This week, the LeWeb conference went down in Paris. It attracted a serious group of big names. Chris Pirillo (the Lockergnome), Gary Vaynerchuk (a geeky wine expert from New Jersey), and many other “important” people you may well not have heard of. Among them: Robert Scoble, a guy whose name has become synonymous with using Twitter all the time.
LeWeb, itself a mostly unimportant get-together of self-congratulatory geeks telling each other how smart they are, nevertheless attracted big media coverage. Why? Social Media isn’t just hot, it . . . matters. OK: actually the press coverage was because social networking is hot, but it still matters. And Robert Scoble illustrated it for me this morning, by talking about the way the French do business.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Paris trying to do business with not only the French but other non-Americans, I can tell you that in the U.S. we display a cultural oddity: we think service matters. Don’t get me wrong; the finest restaurants in the world are not in this country, and service is understood in that capacity pretty much everywhere. But Americans look at the service aspect of business and believe it to be tied to success. Elsewhere, this isn’t usually the case.
That’s business change! Twitter comes along, and we’re all talking about ourselves. People who don’t get it are scratching their heads about why Twitter matters, but “I’m eating breakfast” messages aside, it’s redefining the way we communicate, and who we listen to. And that translates to “who we do business with”.
So social media looks dumb. You don’t care what I ate for breakfast. But through it, for a cost of almost zero, you can reach the whole world. And they’re listening, because LeWeb is there, and they’re having people like Chris, Gary, and Robert as their speakers.
Of course, listening is only the first step. If the kind of behavior Robert Scoble is complaining about doesn’t change, French entrepreneurs won’t reach the rest of the world, and we won’t reach them. But social networking is the game that can make the change possible, and in today’s business environment you’d better be playing.