7 Reasons to Read “Empowered”

by Contributor on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 in Social Media

I read “Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business” (Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, Harvard Business Review Press) over a multi-leg trip that had me speaking on social media from Toronto to Orlando.  I was so engrossed in the book that I found myself wanting to skip out on my sessions and duck into a vacant room to furtively knock off another chapter.  It is pretty much that good.  (I also found myself wanting to scrap my deck and instead persuade everyone in the room to become highly empowered and resourceful operatives in their organizations, or to support the HEROes on their own teams.)

You see, most business books that center on social media teach you how to swing a hammer.  Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler show you where to place the nail.  If that metaphor works for you, “Empowered” will work for you.  If not, there are any number of tactical social media books that will likely satisfy you more.

It’s also refreshing to read a business book that’s written by someone with actual writing skills. The disappointing reality is that most readers no longer hold business writers up to much of a writing standard.  They exist to deliver information, nothing more.  But “Empowered” is very well written – and not in a “in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king” kind of way. The pace, the voice, the word choice, the humility, that balance of examples and counsel, the varied sentence structure, the personal disclosures all combine to produce a very good book – not just a very good book … for a business title.

“Empowered” also respects the reader.  Bernoff and Schadler know their audience, and, although they are the ones imparting knowledge, the duo never writes down to the reader.  It’s informative absent pedantry.

But all the blogosphere loves a list, so to package this post up in a way that the Web prefers, here goes.  A list of the seven reasons you should read “Empowered”:

1.     It’s funny: “Comments from your own Twitter feeds and content from your Facebook Pages are catnip for [Mass Connectors].” Not your average metaphor.

2.     It’s purposefully visual: The visuals advance the reader’s understanding of the message being conveyed.  In most business books, graphics are employed to “prove” the content is important (“look, it’s got a chart, this must be real!”).  But not “Empowered.”  The easy-to-process illustrations complement and emphasize the companion text.  As they should.

3.     It’s actionable:  In one chart I noted that 16% of software buyers express their opinions on the web.  Eloqua has 50,000 users.  Now I have a lofty but measurable goal: How can I get 8,000 of our users to talk about our software?  (Also, as I re-read dog-eared pages prepping for this post, I found a note scribbled in a column: “Type this and paste to wall.”)

4.     It’s fresh: There were a number of stories that were absolutely brand new to me (the NHL’s use of tweetups, Philadelphia Eagles’ use of SMS, Black & Decker’s use of video, BBVA’s use of blogs).  And even the ones with which I was familiar (United Breaks Guitars, Comcast’s sleeping tech, and Ford Fiesta), the freshness of the writers’ perspective made it valuable to re-read the cases all over again.

5.     It’s diverse: It’s remarkable how diverse the examples are.  From global conglomerates like IBM, to household brands like BestBuy, to industrial organizations like SunBelt Rentals, to the smallest of small businesses like rentvillas.com, “Empowered” proves that not only can HEROes make a difference in businesses of all sizes, but also that businesses of all sizes can learn from one another.

6.     It’s inspirational: The reader won’t walk away feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.  Never does the sentiment “you are too late” or “the industry has passed you by” emerge.  Every reader will walk away from this book feeling like there is still time to surf this wave, it hasn’t crashed on a foreign shore just yet.

7.     It’s right. Empowered employees allow companies to react faster, innovate smarter, serve customers better, and, most importantly, drive changes deeper.  Also the mantra “when customers are empowered, customer service is marketing” jumped off the page.  That statement should be the battle cry of this generation of marketers.

Of course, one thing I learned when running communications at BzzAgent is that word of mouth is less credible if it’s 100 percent positive.  It’s in the thistle of criticism that peer referrals find their power.  So with that in mind, there was one item that didn’t quite work for me.  I felt like mobile was a little shoehorned into the book.  This isn’t to say that mobile technologies aren’t massively important – if anyone doesn’t think the handheld will be the dominant form-factor of future communications, they should turn in their Web 2.0 membership card – but rather that mobile seemed over-emphasized for this particular premise. To return to the opening metaphor, it felt as if the mobile-related content was more about “swinging the hammer” than “where to place the nail.”

That said, the authors’ knowledge of the mobile space is without rival.  So even if that particular chapter felt disjointed from the rest of the content, the reader still walks away with a deeper and more current understanding of what is arguably the most important sector in technology.  Not a bad consolation prize.

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