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Posts Tagged ‘Engagement’

How I Think About Things

April 24, 2012 12 comments

I am not trying to define, nor redefine – been there done that. What I am doing is to simply share how I think about things.

Customer Engagement

Customer Engagement is the extent to which an organization commits, both emotionally and intellectually, to communicating and interacting with their customers, relative to accomplishing shared goals driven by customer need. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of interaction and ownership where the company wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of the customer.

Customer Relationship (Management)

Customer Relationship (Management) is the proper balance of people, process and technology; practice and strategy required to meet the customer centric goals and objectives of your business. It needs to provide all business stakeholders the data, information and insights regarding current, past and future customers (people) and the ability to interact, inform and engage (see above) with these same people.  

If you are interested in what led me to this, feel free to watch a short video with Paul Greenberg, and my detailed thoughts based on the video interview. What are your thoughts? To keep things balanced, should there be another word between ‘Customer’ and ‘Engagement’? Maybe Centric, Focused, Service?

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Passion is Contagious

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a Guest Post by one Rachel Tait. I have the pleasure of working Rachel at Sword Ciboodle and her passion is contagious. Considering my previous post this seemed a natural to share with a wider audience (the Steelers part was almost a nonstarter :-). It is also interesting to note that we did ust open up new offices in Chicago, with nice view and Rachel made a side comment about the new view and feeling a bit inspired to finish this post – it can be the little things.

Steelers fans

Passion: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate” (Dictionary.com).

So, if that’s passion then what comes with it? In my opinion: focus, learning, interest and continuous improvement. Passionate individuals and organizations never stop learning, and in terms of customers, your passionate ones are often those that are most loyal, most valuable and importantly most vocal across all communication channels.

I’ve got a long list of things that I’m passionate about. I don’t want to bore you but on there would be chocolate, wagamama (delicious noodle house in the UK… unfortunately not available in Chicago. Sad face), Scotland, NFL Football and of course marketing. On marketing, I’ve always been passionate about it and I like to think I always will be. I did it for 4 years at university, have worked in this field since graduation and everyday know that this is the job for me. I’m not saying there are days when marketing isn’t the top of my fav list – ask some of my colleagues in the Sword Ciboodle office, the stories they could tell! But to this day, I’ve never got home and started looking into how I change careers to become a dentist, carpenter or Shetland Pony Breeder. In fact, with my passion comes an interest in advancing my knowledge in marketing and supporting disciplines.

For organizations that want to make waves in their industry, and stand out as the best, one of the secrets is to get passionate about your customers, and make them get passionate about you. Care about how they get treated, learn about what they want, and then go out of your way to deliver it! Don’t just find out why they like you, find out why they love you. And when you know why they love you – make sure you’re delivering these products/services/traits to them, and others like them, in spades. It’s important that you don’t just run through the motions in a predefined script or process (yes Abercrombie and Fitch I’m looking at you…. the fact your sales associates follow me around asking if they can help me because they were told to do so whenever they see a customer is more than a little creepy, and annoying). Go beyond what is expected or required, show off your passion and theirs will follow.

If you can grow this passion within a small customer base, you will often find it grows exponentially as beyond anything passion is infectious. Just look at sports fans! As a proud supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m never more passionate, loud and proud than when surrounded by my other Black and Gold brethren. And when I say surrounded, that’s not only when watch games but also in groups online. I recently joined www.32loud.com which is a website which welcomes fans from all of the NFL’s 32 teams, and I joined because they are targeting those that are vocal to be part of their online community. They got to me via a facebook group for Steelers fans based in Chicago, which has 400+ fans who post on the ups and downs of the Steelers on a daily if not hourly basis. So what made me join? They locked into my passion. They have a leaderboard on the website, which ranks the teams in terms of number of members, number of posts, number of likes etc. Can’t have the Bengals or Ravens out doing my boys so I got onboard and ‘got loud’.

Like 32loud, find passionate voices out there, and let them know you’re not only listening to them but taking on their comments. Log into your company facebook, hold interactive focus groups, hey stand outside with a sandwich board speaking to people if that works for you! Just do something, as passion isn’t something you can just say you are and that’s that. It requires action, and not just one off action, but continuous action. Anything less is just lip service.

I know it’s not as simple as just getting it done, and many ‘ducks need to be in a row’ for this to happen – including people, technology, budgets etc. However, without a vision, and a commitment to achieving that vision, the norm will remain just that – normal, beige, ‘just ok’. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many examples of cutting edge companies that are ‘just ok’….. and for Rachel Tait.com, marketing extraordinaire to the stars, just ok isn’t an option….

Mirror Images

January 17, 2012 1 comment

For a some time, I have been watching, reading, discussing and doing my best to understand the very broad field of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes which go along with each discipline. Along the way, Social CRM – a complex overlay on all of the above, has become everything from a hot topic to nothing more than part of buzzword bingo and back again. At the same time I have also been trying to keep tabs on Enterprise 2.0, Social Business and Collaboration (not Emergent). Going back and reading my own early thoughts here I can see that in some ways my own thinking has changed, but in many ways it has simply matured. I have been saying for a fairly long time that Social CRM and Entperprise 2.0 are closely linked. In September 2009 I said it here and here. I am not patting myself on the back here, more being self critical. I said this 2.5 years ago and frankly we have not come very far.

This line of thinking have caused the following questions to nag at me a bit:

  • Does better agent (employee) engagement lead to better customer engagement?
  • Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction?
  • Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?
  • Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

Taking a bit of a leap from where my own thinking was a couple years ago to now considering how many elements need to be, or are essentially mirror images between inside and outside the organization. I am not going to be able to tackle all the questions in a single post. As any good learner does, I asked a few friends for some help.

Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction? Mark Walton-Hayfield of CSC had this to say (BTW – congrats to Mark and all of CSC on the Paul G Watchlist Review!):

“In summary YES! However, you need to make sure that people are empowered and that businesses deliver on their promises to customers too.

People who are encouraged to make decisions by themselves at work and who have the authority to solve problems with the outcome of keeping customers happy are generally more satisfied with their job than employees who need to seek out a manager for approval. Business owners who empower their employees tend to have both a lower staff turnover and higher customer satisfaction levels too.

A core tenant of modern leadership thinking is that you need to make people (at all levels) understand why they are being asked to do something and the part that they play in the bigger picture. By leading people through great communications which encourage motivation and with empowerment designed into the operating model you are creating an environment within which people can be proud and satisfied in the work that they do. For those people who are customer facing (and even those who are not) this will most likely translate and spill over into better relationships with customers. These customers will perceive that the representatives of the company are going the extra mile (and they probably are) and so over time this will improve customer satisfaction.

However, this comes with a warning – ensure that you have delivered upon your original promises to your customers and that you are responding to them in an effective manner on those occasions when you are not”

Mark Walton-Hayfield | Social Business Strategist | CSC | MarkW_H

I happen to agree with Mark’s thoughts, it makes logical sense, but why does it seem so difficult to carry out in practice? For commoditized products and services, where low cost is the differentiator, this might be very difficult to carry out, no? This is not a disagreement with Mark, more of an expansion of his thoughts.
Moving on to some other tough question, I posed the following to Laurence Buchanan of CapGemini (Also a CRM Watchlist winner): “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?” In hindsight, this was a bit of a leading question, isn’t it? In a way it is playing with buzzwords.

“Customers have always been social. For as long as trade and commerce has been around, customers have spoken to each other about good deals and warned each other of rip-off scams. But when we think of a social customer today we use the term to describe a customer who is a) connected to people and information via digital channels and social networks and b) someone who leverages that connectivity and information in their relationships with vendors and other consumers. For example, a customer who is connected to a network like Tripadvisor might use information from that social network to influence their choice of holiday as well to influence others in their network through their own contributions. The motivation of a social customer will vary greatly and may include simply getting a better deal, building up trust and respect from peers, or naming and shaming a poor product or service.

Employees have always been collaborative. Ok, perhaps not as collaborative as they could be (!), but we have always had to work with others to get the job done. The collaborative employee mirrors some of the traits above. Although the networks might be different, the collaborative employee is certainly connected to people (e.g. other employees, suppliers, customers…) and to information. In addition, the collaborative employee leverages that connectivity to help them work more effectively (e.g. breaking down internal silos), to build relationships or to build their profile within the enterprise.

However, the boundaries between the social customer and the collaborative employee are increasingly blurred and increasingly irrelevant. People play multiple roles in their daily lives (consumer, employee, supplier), information (and transparency) now flows much faster inside and outside an organisation and networks are increasingly interlinked. More and more it will be harder to separate the social customer from the collaborative employee.”

Laurence Buchanan | Principal, Digital Transformation | CapGemini | buchanla

Sharing the wealth a bit, I asked Prem Kumar of Cognizant the same question as Laurence, “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

“If you recollect the concepts in the book reorganizing for a resilient organization, orgs (organizations) need to have people with specializations, areas where they have high efficiencies, areas which could be highly routine and monotonous. There is not much need to take decisions, and even if any, they would happen with in a predefined scope, options. This is what brings the scalability, the industrial scale. Collaboration happens at a minimum in these organizations, especially between people who need to make decisions on non routine issues. These are the people who have been empowered to take decisions.

One of the reasons for this collaboration that Ranjay mentions in his book is innovation, to meet the demands of the evolving customer. I do not remember if he talks about customer support, but here is again an area where you need to take decisions as well as collaborate with various dungeons in the org. ‘Responsiveness’ is the key reason for collaboration I guess. That means responding, at speed.

Now cut to the era of the social customer as he is right now. What he asks is public knowledge, so add the PR angle if there was not enough pressure on being responsive already. No wonder you need to be even more connected, at speed. Collaboration has been clamoring for attention for a few decades now, but now it has become inimitable, unignorable.

Collaboration is no longer a motivating factor to do better, it is now a hygiene factor; you stay healthy if you do it, else you fall sick. It is not doing pilates, it is eating good healthy food. Which means, it’s not about putting extra efforts, it’s about changing our habits, or mind frame for the better.”

Prem Kumar | Strategist | Cognizant | Prem_k

I really like that last point by Prem, collaboration is now a hygiene factor, it is a requirement to doing business. This is actually one difference, where the characteristics are not mirrored. Customers do not need to be social in order to be customers. But, social customers do require the internal organizations to be collaborative. All that is left to tackle are the remaining two simple questions.

Links provided from Mark W-H

Engagement, Intent Driven Involvement

January 8, 2012 5 comments

Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one.  The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective.  I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.

What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually.  Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.

A Bit of Research

Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.

First the Customer side:

“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”

Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally.  Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well –  Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.

What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.

“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”

Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience

There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:

“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”

Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.

In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.

Is the Office of the CMO the Right Place to Drive Customer Engagement?

October 23, 2011 6 comments

Primary sourced research is valuable, adding one’s own interpretations (which I will) is the added benefit of blogging. The most recent IBM research “From Stretched to Strengthened – Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study” (URL) is a good read. Research based on CMO conversations is arguably meant for a CMOs. As usual, I found myself considering this from a different perspective. The question which kept popping into my head was whether the office of the CMO is the right place to drive the call to action suggested by the report. I am not it sure is, there, I said it. The CMO should be part of the team, but not the leader of the team. I believe that the research needs to be read by others within the organization as well.

The three imperatives identified by the report, in no particular order:

  • Deliver value to empowered customers;
  • Foster lasting connections;
  • Capture value, measure results.

Being brutally honest, I agree with the first, not so sure about the second; at least not in the way the company will make it happen. Finally, while I agree results need to be measured, I am not sure what “capturing value” is about (in this context). The message that keeps hitting the reader over the head is that CMOs are more than a bit nervous regarding the new, cool ‘socially’, stuff and are now concerned about the amount of data coming their way; because of all this new stuff. There is a bit of parroting going on as well, talking about engagement, but, in my opinion, not a clue how to actually do it.

Seasoned marketers are having a tough time understanding social media and are concerned with multi-channel initiatives (called channel choice,  just wait until they try to solve cross-channel) and are unprepared for shifting customer communication preferences. I suppose that I should not be too surprised by some of the findings, as the areas of concern are relatively new (3-5 years) and were not top down initiatives; they came either from the bottom up, or from customers themselves.

Some issues and concerns

While I do agree, strongly, with the following sentiment, this is going to be a struggle of monumental proportions to execute solely within the marketing organization:

“The most effective CMOs focus on getting to know individuals, not just markets. They mine new digital information sources. And they use customer analytics to turn data into insights on which their organizations can act.”

Traditionally, marketers look at markets, while Customer Service talk to customers (Figure 6 in the report proves the point). How do you convince a CMO who has “Data explosion” at the top of the list of concerns to speak with and listen to individual customers? Without a doubt, the more customers you connect with, the more insights that can be gleaned. But, that does of course mean a whole lot of data, no? Please, do not get me wrong this is critically important, but hard. The CMO cannot do it alone, nor should they try.

In the ‘Tough questions to consider’ area, I cannot help but to think that these are the exact same questions that customer service and multi-channel contact centers have been working to solve for the past 5-10 years (not that we are there yet):

  • How are you gearing your ‘teams’, programs and processes to understand individuals and not just markets?
  • Which tools and processes are you investing in to better understand and respond to what individual customers are saying and doing?
  • How do you safeguard your customers’ data and privacy in a multichannel, multi-device world?

Yes, the intersection of business process, CRM and contact centers is the future of customer experience. The umbrella term is Business Technology. These core elements are the center-piece of the contact center, now and in the future. The companies who get it will be sharing the responsibility of delivery, and there will be a person accountable for the results – not likely to be the CMO.

Does this map to earlier research?

An earlier IBM report, which I also wrote a post about (The Perception Gap), shows that many organizations are missing the point. “Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them”. It is clear to most people that talking is not the same as engaging. Here is what I think is not so clear, listening is NOT the same as engaging. Active listening maybe, proving you heard what was said (by actions and words), now that is engagement.

It begs the question: are the CMOs really the ones who are going to engage? If the objective is really about helping customers to enjoy the products and services they have just purchased and your desire is to collaborate and to co-create new products and services, is the CMO the right person (office) to lead this charge? I would say “No” because marketers are used to looking at markets, not engaging with individual customers. I am sure I will get a lot of flack for the blasphemous comments, but I ask you to consider it for a moment.

In the image to the right, the report suggests “Outperforming” organizations “invest more effort in capturing and using data to foster customer relationships”. Yes, the data does suggest that to be the case. However, they also invest more effort in Segmentation/targeting as well as Action/buy and I am hard pressed to see conclusive evidence suggesting which one of the investments is driving the success. Given what I like to talk about, write about and analyze, I would like nothing more than for the chart to prove a causal relationship. However, it does not answer to the needs of the customer either (this is an inside-out versus outside-in perspective).

The previous IBM research paints a different picture of what the customer wants (or at least what they say they want). Back to my core concern, do you trust the CMO to make the required changes to meet the customers where it will work?  If you are the CEO, are you driving the CMO in the right direction? Or, if you are the CMO, does it make more sense to get a bit closer to the contact center and work together to properly engage with the customers on their terms and offer the real value that they are looking for? (Too harsh?) It is always possible that my comments are also too myopic coming from the other direction, but I am not convinced that is the case.

Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve

June 29, 2011 8 comments

IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM. The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up.  The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too.  Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick.  The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.  With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult  (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy.  Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social”, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

What I have discovered because of Twitter

December 21, 2009 2 comments

That is the title, I am sticking to it, but I do not really like it. The title should be “Who I have discovered because of Twitter”. A slight bit of ‘who I am’ might be in order, to make my point. I tend to take a more pragmatic, with a dash of logic, approach to most things. Even my kids are acutely aware of this point… Recently, my oldest (18) noted to the youngest (9), during a father daughter ‘conversation’: “Watch out Emma, dad just went logical on you, you have no chance”.

Twitter is anything but logical or pragmatic, defining exactly what it is depends upon who you are and what you do. Many have noted that personal acceptance of Twitter (as useful) may take a while, and may be a little steep (and  you may not get there). Considering the value I place on my time (work life balance and all that), I look back and I am a little surprised I made it through…

Since Venessa Miemis started the trend topic, I figured I would quote her, to start (a Tweet): “imagine twitter as the collective ideas & knowledge of everyone on planet. trick is to build ur network so u can access it” So, with that as my backdrop, I prefer to talk about ‘Who’, not ‘What’, there is a chance that ‘How’ will enter the conversation as well. The members of the network have had a greater impact on how I use the application. It is possible that an interesting outcome might be what I have discovered, but that is for you to decide.

The list (of who) is not huge, but the broad spectrum (background, location, interests) of cool people is impressive. The type and level of engagement runs from people I already knew, but I learned a whole lot of new stuff about them, to people I had never met, and I doubt I would have! I have been fortunate enough to turn 140 characters into dinners, drinks, social breakfasts, blogs, comments, business, questions, answers, collaboration. It sounds a bit like community, as @ekolsky notes in his post

Twitter is a community.  Shocking, I know.  There are no forums or ideas or structure (well, you could try hashtags — it worked very well for the #SCRM Accidental Community), but it is a community.  I wrote about this a couple of times.  The main difference, and the great part about it, is that each person gets to build and mold their own community

From a geographic perspective, I have met dozens of people who live in my own backyard (Burlington, VT) to regions far an wide.  I have been lucky enough to begin collaboration projects with great minds from Virginia to California, and London to Bangalore (noting Amsterdam and Paris fit in there somehow).  Which by the way, leads me to my favorite Twitter description, Mark Tamis @MarkTamis – A “Parisian Dutchman with Enterprise 2.0 and BPM background. Management Facilitator. Excited by potential of Social CRM as an organisational change agent!”

To further help the point hit home, I was hit by a little bit of writers block, and noted to Esteban last evening (through Skype, the next ‘what have you discovered’ post) “I promised myself I was no longer going to write about Twitter”. I went on further and said, “I am unhappy with what I have written. I may or may not post on the topic – I am going to stick to Social CRM” – Yep, an excuse. Unable to get a good nights sleep, I awoke to find that both Esteban and Wim Rampen (@wimrampen) – one of the great minds who I have been lucky enough to become friends and learn a great deal from – wrote his post (excellent Wim) earlier than me there are points which warrant repeating here, no need to reinvent the wheel.

..it has been Social Networking in the fourth dimension. It has brought me new friends, connections, thoughts, insights and ideas in a pace I could not have thought possible as little as one year ago.

You could say that I cheated a bit and borrowed from some like minded folks who, by virtue of living 5 or 6 timezones earlier allowed me the luxury of taking a peek at what they wrote first. Uh er, wait, Esteban live 3 timezones behind me, oh well, he does not sleep anyway. Based on some other types of interactions, I may put a motion on the table to rename the “Accidental Community” to the “Sleepless Community”. But, I digress… The key point is that Twitter has allowed me to expand my horizons, learn, collaborate and engage. Is that a ‘What’ or a ‘Who’ I guess I am not really sure.

I feel a bit guilty in not sharing more specifics on the many many folks who have influenced my thinking as of late. I suppose the list is longer than I thought, a good thing.

Have a Twitter story to share? Please do so on our own blog or in the comments . Don’t forget to tweet the link and tag it #MonTwit