Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Interview with Charlene Li

Tuesday, October 27, 2009. Mistakes in social media are inevitable – after all, you’re building relationships and what relationship is perfect?” “Focus on the relationships, not the technologies.” - Charlene Li

I was eager to speak to someone with authority on social technology and networks and had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell, on October 27, 2009 in her Altimeter Group office in California. Ms. Li is a social technology thought leader, and the Altimeter Group founder, which is a strategy consulting firm that provides a pragmatic approach to emerging technologies to companies. The four areas of focus at Altimeter are: leadership and management, customer strategy, enterprise strategy, and innovation and practice.

When I did a Google search for Ms. Li, I found the Altimeter Group and saw a contact number for her. I gave it a shot and called the number and she immediately answered the phone. In introduced myself as a Columbia University Graduate student with in interest in information and digital management and asked her if she had a few minutes to speak to me about social networks, especially about how the older generation is adapting to this type of communication and technology.

Ms. Li said that she has seen a growth in baby boomers and seniors using Facebook to mostly stay connected to family, friends and colleagues. The reason why it was taking them so long to use a social network site was because this generation held back because many friends were not using it themselves; therefore, they did not have anyone to connect to. Eventually, when more people started using it and the word was spread around for them to join, it started to bloom. Another delay in usage was the fact that the older generation did not grow up using this type of technology, and they also worried about their privacy. In fact, the older generation had the notion that they should not share their experiences with anyone because some of their cultures forbid them to do this; therefore, this taboo was difficult to turn around. Next, I asked Ms. Li what she thought about the difficulty older people are having in adapting to new technology. She said that this generation did not grow up using computers and they will not be able to keep up with the younger generation because younger people had a head start using computers, the Web, and all other different technology at an early age.

My next question was what social networks do most of the older generation use. She said that Facebook is being used by the older generation because it has an easier format for them instead of MySpace, which has a lot of customization that they do not really grasp yet.

Also, some older professionals are using LinkedIn because it is geared toward business collaboration. She said that it is the largest professional network with over 50 million members and growing rapidly. What impresses the older generation about this site is that it connects them to their trusted contacts and helps them exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals.

Regarding how organizations should start to think about using social networks to promote themselves, Ms. Li said that organizations need to focus on relationships and the group that they are targeting to attract them to a particular social network instead of using it for marketing purposes. She felt that people want to use sites like Facebook to only communicate and they are not that interested in using it to market an organization. This trend may change, but in the meantime, people like to just stay connected to their family, friends and colleagues.

The last thing I was interested in was how people and businesses are using Twitter, and Ms. Li said that the growth of businesses using it is starting to take off now. Even if it makes a lot of noise, it is a good way for businesses to send out short messages of information if you need to reach a lot of people quickly. Another challenge is that people sign up and then they drop out because they lost interest in it so we have to see if this loses popularity.
I ended my interview with Charlene Li and thanked her for taking the time to speak to me. She was very gracious and thanked me for calling her. She suggested that I look at her Facebook page to get more information. I plan on posting more on Charlene Li when I look at her page, and if I have more questions, I will contact her again.


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  2. This is a really interesting article, Lisa. I did my thesis on social networking and love learning new things about the topic.
    Great interview! If possible, would you be able to add an MP3 or audio file of your next interview?