What I learned in Europe
by Josh Bernoff
I've just come back from 11 days in Madrid, Rome, and Milan, where I met an incredible variety of people at client meetings, tweetups, press briefings, and every other imaginable way. Since you couldn’t be by my side, I thought I’d share what I did and what I learned.
I knew from out data that social technology is spreading rapidly through Europe, but I was surprised to learn that American social networks were catching fire – the Spaniards told me they’re all in Linked In, while in Italy the populace is rapidly embracing Facebook. And corporate interest in social technologies is similar to the US, although fewer companies have gotten to that point.
Before the trip. Forrester sales and consulting set me up in each city. But I had to initiate the blogger events myself. Learned: You can count on the kindness of strangers (friends, followers), just check them out online first.
Visit to Telefónica. Telefónica is one of the largest communications companies in the world; their headquarters is like a city, including an underground mall. I talked to them about use of social technologies for collaboration in the largest conference room I’ve ever seen. Learned: When you have 250,000 employees spread over many countries, social applications for employees are a huge deal.
Groundswell speech at the Center for Innovation of BBVA, a large Spanish bank. Talked to Web 2.0 experts, bloggers, and reporters in two sessions. They didn’t ask many questions, but wrote quite a bit. Learned: Don’t mistake silence for lack of understanding, especially when working with people for whom English is not their first language.
Workshop with staff at BBVA and my colleague Rebecca Jennings. I continue to be impressed with the breadth and depth of BBVA's social technology offerings; this is the most advanced bank in the world when it comes to social technologies. For example, they have built Tú Cuentas a tool customers can use to benchmark their spending against their peers, and Actibva, a financial community. Learned: Once a company gets started with applications, the pace of social applications accelerates. Have seen it here and at Dell, Intuit, Best Buy, and other places.
Dinner with bloggers in Madrid. Learned: When it comes to food, trust the locals.
Meeting with Francisco González, chairman and CEO of BBVA. Learned: It's no coincidence that BBVA is so advanced -- progressive thinking comes from the top. Senior management of an old-world company can be surprisingly insightful when it comes to the future. Keep an eye on this company.
Speech to media company executives for Siemens, in Rome. On the way to the speech, a pigeon bombed my suit, hitting pants, jacket, shirt, and tie. (It had to be aiming for me.) I followed a specialist on body language which made me self-conscious about my hands during the speech, and then my slides malfunctioned. Participants still found it valuable. Learned: When speaking, if you prepare well, trust the material and be confident no matter what. Also: when walking in Rome, wear a broad hat or carry a parasol.
Day of collaboration in Rome with a colleague I’d never met in person before. Learned: If you really want to get to know someone, walk around a strange city together.
Evening with Roman bloggers. One of them turned out to be a freelance writer for the largest Italian business newspaper. Learned: Seek out the influential bloggers wherever you go.
Sightseeing in Rome with Shelly Palmer of Mediabytes. Both of us had been to Rome before, but we found the crypt of the Capuchin monks fascinating. Learned: You can turn anything into a blog post, including dead monk bones.
Evening with Milan bloggers. Milan is a real hotbed of social technology activity; I met fascinating people including the fascinating Funky Professor, who told me about Poken, a social technology pendant for wearing and sharing. I’m eager to learn more.
Visit to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. I loved this museum, especially some of the displays of technology evolution throughout the ages. And it’s in a beautiful Renaissance building. If you’re in Milan, don’t miss it. Learned: Beautiful useful machines certainly didn’t start with the iPhone. Look at this absolutely gorgeous, ergonomically interesting telegraph machine -- you can bet the operator was in love with it.
Evening event for Italian executives, put on by Google. This event completed the trip and the variety of settings. I’d spoken in a techno-fortress at Telefonica, a remodeled classical building at BBVA, a luxury hotel built over ruins in Rome, and now in Milan I was set up in a totally mod space featuring techno lighting and music. The Milanese executives were too senior to be a twittering crowd, but seemed quite appreciative nonetheless – and my jokes and insights appeared to survive the translation. Now we’ll see if any of them take the plunge. Learned: When speaking to executives in stylish Milan, it pays to get the pigeon poo cleaned off your suit. Also, when on the bill with a piano player, make sure you go first.