Listen Carefully and Please Don't Shout. Charlene Li talks about business and social networks


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It's not about technologies, it's about the relationships you can form with them, Charlene Li told a packed auditorium on IESE's campus today, giving a modern twist to 1960s communications theorist Marshal McLuhan's famous dictum that "the medium is the message." Li, an authority on social networks and founder of the Altimeter Group, told her audience, "It's all happening out there on social media. The only choice you have is whether to engage in the dialogue or not."

In the opening session of the meeting organized by HSM and IESE and sponsored by MPG, she said that companies are not only slow to wake up to the advantages of social media, but many of them actively avoid it. "Young people expect to have access to these tools and yet half the companies in the U.S. block access to social networks," she said. Sharing comes naturally but in companies it's often actively discouraged. "If you don't know how to share within the organization you won't be able to do it in social media such as Facebook," she said. Managers should encourage internal social networks within the company, she said, adding that it gives employees a sense of empowerment and breaks down barriers.

Li advised company directors to go to social sites and do a simple search to see what people are saying about their company. "It's not just about listening, it's about learning and changing," she said. "To consumers marketing often feels like someone shouting at them. That is not a dialogue. You need to join the conversation but you have to have the conversation with your customers that they want to have."