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Michael Sansolo wrote earlier this week about a tale of two videos, and how the ability of people and companies to communicate and network over the Internet creates both opportunities and challenges.

One of the great opportunities it offers all of us, it seems to me, is the access to innovative thinking. For example, there was a terrific story that I read recently in the Chicago Sun Times about three students at Valparaiso University who developed an application for the iPhone called “Battery Go!” that allows you not only to know how much power you’ve got left, but also how much time you’ve got to use the phone, the Internet, listen to music or watch video. Now, it never even occurred to me that I needed that application…but now that I have it, I use it constantly.

It isn’t just me, by the way. “Battery Go!” is hot in the US, Italy, Brazil and the Netherlands, among other places…and suddenly these three students, who were concerned because none of them could land an internship for the summer of 2009, and they expect to make at least tens of thousands of dollars from “Battery Go!” At the very least, that’s better than they would have done in an internship. And, they’re trying to figure out what the next “killer app” will be, because suddenly they are alive to the notion of possibility.

Equally in touch with the social networking possibilities is Southwest Airlines. You may remember that recently there was an incident that involved a hole the size of a basketball opening up in the fuselage of a Southwest plane, which resulted in a lot of people on the flight and on the ground using Twitter and Facebook to document both the problem and the company’s reaction to it. But just as important, Southwest has an in-house Tweeter – or Twitterer, depending on what dialect you prefer – who used these social networking tools to advise the community at large how the airline was responding to the crisis and what it was doing to maintain and assure passenger safety. That was a story that only lasted a day or two, and I’m convinced that it’s at least partially because Southwest got out in front of it.

Indeed, that’s pretty much the conclusion drawn by the Wall Street Journal, which earlier this week had a story about how companies are using these social networking sites to gauge consumer opinion, publicize their own opinions and positions, and avert PR nightmares before they can even start.

And Fast Company made the following interesting observation this week:

“Consider for a moment that the humble Amazon product review can nullify millions of dollars of ad spend, that a search for ‘best razor’ on Google can route around all of Gillette's best efforts to communicate the ‘best a man can get,’ and that a ‘hate Comcast’ group on Facebook has the power to drive a consumer straight into the arms of DirectTV.”

These are all good reasons you have to engage: people are engaging all around you, and it is important to be part of the conversation, to help shape the narrative about your brand. While they never will have the total and domineering control that they had back in the day, this is a way to part of national, even global, conversation about our brands, our customers, and the expectations they bring to the marketplace of products, services and ideas.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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