In this session from Techonomy 2011 in Tuscon, Ariz., Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick asks Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel Corporation, how the corporate landscape has changed since the rise of consumer empowerment through social media and the Internet. Also appearing in this video: Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick: The landscape has changed and that it used to be if you were big enough you had an empire and you could sustain it with entropy in a certain sense. Maybe that’s the wrong word. Momentum. You used to work at AT&T.  A lot of your career was there. That was a classic example of the ultimate empire at one time. Do you think that the landscape is fundamentally different and that you have to prove yourself more every day, and is that just a given to you?
Hesse: I think the answer is yes, and part of it is the way that people can communicate so rapidly. First of all, I think that consumers have more choices. Again, that’s always an important element of it. But it’s not only the feedback that they provide you but if customers are unhappy you get, basically bad press out there on the blogs, and that’s one of the reasons—I mean we actually have 2000 employees who volunteer to help us communicate our message in addition to our communications and PR departments. We train them on the products, on etiquette, on transparency, which is identifying themselves as Sprint employees if they’re on blogs or what have you. It’s extremely important to make sure that your point of view is heard. They know who it’s coming from, but that you always have an opportunity to do that, because things could get out of hand very quickly.
So I do think things have changed. I think, first of all, the industry structure’s changed.  Our industry is so much more competitive than it used to be. But customers get almost, if you will, perfect information so quickly on what’s good and what’s not good, what works and what doesn’t.
The other thing that’s very interesting is the power of the individual, on the one hand on the press side. I think that there’s a lot of unprofessional press that’s out there, if you will, just the consumer, but also in terms of reviews. The interesting thing that we watch, and that’s why we let consumers, in addition to on our website for our various products and phones, we put what Consumer Reports thinks and CNET thinks and all of the professional reviewers, but we also let everybody who comes onto Sprint online vote, and you see reader scores and ratings as well. It’s amazing how important that is.
Kirkpatrick: Sort of an Amazon-esque sort of way.
Hesse: In an Amazon-esque way. But others—we realized that within certain circles there could be somebody who has a particular blog and is extremely influential. But I think, as we all know, if our friends say they like a song, a movie, a restaurant, I get good service from this provider or this phone works really well, that’s extremely powerful. And that is shifting.