Your Customers aren’t “Users,” they are “Participants”

Robert Scoble makes an interesting point about how many businesses view their customers online:

“I’m tired of getting used by companies who just use and use and use without giving me anything in return. I remember three years ago when I first heard the words “user generated media.” That term still pisses me off. I’m not a user, I’m a participant… The participants are in control there. It is your business.”

His comments come in light of news that he is leaving his current position at Podtech, and he explains the type of business he wants to step into next.

In once sense, the “user vs. participant” distinction is a matter of semantics. We all know that many businesses are evolving to involve their customers more, and reacting to changing customer behavior.

However, Robert’s point reflects a shift in power that businesses are just beginning to understand. A good example of this is the launch of Coke’s virtual world: MyCoke.

Instead of creating a service that integrates into the places and services that people enjoy using online, Coke created a walled off area where they were fully in control. “Users” of this service have to create another login, and are “allowed” to explore Coke’s version of other services.

This type of relationship is consistent with the traditional power model: our customers will adapt to our terms.

That is not to say that model won’t always thrive. But new models are emerging, and Robert (as usual) seems to be exploring the forefront of this movement.

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