As I have said a number of times, I am a big believer that companies should start looking at how to use new technology and standards like blogs, wikis, and RSS/Atom from a product perspective and not solely for news publishing and aggregation. What do I mean by that? In response to a post I wrote about why I blog as a VC and the benefits of it, Brandon Wirth sent me a link to a piece he wrote about the future of customer relationships. In it, he summarizes by saying:
In the very near future there will be a trend to use Social Networking to create product communities. This will replace focus groups, and market research trends of today with direct interaction with those most likely to buy a given product. This is the American Idol for big business. Instead of trying to pick what the best solution is and betting the farm on it, you let the market pick a winner for you and they will already love the product before they have it. The focus becomes on the end user. They feel ownership in the creation of the product, and already know they want it.
Not sure I agree on the "American Idol" for big business, but the point of staying close to the customer is an important concept. I certainly see a world where companies use new technology and standards like blogs, wikis, and RSS to build a relationship with its users and to empower them to participate in a company's success. This conversational based approach to dealing with customers is a great and EASY way for companies to share information on new features and releases and get constructive feedback on their products, receive new ideas, and frankly hear about the gripes. All this should help companies build a better relationship with customers and gather real-world data. While the example Brandon uses is a consumer one, I also greatly believe that this applies to infrastructure software as well. As I mention in an earlier post, it is too easy for companies to get enamored about their technology and to forget that end users need a great experience. Building fanatical user communities is not a new idea, but the point is that new standards and technology make it easier for companies to create, manage, and leverage them in a frictionless and organized way.
Along these lines, Jeff Nolan just put up a new post on his LinkedIn experiment. And in it, he praises Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, for paying attention to blogs and dealing with Jeff's experiment in a highly positive way. I encourage reading this post as Jeff has some great comments on how companies can deal with bloggers and why it is another important source of information and feedback.