Author Michael Brito has an excellent presentation  based on his book Smart Business, Social Business , in which he points out how difficult it is for organizations to become social, and what that effort will mean in terms of organizational change. Since 1995, Brito says, the Internet has empowered customers. But it's taken 15 years for business to truly try to reach out and engage. And it's particularly difficult for large organizations, whose hulking ships are much more difficult to turn around than a sleek upstart speedboat.
Here the advantage is definitely on the side of the small, the new, the nimble. Larger organizations must break down silos, invent new processes, and protect against wayward employees who are not close enough to the organization’s vision to embody it. In many organizations, the only customer that’s heard from is the disgruntled customer.
Small organizations don’t have that problem. They can be social businesses from the start. They can literally get in the car and seek out the customer. They can connect and get to know him.
Last month, my friend Ryan Kuder of mini-review app Bizzy  asked me to suggest a venue for a meetup in Phoenix. It turns out Ryan was going on the road with some members of his team to get to know his customers. You can see photos here.  Their road trip was 2700 miles. Bizzy’s team is home now, but Jimdo’s  team is just going on the road. Jimdo is a free website creator with 4,000,000 users in Europe, Asia, and South America that just opened a U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. One of its co-founders has actually relocated here.
Jimdo has traditionally made its product road map from online customer requests, but they decided to go a step further in the U.S., and find out what their U.S. customers think, so they can tailor their customer acquisition strategies better. After getting their feet on the ground for a few months, the Jimdo team decided to go on a 5-city tour to meet customers in person. If the five-city tour works out for them, they plan to expand it. They’ve named it the 5(00) city tour. They aspire to be local as well as global.
The team spent a week identifying potential places to visit, and doing deep research into existing customers, potential partners, and relevant interest groups in those cities, reaching out for opportunities to meet people in person. Using Podio , an information aggregator, everyone on the team got busy contributing. I saw the cities get posted, the media contacts get identified, and the interest groups and meet-ups get scheduled. It all happened lightening fast.
However, it still appeared to be in the planning stages. And then I got an email last night from Christian Springub, the co-founder, saying THE ENTIRE TEAM was hopping in his van the next morning to go up Interstate 5 toward Oregon for seven days to...engage!
Imagine a large company deciding to do this, andhow long it would take to plan. Yet once the Jimdo team decided engaging with customers (and prospects) personally was a good plan, they were on the road in a matter of days. It’s because smaller companies are invariably closer to customers, more nimble, and less fearful.
These forays give new meaning to social business. To develop customer advocates, you must know the customer as well as the customer knows you. And to do that, you have to get off social media as well as on it.
Jimdo will be filming, blogging, and shooting pictures up I-5, and you can follow the tour and the learning here .
[Image: Flickr user Alex E. Proimos ]