After Doc Searls gave a short keynote about the live Web (different from the static Web) here at the Syndicate Conference, Scott Anderson, HP's Director of Enterprise Brand Communications took the stage to talk about how HP is embracing it (the live Web) to build its brand and strengthen its relationships with the various constituencies it deals with, especially customers. The presentation is a perfect example of what this conference is about: how businesses of all types should embrace the enabling technologies of the live Web -- technologies like RSS -- to drive their success. Anderson said that HP first began dabbling the live Web when it engaged the blogosphere about a year ago. Anderson, who said his job is to manage all of HP's communications with the IT vendor's top 7,000 customers, noted that the decision makers that affect his company's success (CEOs, CIOs, etc.) are turning more and more to the Web to get their information and that a sea change is underfoot -- one where a preference for a real dialog is taking precedence over that for the static experience where HP's Web site is more or less a catalog for specifying product configurations.
In discussing an exercise that every business should probably go through, Anderson talked about how HP at one point faced an important decision; ignore the live Web (mainly the blogosphere), listen to it, or participate. The company decided to participate and while it hasn't looked back, the age of participation has caused HP to rethink everything it does. Studying and understanding the nature of the beast has helped HP to size up the opportunity. Anderson broke the history of the merchant<-->customer dialog into three eras:
- Pre 1930's when scaling the dialog was difficult and it was more of a face-to-face environment where the dialog could go deep but the reach was narrow (deep and narrow)
- 1930's-to-today where the dialog is far more scalable (thanks to traditional media and the static Web) but the opportunity to go deep was very limited. Anderson called this shallow and broad.
- The present-? known as the Dialog Age where Anderson sees an opportunity to have the best of the two previous worlds: to go both deep and broad.
Understanding the deep and broad opportunity created by the so-called Dialog Age is what has apparently helped Anderson to internally sell the idea of participation. Anderson went onto share some stories about how, short of any rules or best practices, HP's early participation efforts hit a few road bumps. Namely, Anderson cited how HP learned a hard but good lesson about the dialog driven nature of the live Web when a negative comment that was submitted in response to one of its blogs was deleted. Commenting on the speed of the blogosphere, Anderson noted how, at the same time an internal discussion about whether or not deleting the comment was the right thing to do was taking place, the blogosphere was already vetting the censorship move on its own terms. In other words, once a mistake is made, there isn't too much time to think about how to correct it. It's the nature of the beast. Fortunately, HP acted quickly to restore the deleted comment and the reaction in the blogosphere was generally positive (See Dan Gillmor's HP gets a clue). More importantly, it was HP's early involvement in the live Web that enabled it to learn such hard lessons while the so-called rules of engagement were still in development (in fact, they still are). Not only did HP get off the hook, it played a pioneering role in the development of those rules (as informal as they are).
The net net is that while other companies including HP's competitors have yet to even enage the live Web, let alone make mistakes like the one HP made (which they'll surely do), HP will have already fine tuned its approach to the dialog in a ways that allow the company to reap the benefits now. The question for you (in whatever business you're in) is whether or not you can take the same leap of faith to the point that your dialog is rocking and rolling by the time your competitors wake up to the revolution in the seller/buyer relationship that's afoot.