What Austin, Toronto and Vienna have in common in social media

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on October 28, 2010

I travel about 250,000 miles a year, so I get to see quite a few companies, leaders and cities embracing social media in different ways.  Over time, I’ve noticed a major, yet subtle trend related to why certain cities build their own momentum in learning about social media and why different companies will move faster than others in gaining traction in developing their knowledge of social media.    The key traits are remarkably similar. 

I’ll focus on cities for purpose of this post. 

Toronto is a perfect example.  Joe Thornley, a leading Canadian consultant, runs a group called Third Tuesday that meets in a converted church in downtown Toronto.  Ferg Devins, of MolsonCoors, is the leading representative, in my view, from the corporate world.  And the real leaders of this group are the people who attend.  I spoke there in July, 2009 to a packed house and walked away impressed by the level of questions and the passion for social media.  This is a learning culture if I ever saw one.  I can’t wait to go back. 

Fast forward to last week and I’m speaking to 200+ people in Vienna at a conference called BuzzAttack run by Sabine Hoffman, also a consultant.  Once again, the questions were as strong as any I have heard anywhere in the world.  Something cool is happening in Vienna.

And there’s my home town of Austin, the home of the Social Media Business Council, BazaarVoice, Facebook’s new operations center and an exploding social media scene.  Enough said. 

I’ve been wondering why I don’t see the same thing intensity and focus in many major cities and that’s when it hit me.  Big cities are often like big companies.  They can get in their own way, competing for attention in this space, rather than focusing on how to unlock learning through a more focused approach.  It’s sort of like a company where no one really leads social media and everyone thinks they are doing it…….that rarely goes well. 

Here is what the emerging cities are doing that is exactly the same for leading companies who are accelerating adoption of social media. 

#1 – The Emerging Leader — a leader steps up and leads, with or without formal acceptance and just makes it happen – I doubt Joe Thornley was elected to do this….Sabine sees the value and holds a conference..Jackie Huba did this in Austin years ago.  In your company, no one is going to anoint you as social media czar.  You have to decide to lead and the best companies and leaders in this space are doing exactly that. 
#2 – Purity of Learning — the focus is on learning.  No selling, no hidden agendas.  When I was at Dell, we started our bi-weekly Web 2.0 meetings to do pure learning.  We could only talk about future innovation.  We all need to get out of our routines and open our minds regularly.   
#3 – No Favorites — entrepreneurs, consultants and corporations all work together.  There is one goal – learn about social media.  It does not matter where you are from.  Inside companies, you want multi-function learning.  We want lawyers, IT, HR, Marketing and all other departments joining us. 
#4 – A Routine — Third Tuesday is the best example.  We need to know we can share our thoughts next month.  Same place, same bat channel.  No routine, no mojo.
#5 – Humble – real learning occurs when we are confident enough to admit we don’t know everything.  Getting together with your peers shows how we are all learning about the same topics and it is ok to not know everything.  Inside companies, think about how you can create these “peer moments” to learn.

I’m confident Toronto, Vienna and Austin will continue to lead.  What other cities are doing this well? 

All the best, Bob

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

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  1. Lisa Pearson said

    Insightful, interesting post and the city/corporate analogy is so true. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly and inclusively Austin embraces all forms of technology (I came here via NYC and SF).

    I appreciate the clear way you’ve laid out best practices — all good reminders in general. Thanks.

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