Stating the obvious

Jeremiah Owyang is a smart guy at a smart company (Forrester), and he posts a lot about social media and marketing and fun stuff like that. He’s not in the trenches, but I guess he talks to people in the trenches, and he just posted three of the most fundamentally annoying provocations that I’ve read in a long time … I need to either shut up and un-sub from his RSS, or take the time to act all annoyed about it. The fact that he is riffing off of Shel Israel is proof of further distance from the trenches and reality of social media management. Shel is a smart guy and he wrote the book, but guys, let’s step up the analysis and look at the hard questions, not the thumbsuckers.
He provoked me by saying the following three actions are “impossible conversations for corporations.”

#1: Asking for Feedback
#2: Saying positive things about your competitors
#3: Admitting you were wrong

Let’s start with the first. Feedback. Any company that posts a phone number, heck, even a street address is asking for feedback. What Jeremiah says is “how many `corporate’ blogs ask for raw, unfiltered product feedback?”

Ask? C’mon. Opening a corporate blog is, unto itself, a request for feedback. Some Pollyanna statement: “We’d love to know what you think …” isn’t what is needed. What is needed is a commitment to act and respond to feedback. Asking is easy. Acknowledging is hard.

Second, say positive things about the competition. I am very proud that Matt Kohut, one of Lenovo’s bloggers, did just that a year ago coming out of CES. He praised Toshiba for their tablet hinge. There were some people inside the company who couldn’t believe that. Then the press noticed and praised Matt: “A lot of vendor blogs are just marketing with an ersatz dear reader veneer so credit to Lenovo for making its site a useful read.

Third. Admitting you were wrong. I get the provocation school of blogging, and the Kawasakian list model. Make a list, provoke some dummy like me to react, and voila, instant audience. Anyway, I fell for it. It so easy to make this all a black and white polarized view of the world and throw corporate blogmeisters to the wolves for being insincere, comments-disabled, PR flaks who whitewash the company and do the see-no-evil thing. I know a couple companies that went that route. But when was the last time you read a dumbass corporate blog that did the ostrich move? Cmon. And don’t say, “well Dave, you and Dell and HP and the rest of the tech bloggers are ahead of the curve.” I don’t believe it. This corporate blogging stuff isn’t a two headed chicken in the freak tent anymore. This is mainstream baby. Anyone writing posts about “impossible” corporate conversations has to step it up – talk about the serious stuff, like – contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints. Let’s get into that one and you’ll earn my respect.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Stating the obvious”

  1. Chuck.

    Ok wow, you got my attention! First of all, thanks for reading and subscribing to me. It’s important that I hear your feedback to improve.

    I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll try to address your statements. What’s your proof that I’m not in the trenches? I’m dealing with my own customers at my current employer, and many of them interact with me online, they read my blog, I talk with them on twitter. I also am talking with prospects using these same tools. If you take a look at my background, I’ve been in the trenches the whole time.

    If you continue to think my posts are light, go back to the ‘web strategy’ or ‘case study’ tags and dig through those.

    I’m inviting you to be a guest poster on my blog to tackle: “contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints”

    I sense your frustration disappointment, work with me to make it better, you can email me at to discuss further or submit a post.

  2. This post and Jeremiah’s response are the essence of social media. Thank you to both of you for illustrating exactly how this stuff works.

  3. It’s David – not Chuck — Chuck works at the gas station down the road. 😎

    Jeremiah, no offense meant on the trench statement, but cmon, you don’t run customer satisfaction for Forrester? I mean, how often does a research report crash and go blue screen? How often does a client question your supply chain? You maintain analyst-client relatioships — but as a customer facing social media guy — I think you need to sit in the trench with Lionel at Dell and Mark at Lenovo and see the real issues we need to wrestle with. (ostensibly the purpose of The Blog Council which I am happy to say Lenovo is going to join).

    I’ll dig through your tags — just growing a bit glazed over from a solid barrage of corporate blogger 101 posts and seeking someone to challenge me and my team with the real issues out there. This is fascinating stuff and I hate to see the best minds kvetching over the obvious.

    I understand there are a lot of people arriving at this stuff for the first time, but I get provoked by generalizations.

  4. Chuck,

    A few thoughts:

    1. The Illusion of Apparence.
    At our agency we’re always reminding ourselves that what is glaringly apparent to us as branding practitioners is not always apparent to our audience, and we must remain mindful of this–to the point of not killing communiques because “everybody knows that”.
    In fact they don’t, and I would propose a similar dynamic is at work here in this discussion re: Jeremiah’s post.

    2. Easier Said Than Done
    What is simple in word is often far more difficult in practice.
    In our agency we’re constantly saying brain dead simple things to clients like: “You must differentiate yourself from your competitors”. In fact most agencies spout this truism and insist they practice it, yet a quick glance around the brandscape reveals an eye glazing sea of similarity.

    I submit the same is true with Jeremiah’s:
    #1: Asking for Feedback
    #2: Saying positive things about your competitors
    #3: Admitting you were wrong

    Far far easier said than done, and rarely practiced–justifying, in my mind, his recommendations. #2 and #3 in particular are so rarely practiced by corporations that the first ones to actively embrace this practice will be heralded from the hills as visionary thought leaders who actually “get” the new dynamics of brand/audience relationships.


    Rick Julian
    QUO VADIS Brand Communications

  5. Jennifer B and I share one interesting thing in common.

    She is ranked #1 on Google for “Northwest Sucks”
    I am ranked #1 on Google for “Southwest Sucks”

    We own the sucky ends of the western poles.

    Rich: it’s Dah-veed, not Chuck.
    Um. Not sure what you’re driving at — other than there is a reason for kindergarten and PhD programs not meeting in the same classroom. There will always be five year olds.

    I submit that there is far more honesty within corporate blogs than anyone wants to research. I know most of my counterparts practice the same golden rule I do, and further submit that the time has come to pull an Emeril and kick it up a notch. I accept Jeremiah’s challenge on moving the issue upstream with a treatise on ““contravening corporate policy by privately resolving a blogged customer support issue and having the blogger publically state the solution and thereby set a precedent for all future complaints””

  6. @David I would suggest that are core ideas (kindergarden level) are often unnecessarily complicated (PhD level) to the point that they lose their potency–one can reframe fundamental ideas by adding complexity, but they don’t become more compelling in the process.

    I would love for you to point me to examples of honest corporate blogging where authors are *simply* admitting their employers were wrong, and lauding their competition–perhaps I’ve been reading the wrong blogs . . . or have overlooked the mea culpas.

  7. Rich
    Go to Lenovoblogs — read what’s there. It’s a lot. But yes, we have praised our competition, we have admitted when we’ve disappointed our customers, but do we have a blogger “simply admitting their employers were wrong?”

    That’s a little stark in my view, but hey, I’d look not at corporate blogs, but personal blogs like Scoble’s — where he routinely took MSFT to task.

  8. Thanks, David. As Jennfer B. noted, this kind of dialogue is the essence of social media. I look forward to reading more of your blog.


  9. Funny, I’m in Detroit talking to auto makers. While key players would agree that Jeremiah stated the obvious, most of the people I am seeing are agonizing over issues such as Jeremiah listed. When asked by one official in this City to name a company that has used blogging as part of a turnaround, I mentioned Dell. He asked me what Dell happened with Dell and the bloggers.

    So Dave. It’s a long trail and yu are close to the head of the comet–where very few people remember the trenches..

  10. Shel, the irony. Naked Conversations showcased the blogging exploits of Bob Lutz, one of the CEO blogger poster children. You’d think Detroit would be all over this stuff.

    Hey, I know there’s a reason the simple questions are the best, but I think there’s a big set of corporate social media people like me dying for a discussion of the hairy stuff. I plan on sending Jeremiah a wish list of topics Forrester should tackle. These are revolutionary times, but it isn’t about the simple stuff anymore. We get the turnaround stuff. The transparency. Authenticity. Etc. Stuff.

    Unrelated question — I’ve been thinking about what the worst industry could be in social media marketing. I nominate an HMO. Those people must really have a fun time. I’d rank airlines second. And PC makers third.

  11. Hi Dah-veed,

    Sadly no person can be all things to all men. Jeremiah’s subscribers find his posts stimulating or else they simply would not subscribe. It may be that from time to time the content is not relevant to their needs, but that equally there are times when it is useful. The guy is religiously ‘feeding’ a segment of the community that is interacting with his opinion pieces. That is what they are. For hard research or intellectual massage one generally does not turn to ‘blogs’. I certainly don’t. Those that are creating content aimed at an audience more than two standard deviations above the median level of education actually don’t have very big audiences at all. It depends what is driving your efforts doesn’t it?

    I do love it when musicians complain about the lack of artistic ability in todays contemporary music. They then equally moan when they can’t seem to ‘crack the big deal’. It is that whole ‘art vs commerce’ issue. “U2 only use three chords in all their songs”, they say. Then they show how clever they are by generating a stochastic permutation using a synthesized waveform they devised. They can’t understand why people don’t realise how intelligent they are.

    I see that you are very accomplished and are clearly an articulate writer and thinker. It may be that the ‘thumb-sucking’ conversations are frustrating. As you say, it may well be time to simply unsubscribe if that feed is no longer providing any substance for you and your team.

    There are of course so many audiences to target with content, some beneficial, some competitive, some a complete waste of time and energy. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Jeremiah start his blog as a vehicle to express the latest thinking of Forrester, or did he bring into Forrester the community that has been integral to forming his body of knowledge?

    The C-level with whom I regularly communicate would find many of the things Jeremiah talks about as too overwhelming to grasp. Concepts that are too ‘buzz-wordy’, too technical. I’m not kidding. These are actually great minds leading global corporations and government departments, and I often have to translate to plain ‘business language’ the ideas that we (the cutting edge) were talking about 5-10 years ago. They are nonetheless interested in exploiting the power of online, yet in reality they may have a PA that literally prints off their emails and organises them on their desks (if important), and who will take dictation for any replies (which they call letters – not emails). It is exactly why I enjoy Jeremiah’s posts. I find the pieces that might have some resonance with a particular *business* objective, and then I ‘dumb it down’ EVEN MORE.

    Surely you must also experience this? Perhaps because of the sector you have operated in throughout your career your peers and clients are savvy, in which case Jeremiah’s level of feed would hardly challenge you.

    I once used to think the greater the words, or the more extensive my vocabulary, the more words I wrote, the more impressive my insights would be to my audience… etc. Instead I now try to make sure the people that count (my target audience) get Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6 and high scores on reading ease. What’s to prove? My stimulation happens when my colleagues and I thrash out strategy ideas around the table. I wouldn’t dare do that online with them, out of respect – for the audience that might be led up the garden path by the more abstract and untested concepts.

    All things aside you will now have noticed a sudden spike in traffic to your site. Quite a good strategy really.

    I am certainly looking forward to your own feed which I expect (based on your comments above) will have the kind of stimulation I need. Hopefully I will be able to understand it, but I can always unsubscribe if it is too challenging.

  12. After all of this noble dialogue in the comments above I’m loathe to post something like the following, but I want to make the point anyway.

    One of the things that irritates me about blogging in general, is that people are so fixated on making their counterpoints as fast as possible that they forget to do basic research like, well, uh GETTING PEOPLE’S NAMES CORRECT.

    Witness your exchange above. Witness “nipple girl” who posted her own blog post in response to one I wrote. “Lenovo guy” indeed…

    In both cases the names of the bloggers they are responding to are prominent and easy to find. I don’t care how much of an expert someone is. If they can’t be bothered with something as simple as a name, how much thought did they REALLY put into their posts vs. just getting it up as fast as possible?

  13. Great posts guys.

    Chu…I mean David,

    Just because a company puts their phone number or address on their site/blog does not mean that they are asking for feedback. If that were the case then it would be much easier to find the contact section with a direct contact line for every major corporation out there. If companies really wanted feedback then they wouldn’t be creating products and then trying to convince people to buy them, they would listening to what their consumers want, and then they would make the product.

    If Toshiba really wanted my feedback then their customer service department would have returned my phone calls/emails after they forgot to activate my warranty.

    If godaddy really wanted feedback they would have already began offering wordpress integration solutions with their hosting platforms.

    If linksys really wanted feedback than they would stop charging my account every month for a service I don’t subscribe too.

    It seems to me that “feedback” is a hassle for many of the companies out there. While consulting for the leading web analytics company (according to Forrester, I’m sure Jeremiah will know who I’m taking about) I couldn’t persuade the VP of marketing to create a blog, it wasn’t a priority, they had nothing to talk about, nobody would want to read it. These are some of the excuses I got back. Does this company want feedback? Maybe they just don’t know the obvious?

    I am currently working on search strategy for quite a large company and I can tell you that they don’t know the “obvious.” I still have executives asking me what a blog is and how they can leverage a blog to drive “traffic.” It seems that there is a serious disconnect between the folks that understand the obvious and those that don’t.

    I suppose Chris Anderson would smile after reading your blog post, after all, the “hairy” stuff is definitely on the long tail.

    Interactive marketing is a chess game, there is no formula. You try to predict the next few moves and sometimes you mess up. You can’t just create a blog and expect that people are going to want to talk to you. You can’t upload videos on youtube and expect that people are going to watch them.

    This post is much longer than I intended it to be and I have done my fair share of ranting, so I’ll stop here. (well almost here)

    I would love to take part in a discussion which details the non obvious, hairy, complex, thought-out, analyzed issues of interactive marketing. So where do we start?

  14. Jacob!
    GoDaddy isn’t giving you what you want, no because they won’t accept your feedback, but because they won’t do anything with it.

    There is a huge distinction between the hollow promise of “tell us what you think” and “you asked, we listened, and we changed.”

    This, I will assume based on my own experience, is the hardest part of being on the front lines of a corporate social media marketing/corporate blog/online customer satisfaction initiative: it’s easy to listen. Anyone can build an online suggestion engine. Anyone can build one of them there communities — but will it change the corporate returns policy? Extend your warranty? Put the knobs on the otherside of the dingbat?

    Too many companies are erecting Potemkin villages for “feedback” and “conversations” that go no where. Like erecting suggestion boxes on top of trash cans.

  15. David,

    Valid point, and I do agree with you. However, from the consumers perspective there is no difference between wanting feedback and acting on feedback. The assumption is that if a company is going to ask for info, that they are then going to do something with it. If you don’t act then don’t ask.

    As one of the leaders of a large corporation, how do you deal with corporate social media/interactive marketing/comments from readers/etc? How restricted are you by corporate policy?

    I’d love to create a list of a few (interview-like) questions for you (if you be so kind as to answer them) and then post the questions along with your responses on my blog.

    In fact I would love to ask the same set of questions to a couple corporate leaders and then see how the answers vary. I would love to work with you to create a set of the “hairy” questions that nobody talks about or is willing to answer.

    What say you?

    Love the analogy of the Potemkin villages (parents are from Russia).

  16. Wow great prose and because I am enjoying lunch with my almost to be 3 year old, not pictured, that is my 1 year old. Prose in Wiki states “The word prose comes from the Latin prosa, meaning straightforward, hence the term “prosaic,” which is often seen as pejorative.”

    I was also able to share other parts of the article with Ella. Like where I told her how even adults still count to 3!

    Always time spent well here David.

    Thanks for letting us just enjoy it.


  17. Chuck-san – great post. Like it or not, you and your techie brethren ARE ahead of the curve when it comes to corporate blogging. One of my clients keep asking, “who’s going to moderate [read: censor] our blog comments?” Will be interested hearing whether you get the in-the-trenches help you’re looking for from the Blog Council … or whether you’ll be educating the rest of the members.

  18. David,

    I rather enjoyed reading the exchanges here in your comments. “Dah-Veed” indeed. This was like watching really smart people do a three stooges bit with all the nose pulling and eye poking, and a healthy dose of the nyuck-nyuck-nyucking. Thanks!

    I think Jennifer was right that this whole exchange was a textbook example of the dance of the blogosphere.

    Perhaps we get too tangled up in what it means to be a practioner or “down in the trenches”. To my mind this is a lot like scientists debating whether colleagues working in applied roles have turned their backs on pure research of the field, or whether those working only on the theory have their heads pointlessly in clouds.

  19. David, here is something positive about Southwest and in general to me just an outstanding example of what a corporate blogger can do. I wrote a pissy post on my blog about Southwest – see URL below.

    Paula Berg who blogs for SW happened to read it, reached out to me, then reached to her customer relations and I just got a 4 page response to my complaint letter. Not all of it makes me happy but the rep must have taken hours to research my customer track record and the issues I had raised.

    One of my issues in my letter was they had taken away my joy of turning on my GPS and tracking our flight on my laptop. I wrote the letter in late Dec. This week the SW magazine showed the policy reversed and they allow it again. Since the mag was probably finalized in mid Feb, they moved quickly. (in fairness, others probably complained also about the GPS issue so my letter was not the only driver)

    I thought I would share this positive impact of blog story …

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