Businesses, or more aptly those who manage them, are often focused on assets - the buildings, machinery, equipment, real estate, and investment vehicles owned by the corporation - and pay little attention to two key groups of people (employees and customers) on whose activities their success depends. Without the employees, nothing can be made. Without the customers, nothing can be sold. Without either, the business would simply not exist.

And yet, companies place very little interest in either, and make little investment in developing their relationship with either group, except to acquire them or get rid of them, no differently than any other raw material. Some companies will declare that people are their most valuable resource, or at least begrudgingly admit they are somehow necessary ... but their actions do not indicate that they value either.

The author alludes to a culture in which people are undervalued. Parents teach their children to be "seen but not heard," the school system teaches students to listen and obey, and this carries forward to the working world: employees are supposed to follow orders and carry out tasks, not to contribute. And customers aren't treated much differently - companies issue orders through advertising to "buy our products" and the way in which customer feedback is handled (through automated systems) demonstrates that they consider customer input to be a nuisance to be minimized.

I decided I couldn't stay in real estate. It was too inhuman an industry for me. I wanted to hear from people, not just lease them space in buildings. I truly wanted to understand their wants and needs, and give them a voice. More importantly, I wanted to understand how I could change what I was doing, based, at least in part, on their input. Finally, I believed that if businesses could convert customers and employees into friends, fans, and followers, real value could be created.

The author relates his experiences in the real estate business - as a young and inexperienced worker, he had a notion that his company should engage with tenants to determine what they need, and seek to better provide for their needs in order to retain their future business. The response he got, when he finally got an audience, was tantamount to a declaration that "if they don't like it, they can leave." And taking this to heart, he got out of the real estate business.

(EN: My sense is that if the author had worked in real estate during a "bust" era in which his employer had a lot of empty space to fill, the notion of customer service would have garnered more attention. When customers or employees are in short supply, businesses demonstrate - or at least feign - a less domineering attitude. When it's a seller's market or unemployment is up, they snap back into miser-mode.)

The notion that people are important occurred to the author in 1997, and he didn't have much luck getting his book published at the time. The notion of networks and communities was regarded as bizarre and unrealistic. But by 2001, it began to garner more interest, and a few years later, "social media" was all the rage. Yet companies still seem confused about it: they want to cash in, but are having difficulties overcoming their reluctance to consider people to be anything other than disposable resources.

Hence, this book, which is written for those who are taking an interest in social media and wish to learn about the potential value of people with an eye toward leveraging the power of communities to succeed in business.