Creating Value In The Social Era (Interview With Author Nilofer Merchant)

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What are the core lessons from #socialera aimed at these giants who, as we know, aren’t inherently social? By Tara Hunt (Co-Founder & CEO, Buyosphere)

I’ve known Nilofer Merchant since 2009 when I met her at the TED conference in Long Beach, California. I’m particularly excited about her new book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, where she applies many years of experience teaching the 600 lb gorillas to be much more social and agile.

I highly recommend picking up the book – it’s a fun, easy read and packed full of great insights – but I’m also honored that Nilofer agreed to answer a few extra questions I had.

Tara Hunt: You have something many social marketing consultants don’t have: experience with the ‘gorilla’ sized companies for many years. What are the core lessons from #socialera aimed at these giants who, as we know, aren’t inherently social? Nilofer Merchant: Here are three:

One is that scale shifts from “big” to “with”. You can create value through openness.

Here’s an example from technology. Most organizations used to do their own development. Within the last ten years, open source software went from being a programming lark that organizations like Oracle or Microsoft made fun of to one that is the default choice for corporations from IBM to Google. Even Microsoft has found a way to open its Xbox Kinect controller so it can be a platform for artists and roboticists.

As a result, the platform contributions have far surpassed what Microsoft could have created alone. And let’s be clear: Openness is more than “open source” – it is a way to engage ideas. The value created by platforms that enable many people to contribute ideas can surpass the value created by organizations trying to control each piece. What is created by individuals (without pre-approval, or vetting, or even by defining the exact outcome) can both surprise and delight. Instead of companies trying to achieve scale by all by themselves, scale can be achieved through and with community.

Second, consumers can be a source of value creation. Fifteen years ago, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" was prescient when it taught us that markets are conversations, and that was a great starting point. “Conversations” can go deeper if an organization allows them to become central to how you work, rather than leaving them on the perimeter.

And Tara, your own book gave us many solid examples of companies doing just that. But how many companies have figured out how to shift from old-school “supply chain management” to the more modern idea of capturing insights and integrating them directly into product design, distribution, and delivery? Because that’s the point. Instead of a buyer at the end of a value chain, more and more companies are embracing consumers as “co-creation” partners in their innovation practices. This collaborative model fundamentally shares power, improves speed, and shifts the value equation.

Third, purpose can become an alignment system. When companies think of social media, they hope to get consumers to “like” them or “fan” them, as if that increased connection is meaningful. Again, that captures the marketing aspect, but completely misses the strategic point. The social object that unites people isn’t a company or a product; the social object that most unites people is a shared value or purpose.

When consumers “love” Apple, they are saying they love great design and the shared idea that “thinking differently” is valuable. By “loving” Firefox, the Web community is saying that it believes an open Web browser is valuable to the world. By loving TEDx, a volunteer army of people is saying it believes that smart ideas that get people to think more about their world is a cause worth putting energy into. Purpose aligns and scales in a way that “command and control” telling people to do certain does not.

Read the full interview at Tara Hunt's blog.

Abou the guest blogger: Tara "missrogue" Hunt is a crazy audacious dreamer and the co-founder and CEO of Buyosphere. Tara was named as one of the most influential women in technology as well as one of the 25 female startup founders to watch in Fast Company Magazine. She wrote The Whuffie Factor/The Power of Social Networking (published in 8 languages), is a conference speaker and co-founded the international coworking movement. Follow her on Twitter at @missrogue.