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Healthy Dissent

The news from Tehran is quite compelling. A nation is rising against tyranny and we are watching it live rather than reading about it in history books decades or centuries later. More importantly we are watching stuff happening that is at the absolute core of the human spirit play out in prime time, and it is not reality TV. I wish reality TV would go away, but that is the topic for a separate posting.

One of the aspects of the story of the current Iranian drama is that drama is what exactly it is. We don’t know how the story is going to end. And, we know there are a number of different endings where this can lead. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall was one story we witnessed through the news that ended in an amazingly positive outcome. The democracy protest in Tiananmen square came to a less desirable conclusion. As I write this, we do not know the outcome (but it will be shortly determined following this posting I suspect).

Certainly we can speculate and compare the situation in Iran to that in East Germany and China. In the one situation, the social movement and momentum carried by the people was stronger than the political will of the government. As a result the Wall came down and the Eastern Block crumbled. In the other, the political (and military) will prevailed and Communist China remains. Although I am certain others may argue that there is a new revolution afoot driven by capitalism instead of protest. The outcome in Iran will be determined by this set of competing forces – social versus political will.

What can tip that balance and drive the outcome one direction or the other? I suspect we could find a number of variables through a study of history, but I am certain that the variable this time is going to be the infamous Web 2.0.

CNN is getting its best evidence of the protests from sources such as Facebook videos posted by everyday folks using mobile phones to shoot the history they are in the process of making. The Iranian government is doing its best to squash the formal journalists from reporting, but the virtual reporters, numbering in the thousands, have taken over the process. As long as the internet remains available in Iran, this revolution may have legs.

This is serious, serious stuff – human dignity, freedom and lives are at stake. The same technology that helps us sell our used goods on Craig’s List is fueling something phenomenally more significant. And it is even more amazing that we watch it all unfold while we are sitting at the dinner table.

Demonstracion Azur

At the risk of trivializing what is unfolding in the Persian Gulf, I have to draw a correlation. It is what takes place on this blog site after all. This same software that is facilitating a nation toward the brink of something extraordinary is in use every minute of every day potentially assisting the nation that might be described as your customer base to travel a similar path. Today, while you read this, there are customers of yours sharing their views of your product. They may not be posting videos (or in fact they may) but the process is the same. They are either endorsing your rule or trying to tear it down. They may be revolting against you, but it may not be reaching a threshold of interest that it is making the news (yet).

What is your web strategy? Are you monitoring the appropriate sites for content related to your brand or products? Do you have a user-driven content function on your site? You might ask in return – if you were to enable your upset customers to drive content on your site, wouldn’t that be the same as the Iranian government promoting Twitter for their angry citizens? The answer would be, yes.

But, if the Iranian government were to do something so bold, it would come from a strategy and policy driving other behaviors not in parallel with their current path. They would not rig elections; they would be taking stronger action to serve their citizens according to need; they would be using the media to monitor opinion, not to snuff out dissent.

Dissent is equal to failure in government and business. If you have a rebellion by your customers you have done something wrong. What you want to do is find out if that sentiment is growing before it becomes significant. You don’t want to learn about customer dissatisfaction on the news. You want to find out in time to take action (not to jail your customers but to learn from them). If you are getting signals of dissent, you need to embrace it – listen to it carefully so you can take corrective action before it is too late.

Social networking sites are one of the best places for you to manage the process of customer dissent and it needs to be a significant component of your customer strategy and customer feedback process. Or, you can take a lesson from history and follow a different policy.

Let them eat cake.

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