversation should be, “going from technical discussions to humanistic discussions.” That “convergence is about culture, not technology.” And he encouraged companies to hire and use humanities experts to help them figure out what to do. Imagine positing that in your next senior management committee meeting. But that kind of provocative thinking gave the audience a genuine, original thought on how to tackle this problem that didn’t come from classic business methodology. I believe it will be very helpful to follow his thinking on this topic as it evolves. We can all do that at his site here.

Josh Bernoff, a VP at Forrester, presented a practical strategy for how companies can leverage the coming groundswell for success. He reinforced the foundation set by Christine Li (also a Forrester VP) in the opening salvo, Your Customers are Revolting ;-). Josh took a straightforward and disciplined approach with; know your objectives, set metrics and measure results. He also said that, “connecting with the groundswell will change the way your company runs.” The subtext was that if you can lead your company in this new area of social computing, your personal stock will rise within the organization.

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