Mark Pesce on Using the Network for Business Success

By | April 27, 2010 at 1:04 am

Key ideas from Mark Pesce’s keynote at SME Technology Summit

At the SME Technology Summit in Sydney last December, organized by The Insight Exchange, futurist and educator Mark Pesce did the keynote on Using the Network for Business Success.

Mark Pesce
Click on image to view Mark Pesce keynote video

Mark has kindly also shared the presentation slides as well as the full text of his keynote.

Here are a few quick excerpts from Mark’s excellent speech:

The number of ways we can be reached is growing almost geometrically. Five years ago we might have had a single email address. Now we have several – certainly one for business, and one for personal use – together with an account on Facebook (nearly eight million of the 22 million Australians have Facebook accounts), perhaps another account on MySpace, another on Twitter, another on YouTube, another on Flickr.

Among under-25s, electronic mail is seen as a technology of the ‘older generation’, something that one might use for work, but has no other practical value. Text messaging and messaging-via-Facebook have replaced electronic mail.

This increased connectivity hasn’t come for free. Each of us are now under a burden to maintain all of the various connections we’ve opened. At the most basic level, we must at least monitor all of these channels for incoming messages. That can easily get overwhelming, as each channel clamors for attention.

Our brains have limited space to store all those relationships – it’s actually the most difficult thing we do, the most cognitively all-encompassing task. Forget physics – relationship are harder, and take more brainpower.

Hence, fifty years ago mankind invented the Rolodex – a way of keeping track of all the information we really should remember but can’t possibly begin to absorb.

But a Rolodex doesn’t think for itself; a Rolodex can not draw out the connections between the different cards. A Rolodex does not make explicit what we know – we live in a very interconnected world, and many of our friends and associates are also friends and associates with our friends and associates.

That is precisely what Facebook gives us. It makes those implicit connections explicit. It allows those connections to become conduits for ever-greater-levels of connection.

There’s so much, coming from every corner, through every one of these social networks, there’s no possible way to keep up. So, most of us don’t. We cherry-pick, listening to our closest friends and associates: the things they share with us are the most meaningful. We filter the noise and hope that we’re not missing anything very important. (We usually are.)

Wikipedia isn’t the only example of shared knowledge. A decade ago a site named TeacherRatings.com went online, inviting university students to provide ratings of their professors, lecturers and instructors. Today it’s named RateMyProfessor.com, is owned by MTV Networks, and has over ten million ratings of one million instructors. This font of shared knowledge has become so potent that students regularly consult the site before deciding which classes they’ll take next semester at university.

Substitute the word ‘business’ for university and ‘customers’ for students and you see why this is so significant.

There is a whole world out there engaging in conversation about you. You need to be able to recognize that. There are tools out there – like PeopleBrowsr – which make it easy for you to monitor those conversations. You’ll need to think through a strategy which allows you to recognize and promote those positive conversations, while – perhaps more importantly – keeping an eye on the negative conversations. An upset customer should be serviced before they go nuclear; these kinds of accidents don’t need to happen. But you’ll need to be proactive in your listening. Customers will no longer come to you to talk about you or your business.

The first step in any social media strategy for business is to embrace the medium. Many business ban social media from their corporate networks, seeing them as a drain of time and attention. Which is, in essence, saying that you don’t trust your own employees. That you’re willing to infantilize them by blocking their network access. This won’t work.

Just as we expect that employees won’t spend their days sending text messages to the friends, so an employer can expect that employees are sensible enough to regulate their own net usage. A ‘net nanny’ is not required. Mutual respect is.

Most small to medium-sized businesses have neither the staff nor the resources to dedicate a specific individual to social media issues. In fact, that’s not actually a good idea. When things ‘hot up’ for your business, any single individual charged with handling all things social media will quickly overload, with too much coming in through too many channels simultaneously. That means something will get overlooked. Something will get dropped. And a potential nuclear event – something that could be defused or forestalled if responded to in a timely manner – will slip through the cracks.

Social media isn’t a one-person job. It’s a job for the entire organization. You need to give your employees permission to be out there on Facebook, on Twitter, on the blogs and in the net’s weirder corners – wherever their searches might lead them. You need to charge them with the responsibility of being proactive, to go out there and hunt down those conversations of importance to your and your business.

Will it be messy? Probably. But the world of social media is not neat. It is not based on image and marketing and presentation. It is based on authenticity, on relationships that are established and which develop through time. It is not something that can be bought or sold like an ad campaign. It is, instead, something more akin to friendship – requiring time and tending and more than a little bit of love.

Many companies set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and use them to send useless spam-like messages to anyone who cares to listen. Please don’t do this. Social media is not about advertising. In fact, it’s anti-advertising. Social media is an opportunity to connect.

If you’re a furniture maker, for example, perhaps you’d like to have a public conversation with designers and homeowners about the art and business of making furniture. Social media is precisely where you get to show off the expertise which keeps you in business – whatever that might be. Lawyers can talk about law, accountants about accounting, and printers about printing. Business, especially small business, is all about passion, and social media is a passion amplifier. Let your passions show and people will respond. Some of them will become customers.

So please, when you leave here today, setup those Facebook and Twitter accounts. But when you’ve done that, step back and have a think. Ask yourself, “How can I represent my business in a way that invites conversation?” Once you’ve answered that, you’ve also answered the other important question – how do you translate that conversation into business. Without the conversation you’ve got nothing. But, once that conversation has begun, you have everything you need.