I just read a post by blogger /consultant Chris Brogan on Cafe-Shaped Conversations, where he explores how social media allows small intimate conversations and how that might or might not be what corporations are interested in, and when they are, how that might not be such a great idea for the rest of us.
As Community Tech Steward of the World Café, I know that conversation about things that matter is not just a marketing strategy, but one of the keys to human survival. It is in large part conversation (on a number of levels) that will carry us through the formidable global challenges that stand before us now. And online communication tools will no doubt make a key contribution to how we have those conversations.
How exciting it will be to have a President who really understands the power of the individual voice … I can't wait to see how Obama's presidency will effect participatory citizenship and this whole area. Online interaction needs to become a cultural meme that goes beyond digital natives and "geeky types" like me if it is to fulfill its potential.
But back to business, what Brogan and the World Café are calling Café Conversations (small intimate interactions that can connect with and feed into larger collective awareness) are important to large and small companies for many reasons beyond product sales and marketing.
Conversation is now becoming recognized as a core business competency and World Cafés are hosted in corporations just as often as they are with health and educational institutions, government, neighborhood groups, and anywhere else that conversation can increase communication, address challenges or help build a sense of community. It's only a matter of time until many of these conversations are happening online.
You've probably noticed that more and more conferences are moving to an interactive model, based on small group conversation. Increasingly, conference organizers are realizing that attendees are tired of "talking heads". There is so much more to be gained by an approach that calls on the collective intelligence gathered in the room, and engages everyone in a conversation where the "experts" and those in the audience (who are often equally as knowledgeable) are on a par.
So what I'm saying is that there's an analogy here that expands the power of conversation and online communications way out beyond marketing and product sales for businesses, and it's still just beginning.