Any problems you’re hiding will eventually blow up in your face – podcast

on August 18, 2008

Episode four of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars Charlene Li, independent (formerly with Forrester) thought leader covering emerging technology.

Summary (Charlene Li):

  • Charlene Li leaves Forrester to break out an independent though leader and consultant in the area of emerging technologies.
  • Business communications have changed. Even if you try to hide problems, they will eventually be discovered and blow up in your face.
  • Social media should not be treated like an advertising campaign. It’s a conversation. And conversations are open ended.
  • If you don’t give your audience what they need and want, it doesn’t matter how great a voice you have, they won’t come and listen to you.

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Full article:

Charlene Li, by Thomas HawkI’ve run into Charlene Li many times at related tech industry events in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last time I saw her was at the Blogher conference in San Francisco which also happened to be her last day at Forrester where she worked for 9 1/2 years as an emerging technology analyst. I asked Charlene what she was going to do now and she said she was going to break out on her own as an independent thought leader.

The decision said Li was due to a collection of different events converging. While she was very happy with her time at Forrester, she wanted more balance between her work and home life (she has two children). And the success of her new book Groundswell has proven to her that she’s developed a strong enough industry voice for herself that she has the capability to be successful on her own.

As an independent, Li wants to broaden her reach to cover and track more emerging technologies, such as mobile, and not be pigeon-holed into just social media because she’s interested in all technologies and how they relate to social media.

Her audiences include other thought leaders she wants to influence, practitioners that want advice on what’s good and what’s bad, and then there’s the press for which she advises as well. At Forrester, she developed a very strong relationship with the press who are constantly looking for tips on breaking news and feedback on phenomenons. In fact, I think she’s NPR’s go to person for anything and everything that’s social media.

Charlene Li wants her independent consulting and online voice to be more conversational and not so institutionalized as when she worked at Forrester, which offers a far more considered “from the company” opinion. Her own personality and personal experiences are injected in her analysis of emerging technologies. But being an independent will not be the first time she will have done that. She developed her own voice at Forrester, where the company allowed her to do just that even though they knew that she could leave at any time. She did eventually leave, but only after working there for more than nine years to which Li said speaks volumes of how much she enjoyed working at Forrester.

I was surprised to hear that Charlene Li spends only two to three hours a week at most on blogging activities. It’s an area she doesn’t rely on for her industry voice. What she does rely on are her public appearances and her strong relationship with press for which she spends at least an hour every day talking with journalists.

What she likes so much about public speaking is NOT delivering typical “voice of G-d” speeches which come off as “you’re stupid if you don’t get this.” Rather she prefers more conversational presentations that try to make technology less scary and show how others can use it in your every day life. She tries to avoid a lot of the hype. She just wants to boil it down to what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.

Any problems you’re hiding will eventually blow up in your face

Typical client engagements for Charlene Li involve companies about to launch a product and maybe they don’t know how open they should or should not be about it. I asked in what situations does she advise one way or the other and Li said it all depends on the client’s audience. Does the audience want openness?

Many companies are very fearful of that openness because they think something’s going to blow up in their face. Business communications have changed, said Li, and any problems you may be hiding now will blow up eventually. The question is do you want it to blow up two days from now or two months from now? A core part of Li’s job is advising clients on the relationship they need to build with their customers.

Advertising agencies are misguiding their clients developing social media campaigns

“I think advertising agencies are doing a great disservice to the industry because they’re creating what I call ‘social media campaigns,’ rather than a strategy that says, ‘This is what the relationship is going to look like.’ [Social media] is not a one off. It’s a long term conversation you want to have with these people. It sounds kind of trite, but conversations are open ended and marketing and advertising by definition are not open ended. They want you to go buy a product. That’s not what people want these days,” Li said.

For those companies fearful of this kind of openness, Li advises them to start something small off in the corner of the organization and see how it works and what it needs to survive. For example, the corporate blogging mark of success is Bob Lutz’s Fastlane blog. It appears it was the first blog for GM because that’s the one that got all the press. But it was not GM’s first blog, said Li, GM’s first blog was actually a small block engine blog celebrating the 25th anniversary of the block engine. The success of that small blog gave GM and Bob Lutz the confidence to launch his more high profile blog publicly at the auto show.

You must listen to your audience in order to build your business

Now that Charlene Li is going independent and is no longer a Forrester salaried employee, I asked her how she’s going to manage and rationalize all her non-revenue generating work like blogging and research. “My posts are based on revenue generating. Because these are the questions that people will be dying to ask me about. They want to dig deeper into it. They want to have discussions with me about it,” said Li, “These are topics that are very much driven by what my clients and my prospects are thinking about. So that’s always at the front of what I’m doing. Frankly, if you don’t give your audience what they need and want, it doesn’t matter how great a voice you have, they won’t come and listen to you.”

“The core content has to address the core problems that other people are willing to pay money to get more information about,” Li advised. As a result, Li goes out of her way at events or with clients and vendors to talk to users and ask them what are the problems they’re facing to better understand the issues of her audience.

Unlike Alec Saunders who committed himself to posting three blogs a day, Charlene Li only publishes when she has something to say and something that her audience wants to hear. She doesn’t want to waste her audience’s time with frivolous content. For others, she recommends they have a clear strategy in mind. What is it you want to say and not want to say over what platforms, e.g. blogs, Twitter, social networks, etc. And what is it your audience wants to hear? That will be your content strategy.

For more on Charlene Li, visit her blog.

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