I'm currently attending a Customer Advocacy Conference today in London. Those who read my blog regularly know that my own views (and indeed my recent assignments) are heavily influenced by the Cluetrain Manifesto, so I'm always interested to hear different perspectives on this subject, especially where practical application of these ideals are concerned. Today was predominantly a PR affair; most presenters came from companies which have recognised that mass marketing is losing it's effect, and word of mouth is becoming more and more important.
So I was pleased and surprised to hear that Sky gets it. Who knew? They have an 'outreach team' which actively seeks out people talking about their products so they can engage with them on their own terms. They're not pushy about it; they just provide the facts and let people make up their own minds (which they are wont to do in any event). They arrange for top bloggers in their fields to come along to relevant events, where they are given the freedom to say what they like. They talked about "Web 2.0 vs Organisation 0.5"; an admission that large organisations have to make big changes in the face of greater customer power.
Honda also gets it, although being a car company (rather than, say, a media or technology company) means they're behind Sky. But their intentions are good.
One interesting point which was made was that, as a large company, trying to interact with everything that appears on the web isn't scalable. To which I say: encourage people in your company to participate, then! They don't have to be in your marketing or branding team. Just lead by example and make sure your people know that they have permission.
Matthew Bishop of Microsoft let the side down a little, drawing attention to the Blue Monster and claiming that "I could delete this brand if I wanted to". He quickly went on to make the point that this wouldn't be a good idea, but it was still an ill advised comment, to put it mildly.
But the general theme so far is that the best way forward was being open, honest and transparent with your customers. Now isn't that better?