As you read this and the coming installments, please keep in mind these were written when Amazon, Facebook, Google, Tesla, Twitter, and Yahoo! did not yet exist.
Written: November 1993
[email protected]. If you want to prove that NOBODY is as easy to communicate with as your organization, you may want to try [email protected]. The principle behind executives on-line is to enable your constituencies to engage in open electronic dialogue with your executives.
There are a variety of methods for implementing Executives On-Line. The general idea is to allow customers to pose their questions directly to your executives. This can be accomplished using electronic forums, or through public bulletin boards, known on the Internet as news groups.
Live on-line. Electronic forums are interactive conversations conducted in real time. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a technology which enables you to provide live dialogue over the Internet. Customers type their questions on-line, while your executive sits at a keyboard and types his/her responses as the questions are posed.
For a live on-line appearance by your executive to be successful, you will need to schedule these events well in advance and aggressively promote them to your constituents to ensure strong participation.
If your company lacks the technical expertise to implement Internet Relay Chat, many commercial on-line services have standing forums on specified topics in which your executives could participate. These forums usually feature an industry expert appropriate to that discussion group. Participation in these types of events can require less overhead and commitment of resources than sponsoring and promoting your own on-line event.
The CEO’s news group. An executive feedback program can also be conducted in off-line mode using news groups. Under the news group approach, a constituent would post a question or comment, visible to anyone looking at the news group. The executive would post an answer, which likewise would be visible by all participants. Participants can comment on the executive’s replies or on the questions and comments of others. As the threads of the discussion grow, the newsgroup becomes an electronic town hall meeting. This process is less immediate than participation in a live forum, but the trade-off is the ability of your customers to look in on the discussion at their leisure.
The benefits from executives on-line are many. Offering executives on-line is another form of opening up your organization and allowing others to come in:
“What if we get deluged with responses?” There will be push-back on this idea. Once again, is it really a problem if you get too many responses? If in fact you do get swamped, you can turn it to your advantage by posting a notice: “Your responses have been overwhelming, and as a result, it is not possible to personally answer every question. A representative selection of questions and answers will be posted for your review and convenience. Thank you for your terrific feedback.”
Another way to manage this response problem is to assign staff persons to read the questions posted to your news group, create answers, and have the appropriate executives approve them for posting.
The Internet is full of crack-pots and trouble-makers. Another objection you may hear to this type of program is there are a lot of strange folks in cyberspace. While at times extreme or even insulting views may be directed at your organization, these messages often represent the leading edge of opinion. People on the Internet are passionate about their areas of interest. By listening to these opinion leaders, you may save a lot of time and money anticipating problems the masses will later experience.
The Internet can provide you with the world’s largest focus group, one willing to share its opinions with you, good or bad. You must realize you can’t control this focus group, however, and your conversation doesn’t take place privately. You should be prepared to respond quickly to questions, inquiries, and complaints. If it takes your organization weeks, or months, to formulate its responses to questions or criticism from the on-line community, you will have missed the opportunity to interact effectively and learn from your constituency.
The bottom line. This process can be managed effectively while providing your company with great benefits. Executives On-line can be a key part of your “Get Connected” program.