Brian Solis is now on Katie Couric’s radar. Or I should say Katie is on his. Solis took the time this week to talk to us about what it was like to interview Katie Couric, the language of the c-suite and why user privacy issues are one of the most important topics of 2011.



Recently Couric, the most famous interviewer in media today, sat down with Brian Solis, the most famous name in social media today, for her own interview. Solis recently released (R)evolution, a 14 part video interview series with journalists, industry experts, lawyers and other important thinkers today.

Solis somehow has managed to be omnipresent in the last ten years giving him some kind of micro-celebrity. Solis is the co-Founder and Principal of FutureWorks -- he’s also an author, keynote speaker, start-up adviser, writer and now video journalist.

With the video series (R)evolution, and his new book Engage!, Solis is continuing to push the envelope with how we as a society think about communication, information sharing and corporate structures.

One of three videos wherein Brian Solis sits down with Katie Couric in her office for a three part interview.

Blake Landau: What was it like interviewing Katie Couric?

Brian Solis: This is Katie Couric. The Katie who interviews anyone who’s anyone. Now I’m in her office as…me. So as you can imagine at the beginning it was a little intimidating. If you watch part one, two and three the answer is hidden in my body language. I was really nervous. How I’m sitting grabbing my clipboard. But by the third interview my body language changes. I’m fully turned towards her. Katie Couric has a personality that’s inviting and warm.

BL: In your interview with Forrester Analyst Josh Bernoff he talks about Barry Judge, CEO of Best Buy. He talks about Best Buy’s culture of empowering employees and “half baked ideas”-- including the popular Best Buy Twelpforce program. Bernoff adds that empowering your employees doesn’t work unless you’ve created a management framework.

BS: In my book Engage, I have included Blueprints for new workflow and business dynamics. Best Buy aside, you can look at companies like AT&T or Comcast. You have two organizations with well-known problems. Both companies took to Facebook & blogging with what appeared to be the intention of solving problems.

In reality what they had done was they created steering groups. For example, Blake say you complain about AT&T on twitter. The company apologizes and then finds out the part of San Francisco in which you are located. They say “Blake here’s the number you can call so they can make it a priority area.”

In reality the magic of social media is what’s behind the scenes. What is the person who is engaging you really doing with your customer data. Do they take it to the organization and work on it? Push the information right back out? Instead they are using this as PR.

The company is listening and engaging but the infrastructure has to do something with the information. Think about the idea of “social CRM.” You hear about social CRM from people like Jacob Morgan -- this is where social CRM becomes important. They need to socialize business processes internally to improve experience and become a more social experience. Some companies are doing great things in this regard. Think of Dell, Best Buy or Virgin America.

I have published numerous diagrams for businesses I’ve redesigned. I started with Ciscon -- to redesign parts of their infrastructure. I’m doing it with a whole bunch of other companies. It’s not about social media per say -- but rather about showing them how this change going on today will impact everything else in their business. I have to show them how this will impact everything -- a facet of a bigger discussion of about losing revenue

I could do research right now with time and energy that would show you based on what’s happening on Twitter & Facebook -- how much will AT&T lose when the iPhone goes to Verizon. I could take that to AT&T and they would freak out.

BL: If the value prop of investing in social is so clear, why aren’t more companies looking into it now?

BS: Because social media is supposed to be the playground for Millennials. Some companies get it, like Starbucks or Zappos. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos understands how to create a company culture that respects the higher power of purpose and people.

The tools don’t matter. The people matter. You have to recognize that you are not as in control as you’d like to think. Leaders like Tony get it. Champions like you and me have to fight the good fight but we smack our heads against the c suite ceiling. You have to translate it into the language of the c-suite.

Change management is a long hard road.

BL: What is the language that the c-suite speaks?

BS: They speak data, markets, money, shares -- all of the things that exist today. It’s a matter of adapting. When I talk to a company I am using all of the same tools that you and I now know how to use.

I know where to look for these tools -- and I can tell you how sentiment will affect the company over time. This includes projections and prediction algorithms. I can tell companies how not paying attention to social will hurt overall business five years from now by showing them bonified data and math. Executives need to ask themselves am I in the right organization right now? How much longer until I am ousted?

BL: I see the topic of fear coming up again and again in your answers. My question for you is there’s talk today about self-proclaimed social media experts who scare their prospects into purchasing services. What do you make of this accusation?

BS: In social media consulting we can consider the idea that everything has its opportunities. Social media is among those. It is the responsibility of the customer to research the individuals who are helping them with their social strategy.

I’d like to think consultants aren’t intentionally duping people into buying their services. And the question is how do you tell these experts they are actually not an “expert.” If they’ve created a brand for themselves using Facebook and Twitter it’s hard to tell these individuals they don’t know what they are talking about.

I will say that I’m one of the few people that I’ve known who has actually gone into an organization to fight and present a social media strategy and change the organization. And I’m talking about some of the biggest companies in the world.

When I talk about my experience I hope it shows. Otherwise I’m equalized with the rest of them. What’s the difference between Brian Solis and so and so somewhere in Hayward.

BL: In your blog you quote author Gabriel García Márquez who says, “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” Why is this quote meaningful today in light of the (R)evolution video series?

BS: It’s relevant today because I believe that -- while social media is fun and exciting because it connects us with people we know and love -- it requires someone to pay attention to significance. It forces me to ask myself which one I am broadcasting [public, private or secret].

You have to stop and ask yourself, ‘am I just tweeting, updating my status or leaving digital shadows for anyone to find?’ I know I need to be more cognizant of what it is I am portraying and why.

We are seeing what is going on with Wikileaks -- we see that this is not about privacy, it’s about secrecy.

BL: On a related note, in your book Engage you have a quote from BusinessWeek that says, “To prevent information leaks and other liabilities, companies are drafting guidelines for social media interaction. A rule of thumb: Don’t be stupid.” This was written before the Wikileaks scandal. Can you comment on how your interview with Stanford Law’s Ryan Calo is relevant to what is going on today?

BS: [In regard to privacy policy] Ryan Calo said “don’t just tell us your privacy policy -- but actually show us.” He’s taking it upon himself to understand this. That individuals, consumers and every day people will never ever read terms of service.

They will never do or say the things you hope or want unless they are guided or led -- actively encouraged -- engaged in a more productive or collaborative manner. At the same time none of us went to school for this [social].

This reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite people Stowe Boyd, “It’s our dancing that makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, not the code.”

One of the take-aways I had from Ryan was “we should all be a little more mindful. That means they build the stuff and we define what it is and where it’s going. We need to take that a little more seriously.

This reminds me of a Spiderman quote I love. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

In the book somewhere in there, I say the true power in social media is that what’s going on today, it is the complete democratization of information. We the people are making sure our voices are heard. That is the essence of Wikileaks. Its mission is to expose secrecy -- to give people access to the information that they deserve. Social gave a forum for individuals for information. To grant access to people like you and me. Anyone with a blog or Twitter account can say how they feel

Wikileaks shows promise and the reality of more hurdles ahead.

BL: Can you talk about the idea in your videos of “social anarchy”?

BS: Social anarchy is based on chaos theory. You have the bigger enterprises that I’ve worked in. The project generally starts with an audit -- a sentiment analysis etc. One of the more effective things to do is to look at an audit from the outside-in perspective.

That means customer, supplier, end-user, etc. You need to look at it as if you are the one seeking information. What would that look like? It’s not just social -- it’s email, Twitter, all of the above. You get a different perspective -- this is co-creating and producing an outside perspective. Social anarchy includes governance, process and putting guidance in place.

By involving all employees in social, without a strategy, the company faces great risk of brand dilution. I’ve seen companies get the spirit of social media -- they joined Twitter, Facebook and started blogging.

They had thousands of employees publishing and tweeting ‘til their hearts delight without directions or purpose. Each individual had their own voice and branding elements. What they were doing was demolishing the brand. Without any clear process there is no brand integrity.

For example let’s look at Apple. Apple does not have a social media team. You, me and the rest of us who use iPhones and Macs make up Apple’s social media team. Imagine if Steve Jobs started randomly tweeting. If the thousands of Apple employees started tweeting the company would not continue to control the brand perception and experience. Social anarchy is all about diluting brand experience.

For more on Brian Solis visit his website at You can also find him on Twitter @BrianSolis.