What makes a photographer?

Lake Washington

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Chris Brogan’s post yesterday on Nikon’s request for him to test a D300 spurred me to think more about being a “photographer”.

When I was a kid, I thought a photographer was someone with fancy equipment, who worked in a darkroom and made neat tricks with emulsion, burning and dodging, and smelled of funny chemicals. When I was a teenager, I thought photographers were artists who worked in large-format Polaroid cameras and got their subjects to take signature poses (Annie Leibovitz). When I was in college, I thought photography was about documentary (Mary Ellen Mark, Library of Congress, war correspondents).

As an adult I gave up on the idea of being a photographer for a while. If no one was going to pay me to take pictures for a living, I thought, why bother? I spent a long time not taking pictures (too bad), and then gradually made my way back into the hobby. Last year I bought a Nikon D5000 and love the advances that technology has made, the easy of use, and the ability to avoid stinky darkroom chemicals and still end up with great pictures.

Now, I’m entering a new phase. I carry a camera (iPhone) with me every day. I realize now that being a photographer is a state of mind. You can capture the world with a Nikon D300, like Chris did (and nice pictures too), or just see the world around you with an iPhone camera and you’ll get some interesting views as well. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it definitely tells a story, raises questions, and makes you think.

Find the Trust Agents in your organization, and Explain them to Everyone Else

Organizations are getting social, whether they like it … or not. In their report “Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management“, Altimeter Group‘s R “Ray” Wang and Jeremiah Owyang detail 18 use cases to help businesses react to the advent of social media into business process and suggest ways for these businesses to move forward in a brave new social world. Wang and Owyang take a pragmatic, stepped approach to adding social capabilities in the organization, advising businesses to start slow, compliment existing processes, and to focus on business value.

I think that the Altimeter Group and others are making great strides at describing what businesses and executives should do to learn about the landscape of the Social CRM space, understand the vendors, and identify which areas would benefit most from a “social” overlay on traditional business practice. Yet I think that these analysts could be even more accurate about the challenges and opportunities facing businesses who seek to implement Social CRM (and indeed, customer-centric business practices of all types) if they focused on the identification, cultivation, and motivation of the Trust Agents in their organization, and figured out how to explain them to everyone else.

By Trust Agent, I’m referring to Chris Brogan‘s concept that people succeed inside of organizations by mimicking the same skills they would have to use on the outside as freelancers and solo practitioners. In short, the success of Social CRM depends upon understanding the social dynamics within your own company as much as it does the social dynamics of your product and brand as expressed in the marketplace. That sounds challenging — and it is — but there’s another thing too. If you want that DNA to work and your employees to express it out in the world, it means that anyone who has customer insight and customer impact also needs to understand those Trust Agents in your organization who are engaging with customers.

(A disclaimer: as a practitioner of CRM — having rolled out a Knowledge Management suite at a Fortune 500 company — and as a vendor of Social CRM, as the Customer Experience Manager for a vendor in the field, I’ve been the Change Agent, the person who explains the change agent to C-level execs, and the frustrated internal resource wondering why consultants can solve a problem when the internal resources aren’t trusted to do the same thing.)

This sounds like a bit of a contradiction, as many of the internal corporate communications personnel and other folks who manage social media and CRM efforts are probably reading the Altimeter group’s report and wondering: “How can I write policies that will support my employee efforts in social media, promote and understand my brand, and not look silly?” Enabling Trust Agents within the company and trying to explain them to everyone else must sound a little crazy. Yet it’s working already. Look at Zappos. Look at Best Buy. Look at Comcast. These are organizations where the brand has become exemplified by individuals trying to provide service in the right way to customers. These companies don’t always get it right. But they’re trying.

So what’s next, and what should analysts like the Altimeter group be working on for their next report? Quantifying the behaviors that result in measurable change and meaningful increases in customer satisfaction, correlated to the behavior of representatives of a company in social media. I’m not trying to suggest that a multi-variate regression is going to account for all of the crazy noise out there in customerland: I am trying to suggest that there are specific people in your organization who are engaging with customers right now. Understanding the positive aspects of this interaction and building a new set of skills around networking and engaging with customers (and quantifying how you can track these interactions through your CRM system) is key to future success. Some of your employees will embrace this change — but many will not, thinking and feeling that their social media outlets are personal and not professional — and we’re all going to be building a new vocabulary and set of business behaviors around adding social media to traditional business process. I’m happy to be along for the ride.

A simple “Thank You” speaks volumes

Thank you for reading this piece (but back to that in a moment.)

Recently, I received valuable advice from a colleague. It wasn’t a business plan for a blockbuster company, a secret formula to synthesize gold from base elements, or a patentable insight. What he said was, “always say thank you when you get feedback.” I didn’t think about it all that much at the moment, except to think that I was grateful for the heartfelt advice.

The amazing thing about the advice to thank people for feedback is how easy it is to apply, and what great results it provides.  You might think that people are used to hearing this as an almost automatic response or a token response and don’t notice, but they most definitely do notice.  What we more often notice is the absence of the acknowledgement (ask anyone who lives in California the difference between shopping in the supermarket and being talked to by friendly staff there and in a similar store on the East Coast and you’ll get the idea).  So I’m trying to put the advice into practice.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that some people are actually startled to be spoken to directly. The checker at the supermarket and the clerk at the gas station are used to being in transactional interactions, rather than conversations, from many customers.

So What Can We Do Differently to Show Others They Matter?

Start with a personalized version of Hello.Chris Brogan’s speech at Web 2.0 this week reinforces this idea, suggesting that when we greet people we should say “I see you”, instead of “hello”, indicating that we are acknowledging the person’s presence and not simply regurgitating a rote response of recognition.  And end with Thank You.  Or in my case, perhaps I’ll start with Thank you from now on.

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