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Socialising Business
by Mark Smith

The first time that personal communication between two remote parties took place (if you ignore bonfires, smoke signals, flashing lights, semaphore, yodelling, Tonto and his ears/ground method etc etc) in an electronic sense was on March 10th, 1876 when the eminent Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell said to his assistant, one Thomas Watson"Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you."

Disappointingly prosaic though that was, this simple instruction began a revolution in communication which still shows no sign of stopping…

It was a much more humble ‘Bell’ moment that led to the creation of ContactEngine. We were wrestling with how to connect phone calls to the web in real-time so that calls could be broadcast live from anywhere in the World. At the time the applications seemed endless, and since our first live streamed call from the middle of the Atlantic a few short years ago we have had over 16 million users of ipadio.com – our original ‘big idea’. It’s what we did next that was most interesting.

In truth we’d only the vaguest notion of how our technology might be commercialised, but undaunted we opened a website that allowed (and still allows) users to register and broadcast for free. We also figured that the community wasn't ours to provide (the content was too diverse for that anyway) rather that the early pioneers of social (FacebookTwitter and the like) were growing like topsy so our job was to allow people to link up to their own community of choice. So we socialised.

This approach taught us many things – the feature list of ipadio.com is in good measure reflective of users suggesting things we’d benefit from adding. But also we discovered the other beauty of social was that users have jobs, and when they see technology that might have applications in their own businesses they called us and asked if we could do the same kind of comms for their people. That was how ContactEngine was born, a tool that provides numerous communication channels to help companies be more efficient in the way that they engage with their colleagues and customers.

The reason this connection between social and business came back into my mind was a meeting I had a couple of weeks ago with a large clothing e-retailers who were explaining that ‘millennials’ (people half my ruddy age) didn’t use SMS or phone-calls to engage with their brands – rather it was all done via an app. I get that (well ish, I did wonder why they had such a large call centre ;-) and it’s all fine and dandy when things go well, but as logistics, fulfilment, floods, Xmas, and all that life throws at us, get in the way then actually comms outside of an app is really rather important. And as the conversation developed Twitter popped up as one of the most common channels of communication with millennials. And so the circle of life does another turn – as we were born being social, moved into business comms and now we’re back being social in a business context by using Twitter as a short message service.

Or as Alex Bell should have said ‘Mr Watson, do you think one day I could order a new jumper on this thing?’

Sadly Watson’s reply is lost to history, though I sincerely hope he said ‘maybe, but I’d much rather know what my mates had for breakfast’…

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