4 Ways to Relinquish Control

This is post #4 of 4 inspired by Chris Brogan.

IStock_000004628405XSmallThe cluetrain is chugging into the station.  Smart companies are embracing empowered end-users. 

Intuit is crowdsourcing customer support.  And Procter & Gamble has officially moved away from focusing on internal “Research & Development.”

“P&G’s effort … (represents) a seismic shift in strategy, moving the consumer products goods company away from an ‘only invented here’ mentality to an outside-in approach that actively seeks to import good ideas.” 

Those are great examples from Customer Support and R&D.  What about Marketing?

Perhaps because Marketing is too-often considered a cost center — always in “prove-it” mode — its adherents have historically focused on control.  Control provides a sense of safety.  But it’s a false security. 

Even before Social Media’s rise, a corporate behemoth could quickly lose all semblence of message control.  Remember the Tylenol Poisonings?  The Ford/Firestone Rollovers?  Any one of the PR chiefs at those companies would have swept the news under the rug, if they could.  They couldn’t then — and as we learned via the Motrin Moms flap — it will only get harder in the Social Web era.

So let’s embrace it.  Here are some ideas on relinquishing control.

Having a crisis?  If you don’t already have a corporate blog, create one immediately and hold forth on what’s going on.  But take it a step further: enable comments, and encourage both customers and employees to comment publicly.  You can also ask employees to leave their ideas and concerns on an in-house wiki throughout the crisis.  Make the commitment to have a C-suite executive review and comment on a regular basis.  You never know where a good idea — or unforseen threat — might come from.

Holding an event? Randomly select a dozen attendees and arm them with Flipcams and cheap digital cameras (put an irremovable barcode on each device, so you know who’s packing each piece of equipment).  Ask these multimedia-powered attendees to take videos & pictures from their own perspective: ask their colleagues on the floor what’s good or not-so-good about the event; tape a speech or a booth demo; etc.  Maybe turn it into a fun (optional) scavenger hunt. 

When the event is over, tag and post the media assets to both corporate websites and to other Social Media channels (e.g., pics on Flickr and TwitPic).

IStock_000005857420XSmallFeeling ballsy?  Let everyone in the company blog and tweet, with full disclosure as to their place of employment, their role, etc.  Obviously, these activities must not detract from their office productivity, and obviously you’d want to publish and educate the staff on some basic “rules of engagement.” 

But if you can get past those bugbears, try to imagine the consequences of such a ballsy move.  Your entire company just became your PR department.

Out of ideas?  Ask Chris Brogan for some. 

OK, that’s a cop-out.  Instead of asking Brogan, try asking your customers.  Don’t be afraid of them; they might like you; they might want to be helpful. 

“What other services can we provide?  What do you like least about our products?  Knowing what you know now, how much more — or less! — would you have paid?”  This concept is bearing fruit for Dell, Starbucks, and even Barack Obama.

Remember that everyone wears an invisible sign that reads, “Make me feel important.”  When you acknowledge that message, your employees, customers and prospects will rise to the challenge. 

It’s okay to relinquish control when your brand is in their good hands.

Posted on: January 23, 2009 at 9:03 am By Todd Defren
10 Responses to “4 Ways to Relinquish Control”


  • Twitter Comment

    @PRsarahevans @bradjward One PR blog’s hard to pick, but I think @TDefren gives some good advice. [link to post] #JR324

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  • Twitter Comment

    RT @Akhia How to Relinquish Control [link to post] from PR-Squared

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  • Twitter Comment

    When will the crowd get a dividend?
    [link to post]

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  • Twitter Comment

    RT @LaraK: Correct link this time – “Remember that everyone wears an invisible sign that reads, Make me feel important.” [link to post]

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  • Twitter Comment

    great article: [link to post]

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  • Twitter Comment

    RT @mdd044: from @tdefren. [link to post] – 4 ways to relinquish control 4 those companies that want to be smart.

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  • Twitter Comment

    @jgoldsborough @markvanbaale check out this blog post from @tdefren. [link to post]

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  • Todd Defren says:

    You make excellent points, Jen. I was being too loosey-goosey re: the “sweep under the rug” comment. My point was that those were excruciatingly difficult times for those PR people, and I’m sure they’d just as soon have seen their problems “go away.” But obviously not at the risk of causing harm.

    You are also right that I am raising issues with not inconsiderable consequences. In fact you may remember that my call-out from Peter Kim’s Social Media Predictions Project was, “The tipping point has not only NOT been reached, but could tip AWAY from Social Media” (due to episodes like those you’ve imagined).

    I push the envelope for the sake of creating a dialogue like this one! Thank you.

  • I know I’m focusing on the wrong thing here, but I think it’s a little harsh to imply that the PR people from any of those companies would have wanted to “sweep things under the rug.” That would put lives at risk, and to say that anyone would be willing to do so is a fairly broad indictment. I know you were illustrating a point, but this strikes pretty close to home for me.

    When I was in PR I worked with one of the clients you have listed, and everyone I worked with wanted to do the right thing. What was the biggest obstacle? The lawyers. Very often, the objectives of legal and PR run head on into one another. These were real crises, with obvious legal ramifications, unlike the Motrin Moms flap, which was a silly difference of opinion on the content of an online commercial.

    Social media, no matter how prominent it becomes, will not trump the fiduciary responsibility that the legal departments have to protect against lawsuits. Why? Because the feeling is that a reputation that has been damaged can be repaired–and it’s harder to put a lost dollar figure on a damaged reputation.

    But if you have a mountain of lawsuits because someone in the company admitted–even inadvertently–to being at fault, the eventual payout of damages is a concrete, real number that can be automatically subtracted from the bottom line. Shareholders would not be amused.

    Lawsuits are a real fear of businesses. I worked for a state chamber of commerce in a legislative (lobbying) capacity, and lawsuits are always, always a top concern. Social media advocates should always keep this in mind when advising clients to open up blogging/etc. to every employee. Yes, there will always be dumb employees who say the wrong thing, and there’s always a chance they will blog about something on their own, from home, etc. But, I would think that the ability of a company to distance itself from the “loose lips” of an employee would be significantly impacted by the existence of a policy that specifically states that employees can blog and represent the company versus having no policy at all,or a policy that states only certain employees can.

    I know I’m swimming against the social media crowd here. But it will only take one or two high profile cases wherein a company was advised to allow all employees to blog, and that got them in legal trouble, and the backlash against allowing employees to blog/tweet/etc. will be so swift it will be stunning.

    There are profound implications of allowing all employees of large, publicly-owned companies to act as spokespeople, from legal to regulatory and financial. There is nothing wrong with being cautious.

  • Twitter Comment

    4 ways to relinquish control: [link to post] I like the idea of giving guests cameras at events to see it from their eyes

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