Wright Model A Flyer flown by Wilbur 1908-09 and launching derrick, France, 1909

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Orville and Wilbur Wright were nuts. I’m talking crazy, cuckoo, bats in the belfry nuts. They took some bed sheets and 2X4′s and somehow thought, “We can actually project ourselves through the air with those and live to tell about it.”

They were nuts. But they were right.

I took off from O’Hare last night and realized that companies who have tread the untested waters of social media to this point were also nuts. “Turn our brand over to the consumer! Let random members of the public make comments on our website! Let front-line employees, not CEOs or communications VPs respond to customer complaints or issues!”

What the hell were they thinking?

The same thing Orville and Wilbur were: It will work. We can do it.

And they were right.

Name one company on the planet that went from being known as having the worst customer service in the world to some of the most open, honest lines of communications on the planet in less than a year. Dell did it because they were nuts. (Actually, they did it because they had no other choice and nothing to lose, but it worked and now they’re lauded for it.)

Name another company known for years as being a black hole for customer communication, even profiled in Hollywood documentaries for their callous, cold shoulder to the public, which now freely allows that same public to interject their opinions — good or bad — within the comments section of their CEO’s blog. Surely someone at General Motors told Bob Lutz he was nuts. (Okay, they probably said “crazy” because using “Lutz” and “nuts” in the same sentence would have been great fodder for silly office email poems.)

Once you get in the air, there will be turbulence. Take a deep breath, buckle up, keep your nose pointed down and press on, my friend. You won’t crash.

You will have to deal with screaming babies and malodorous near-sitters from time-to-time as well. Just remember it’s easy to fake a smile if you grit your teeth.

As your company or clients come to the table wondering what it takes to build successful programs in social media, you’re going to have to find a tactful way of telling them that it takes being nuts. Or at least having them.

Without the acorn, mighty oaks do not grow.

Writer’s Note: Since I’m aware several of you are anal-retentive, I find it necessary to point out that an acorn is technically a fruit, not a nut. But if you’re hung up on that, you will never see the forest for the trees.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.unjournalism.com Mike Keliher

    Maybe it’s because I’ve already “flown the plane,” but I don’t see adopting some of these new communication tools and ideas as all that crazy. Still, they certainly do face lots of opposition.

    I’m encouraged every time I see a great example like the few you mentioned or the many, many others out there. I try not to get too hung up on the people with no time or patience for trying something new, but I also try to keep in mind that there’s more to life than the Web and more to business communication than a blog. It’s a balancing act, but as I’ve said before, all of this craziness is, more than anything, FUN!

  • http://www.lockerdome.com Gabe L.

    Albert Einstein said it best, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

    Cheers.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Mike – Agreed that for some of us, social media participation doesn’t seem crazy or brave. But when you deal with clients on a daily basis, you see the fear and get the “are you nuts” reaction a lot.

    Gabe – Wonderful quote. Thanks for that!

  • Troy

    Jason -

    Im at the beginnings of developing a social media campaign for a new venture of mine, and had a quick question for you.

    Im already a member of twitter, linkedin, facebook, jaiku, friendfeed, etc. Should I use my own personal profiles on those services to start evangelizing my new venture, or should I create new profiles that are strictly venture-focused for my social media program? Seeing how well @zappos was received on Twitter has got me on the fence on which way I want to take my campaign.

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Troy — Thanks for asking.

    If it is your venture and company, I would recommend just being yourself, transparent about it all and evangelizing as you. However, there’s a fine line between evangelizing and spam, so be careful. Some folks are constantly bombarding their friends with marketing messages, which can come off as spam. While he gets a pass because of who he is and because he’s normally announcing developments in his site as opposed to just promoting it, Guy Kawasaki’s mentions on Twitter can come across as spammy. It seems like he is always pushing Alltop. Again, he is normally announcing new channels there and he is Guy Kawasaki, so most people overlook it.

    However, if Guy didn’t engage folks in random conversation from time to time and it seemed like everything was Alltop-related, a lot of folks would drop him.

    If it is a client or someone else’s company, I would recommend going the Zappos route and having you and the other staffers sign in under company_individual or individual_company names. RichardatDell is a perfect example on Twitter. He’s identifying himself as a Dell employee, but is a real, live person named Richard. Most of the Zappos folks follow similar naming, though they are a bit more liberal with it than I would recommend. People want to know that the profile is a person, not a company or groups of people posing as one user.

    Hope that helps. Best of luck on your new venture.