A core theme of Global Neighborhoods is the concept that power is moving from large organizations into communities. The people who most greatly influence these communities are those who are most generous to them.
Because if what he accomplished during his three-year tenure at Hitachi, Data systems, a division of the Japanese traditional top-down Global 100 company, Jeremiah seems to me to be a poster child for how companies can adapt and strengthen their positions, not through expensive ad campaigns, not by expensive command and control PR campaigns, but simply by encouraging employees to serve the neighborhoods where their customers, prospects and yes, competitors hang out.
In fact, Jeremiah took what he learned from a family experience into Hitachi. He had used a family blog and a wiki to plan a reunion to the rural South China village of Da Ling from which his branch of the family had migrated five generations ago.
Here's his complete interview. Excerpts will be part of the book.
Q1. It dawns on me that I know very little about your life before (HDS). Can you give me a brief synopsis of your professional/personal background. Any colorful, little-known factoids?
I started playing the piano at age 4 and was steeped in the classics until I discovered jazz in high school. I once aspired to be a professional jazz piano and trombone musician and even got to perform once at the famous San Francsico Fillmore West. But after a while, I discovered how hard a road you have to follow to be a professional musician
In the middle 90s, I fell in love with the web. After I graduated, I started my career at Exodus Communications as a UI designer. After it went through a rough period, Exodus was acquired by Cable and Wireless and I eventually moved on to World Savings where my job was to help unify the enterprise Intranet. I joined at Hitachi in 2003.
I'd like to think I that common threads through all this is my high energy and creative spirit. They both still runs strong within me.
Q2. While at HDS, you did a remarkable job of building a community around the rather mundane subject of data storage. Can you tell me a bit about what you did there and how it may have changed perspectives of HDS?
I was fortunate to have an executive management that believed in me.
I had a vision to create an online community around the company, to reach out to customers and to open up communications. We started first with thought leadership blogs, and then was able to scale out online forums, an industry wiki, podcasts, and other multi media. I was able to formalize my role, as Community Manager. In hindsight, it would have been more appropriate if I had been called the Community Advocate.
As dull and mundane as data storage may appear to an outsider, like you Shel, every community has it’s passions and evangelists. I reached out to these folks and in so doing, I think I helped bind the relationship between them and HDS.
By providing resources and value to the community, which implies not pitching or selling to them, i learned community members would reach back and embrace you. One of my best-known programs was creating the Data Storage industry wiki, which was intended as a resource for storage practitioners. It was considered "unnatural" for a vendor to link and promote competitors but I did it anyways. If it helped customers I would put it on the wiki. The community celebrated this and I was able to build relationships and bring folks closer to me and the company I represented.
This also had a transformative impact on HDS employees as well. They began to open up. We launched our end user forums and product teams and customers were able to communicate online with Hitachi people and the result was HDS could build better service and products in near real time.
How cool is that?
Q3 That is pretty cool. But you also tried to bring HDS closer to the blogging community.Why on Earth did HDS sponsor the Lunch 2.0 event?
In 2006, the web industry caught its second wind. Many companies emerged with business models that encourage openness, community and creation of content from people who did not have technical skills. The most relevant change was the ability to publish content on blogs, podcasts and video. This explosion lead to new opportunities for data to be stored, backed up, protected, and categorized. After yet another internal evangelistic effort, I was able to get Hitachi to host a rotating Silicon Valley community event called “Lunch 2.0."
Hitachi had the facilities to comfortably host a couple of hundred guests. In the spirit of community, we empowered 10 data intensive web companies to demo their products, network with others, and learn about our own offerings. We used blogs to spread the word, and there was a large online conversation after the event that spread into the blogosphere. Because we used word of mouth, the cost of making the event successful was very low.
The community responded with significant blog praise, hundreds of photos, podcasts and even videos. No company can buy a marketing campaign that authentically comes from the community.
By giving to get more, it was a success.
Q4 You recently started at Podtech. I know a few folk over there and the geeky guy on TV is pretty good. But your expertise is corporate community building. How does that fit into Podtech and how does your presence there change Podtech?
Many of Podtech’s customers will need to understand social media, the impacts it has on corporate and personal communication and how companies can use these tools. Leveraging mistakes and successes, I plan to help customers to use these tools, and when appropriate, to use Podtech services to assist. Although my expertise is in community, my background is in Web User Experience and Web Management, I plan to assist with the direction of the Podtech site where it makes sense.
Q5. So your professional theme really is communities, but recently you seem to have adopted some of your corporate technique and adapted it into a family-oriented application. You organized a family reunion. Tell me first, how the idea for the reunion evolved.
Many families are using the internet to learn and connect to other members, both immediate or distant. I’m no different. I’ve created a few online websites devoted to my family, updated wikipedia and created a Yahoo Group. A few hundred individuals who carry my surname or are have connections to the bloodline assembled online. Since then, we’ve had a real life reunion and organized for us American Chinese to return to our roots in China. Given I’d already visited our home village in Canton China, I was a likely candidate to carry the mantle of leadership.
Q6. How did you use social media technology to organize this reunion?
Wikipedia and online forums were instrumental .
There are Owyang family members all over the world. Over several months in 2006, I started planning for the "Owyang Heritage Tour," as we called it. We communicated via email, online forums, and I even issued an online survey to determine the needs of family members.
Q7 How did what you learned and experienced at HDS apply to organizing this event?
I think it was the other way around…although I didn’t realize it, my first attempts at organizing community was around my online family community. It came so natural and native to me, to do so with the Data Storage industry wasn’t new or difficult. It was much more challenging to drop the corporate firewall to join the conversations that are happening in the marketplace.
Q8 Tell me about your family reunion.
The reunion was really a full circle event. Several of our family members had never been to China, let alone to our ancestral roots. The village welcomed us. We were able to retrace our roots in our family tree, meet our distant cousins and visit my great great grandfather's home. For one, my father had never seen his grandmother’s grave and we were able to pay our respects, for us this was full circle. Now that we’ve established relations, we will continue to build.
Q9 When we talked earlier, you mentioned two anecdotes, the treatment of your aunt and the encroachment on a family burial plot. If they were not too personal, can you share them with our audience?
As mentioned in our family blog about the trip, Chinese culture is very male dominated. In family trees, the males take prominence over females. At times, this is awkward for Westernized culture where equality is fought for and sometimes met. Some of this culture gap was manifested, as the Chinese national elders would recognize my uncles in the family above my eldest aunt who represented her branch.
In my previous trip to China, with the help of my wife’s family, I was able to find my great grandmother’s grave. It was shrouded with jungle foliage, and in bad shape. We were able to restore it to a presentable condition and I paid my respects, one which was to kiss the grave on behalf of her American decedents.
Apparently, in the six years that followed, the local area experienced mass industrial, commercial and residential growth, which are now encroaching the gravesite. Some of the village leaders noticed how important this grave is to us, even if we’re thousands of miles away. They fought for the grave to remain untouched, and it stands now, even while development grows around it. What happens in the future is unknown, although I know we won’t be able to defend against the progress of China forever.
Q10 .Could this entire event have occurred without the wiki? What would it have taken?
The wiki, like all web tools are wonderful vehicles to speed connections and communication. Wikis rank very high in search results and make a natural first place to look for family roots.
Q11 What advice do you have for someone who wants to plan a similar event?
Use the internet to find your family and genealogy. Likely there are already groups forming. The world is connecting online faster and faster, soon there will be much less than six degrees of separation.
Q12. Additional comments?
You can contact my PR agent, Jeremy Pepper for further communications