Archives for January 2010

Competing with a cause

Go do a Google search for hostingforhaiti (go ahead – it will open in a new tab/window).

There are, as I write this, over 330 results.  This morning there were ten – and all related to “did you mean ‘hosting for haiti’?”

No, I meant hostingforhaiti, or the twitter hash-tag “#hostingforhaiti” – over 325 results.

Ten hours CAN make a difference.  In ten hours we got 15 hosting companies (my industry – and full disclosure, I work for Rackspace) together for a great cause.

Each company is donating in their own way – and at a level they can tolerate – but is also blogging about this, Tweeting about it – posting on Facebook and other sites, and getting both customers and employees involved.  How big will it get?  I don’t know.  Bigger than it is now, I hope – yet I am still happy with what it is now.  That is a LOT of money in Haiti and the Red Cross will spend it well.

And that is just pretty damn cool.

We’ve raised thousands and thousands of dollars and we have barely started.

And now that we all know each other – who knows what we can do next?

I like to imagine a lot.  I like the good in people.

Check the site out.  Give a little, gain a lot.

Social Media – The Double-Edged Sword

“Social Media” is amazing in how it lets you meet your customers – on their terms.  It has changed the way business is done.  There is no hiding from your flaws.    Everything is “open”.  Social media is very much the open sourcing of traditional PR and Marketing.

And as powerful as it is – you need to realize what it means.  If you want to “control your brand” then social media will scare the crap out of you.  If you want to understand your brand, it is invaluable.

When my employer suffers even a small failure in even a fraction of a percent of one of our data centers we see Tweets that say, “Rackspace is down”.  While this is often 99% untrue we realize that for that 1% it is 100% true.  So we treat it as if we are down.  1% isn’t acceptable and we don’t disagree with those that paint any outage as a significant outage.  Our goal is perfection.  We know we cannot achieve it, but we also realize we can most closely approach it by simply expecting it of ourselves.  And letting our customers demand it of us – even encouraging them to do so.

Does that get painful at times?  Certainly.  Do we sometimes feel as if we should be more defensive – absolutely.  It would be nice to minimize the concern to shareholders, employees, and customers when only a fraction of customers are affected by an issue.  But that also requires that we minimize the pain that affected customers feel – and we aren’t willing to make that trade.  There aren’t many successful companies that minimize or marginalize their customers.

Most of us at my office run our own websites – and we know how painful downtime is.  In fact, many of us were Rackspace customers before we came to work here – and we chose to work here because we know that the good far outweighs the bad.  Especially compared to the industry as a whole.  We are expected to be perfect in an imperfect technology.  Failure is in our future.  We know we can’t be perfect.  So we plan for when we aren’t.  But we are here because we love to help.  We feel most successful when we give others the ability to succeed.  And we can’t do that unless we know how and when we are failing them.  So we really appreciate that social media allows us to have those conversations early, and often.

But a failure is a failure – and they all hurt.  And social media may make that failure more apparent to more people – and frame things in context that sound ominous.  But we would rather hear about our failures than hide from them.

And social media makes damned sure that every failure is heard.  But it also makes sure that every success is shared.  So it is a double-edged sword.  Once you realize that you don’t wield the sword you start to think more pragmatically about things.

Then social media becomes what relationship management has always been about.  Add more value than noise.  Be genuinely concerned.  Do better.  Learn.  Get better.  Invest where your customers tell you to invest.

Be honest, and don’t be afraid.  Embrace the chaos.