The Perfect Customer Experience

Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

The Perfect Customer Experience - Turning Satisfied Customers into Advocates – Dale Wolf, Editor

Steps To Creating Your Own Marketing Manifesto

There are signs of life in the economy.

Bright glimmers of hope are starting to radiate from what had been some ominous, dark clouds of an economy that looked to be in retreat. Jobs continue to be created, industrial production is nearly back to its pre-recession levels, blue-chip stocks have re-couped their losses, and consumer confidence is finally climbing. These are the glimmers of hope that show an economy on the rebound.   You can see the data that backs up these points in last week’s Wall Street Journal column, The U.S. Economic Recovery Shows Signs of Accelerating, but Still Has Lots of Ground to Cover.

Make no mistake, a recovery is on the way.  It’s time for each of us, as companies and people, to get up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and get back in this fight.  Fear still has many companies and people frozen however.  But the best way to kill fear is to completely commit yourself to your goals, plans, objectives with intensity and passion.

The best strategy of all is to double-down on what you stand for and who you are.  It’s time to revisit your marketing manifesto, both at a personal and corporate level.   Why?  Because when the rebound gathers more momentum and hits, it will be too late.  It’ll be like trying to get in shape for a very long, fast race when the starting gun goes off.  Now is the time to get in shape for the rebound.  That’s why you need to consider your own marketing manifesto for You. Inc.  And even if you work for a company today, your own marketing manifesto is even more relevant – because in the end each of us are actually in business for ourselves, regardless of who signs the check.  Here are five ideas on how to get started:

  1. Define yourself by your competencies, expertise and passion and forget about titles. When economic growth hits full stride and this rebound fully takes hold, the people who will be excelling and benefiting from it will be the ones paying the price right now of working to excel at their jobs, not hunkered down in a bunker somewhere. Continually learning, striving to excel, working to create value for customers, that needs to be part of anyone’s manifesto right now. The best marketing is based on  solid, real results.  The results of people who are now choosing to pay the price of extra effort will be the ones way ahead when the rebound fully takes hold.  Titles come and go, but who you are and what you stand for, and your willingness to excel – those last a lifetime.
  2. Kill Fear With Passionate Goals. It amazes me, how many of the students  have in classes have exceptional analytical and writing skills.  Yet they sit in class, silent, not sharing what their brilliant minds are thinking.  The majority of them are Asian and Middle Eastern young women who, being new to the United States and from cultures that taught them to be silent in groups, are afraid to say what they think.  They have such potentially amazing careers ahead of them if they could just crush the fear of speaking that holds them back.  Go find your passionate goals in your career, and in your life, and use them to kill fear now.  Life is too short to go around being so afraid.
  3. Be relentless in your pursuit of intelligence and knowledge.  Make no mistake, when the rebound hits the people that will be getting paid the most and progressing the fastest made the decision months or even years ago to pay the price of being experts in their fields.  In whatever shape the economy takes in the coming months and years, your titles from this year or years past will not nearly be as important as what you know.  How quickly you can solve complex problems, the value you deliver, your ability to avert problems for your customers – all great skill sets that come when there is a passion for continual learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s not where your diploma is from either, it’s how passionate you are about learning over the long-term and your ability to translate that into results that matter most.
  4. Hit the gym and start training for the rebound – you’ll think better and be stronger. The excellent article this week in Scientific American How Exercise Jogs the Brain makes many outstanding points about how increased energy supply allows the brain to work faster and more efficiently.  As part of any marketing manifesto, there must have energy to propel it forward.  Working out and making yourself stronger for the rebound is key.
  5.  Realize economic fatalists and pessimists love company – choose to say “no” to them and “yes” to your goals and the vision of the future you want to make a reality.  A truly great marketing manifesto makes the decision to say “no” easy because there is a much bigger, compelling, valuable and important ”yes” waiting to get done.  Say “yes” to your goals and define yourself by them.  The fatalists want to see economic failure to make their theories correct.  Refuse to ride on that train of thought, find compelling goals, objectives and create a manifesto you can be totally committed to instead.

Bottom line: With an uneven yet promising recovery on the way, now is the time to define who you are, both as a company and a professional, creating a manifesto that gives you many more reasons to say “yes” to your goals and “no” to the naysayers, negative, pessimistic people who may drag you down.

 

Ten Ideas for Increasing Performance of Your Social Media Strategy

Nearly every marketing manager, director or VP who is attending my MBA class in International Marketing tells me that increasingly larger percentages of their budgets go to digital over traditional marketing.  The primary driver is social media and the urgency to stay on top of what is going on with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the relentless need for content to fuel their corporate blogs.

The students in my class are divided on the value of corporate blogs however; some see it as critical for defining thought leadership and others use them purely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  While they are split on this issue, the class is unanimous that the era of digital marketing driven by social media is here and moving very fast.

What does Success Look Like in Social Media?

Just based on my class alone, only one in ten social media programs today is delivering on the goals they were designed for.  That’s just 10% of social media programs attaining the goals they were originally funded to achieve.  We’ve spent a good two to three hours debating this in class, looking at success stories of BestBuy, Comcast, Southwest Airlines and many others.  What I really like about teaching at the MBA level is that you can have these debates in class and everyone gets very engaged, even passionate about their beliefs.  It is a great learning experience for everyone to just hear the varying opinions.  Based on these discussions and analysis of our own companies, the following ten ideas for improving social media strategy effectiveness emerged.

  • Be original and define key performance indicators that closely capture progress to your awareness, selling and service goals.  The most successful social media programs the students had run and we studied were bold and defined their own key performance indicators and metrics of performance.  Those managing these programs were not afraid to define their own unique metrics, creating an entirely different approach to defining success.
  • Realize that defining success of social media strategies on popularity and clicks alone, followers and fans is like watching mile markers disappear in your rear view mirror as you speed down a freeway. They are both comforting as they show velocity and distance – they are great measures of progress – but what’s more important is the direction and time to the goal.
  • Give each social media channel you explore a good year of effort to understand prospects’ and customer’ expectations with regard to how and what information is delivered. Personas emerge from each social media application or platform over time; watch for the nuances of differences as they will show how prospects and customers vary in how they choose to get information.  Behavior varies widely across social media channels as does participation.  Take a good year to track that and understand it, with no expectation of payback. Once insights are gained by personas, making strategies work is much easier.
  • The best content is compelling and evokes strong emotions through stories. This is a major point and a secret that emerges from the analysis our class did of successful social media strategies.  The companies charging out of the recession right now appear to have found a way to use stories to change the frame of reference and priorities of potential customers.
  • The best social media marketing campaigns tend to be run by people more on a mission of service than salary. You can definitely see this in the case studies and the inspiring stories from the marketing directors and VPs in my class. Better to hire for passion and find someone who wants to excel at this, and who has social networking innate skills including communicating, collaborating and conflict resolution.
  • Planning for customer complaints by giving front-line social media strategies control over escalation paths and budget to solve customer problems is a win. The companies we reviewed in our case studies that range from BestBuy to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines to Comcast all defined escalation paths for dealing with customer problems.  Customers choose which social media channel to learn from, they also choose which to complain through.  Anticipating and planning for that, and creating escalation paths as part of a social media plan pays off in responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • Capture user complaints that come in over social media and analyze them to see how you can improve products, services, the customer experience. This is a radical concept and underscores the mindset change that must pervade companies if social media strategies are ever going to succeed.  Instead of seeing your most loyal customers’ complaining as a pain, look at them as a source of ideas for improvement.  It is a chance to understand how you are really doing; pay attention to what is being said and find insights on how to improve.
  • Failing fast is the best way to learn how to make social media work. Companies hung up on every plan being flawless all the time will find it tough going in social media.  The mindset of failure providing the insights into how best to define shifts in strategy and approach stood out in our class analysis as a key success factor.  Failing fast is a mindset that a social media team has to embrace to succeed, and that means continual experimentation until a given mix and approach works.
  • Use Google Analytics to gain insights into what types of content matter most by each type of social media and audience. One of my students found that engineers liked blogs the most and Twitter the least, while one student who runs and electronics distribution business found Twitter-based offers with urgency associated with them worked well.  Using Google Analytics, you will be able to see trends in how your various content is used by each social media application.  It is free and invaluable in the lessons learned.
  • Set up social media marketing teams to win by giving them the budget, freedom and autonomy to make the needle move on key performance indicators. Much of what is going on today in social media marketing is experimentation – the trouble is that it is not called that – especially in front of C-level executives funding these programs.  It’s time to level set expectations and tell the truth: social media is a long-term investment and the rules and assumptions used in other media just don’t work.

Bottom line: Taking a mindset of experimentation over perfection, creating your own metrics over popularity-based ones, and failing fast to learn as much as possible increase the chances of success with social media strategies.

Process simplification becomes a matter of survival.

The processes we use to deliver our products and services become the fingerprint of our organizations. They are how we get things done. They determine our productivity. They define our company from the competition. They reflect out to our customers and tell them who we are and whether we care about their needs.

On the other hand, our processes can take on a life of their own and become a bewildering maze of handoffs. They grow complex and proliferate, making us more difficult to work with. They remain labor intensive and paper-driven. In many companies, these proliferating processes come to reside in functional silos with the corporate left hand unable to communicate across the maze efficiently, quickly – or, sometimes at all – with the corporate right hand. The result is internal and external complexity and confusion.

Simplification becomes a matter of survival.

We know instinctively that there are rich opportunities in restructuring our processes. And staring at our dropping ROI and listening to the thunder of our competition’s feet in the background, racing to overtake us, we are painfully aware of the need to do something and do it now.

The Value of Your Product to the Customer Sets the Boundaries for Process Change:

 It is easy, once you’ve set your mind to change your process, to be enthused by all the things you can do to improve efficiency, reduce delivery costs, and engineer new products. This is largely good but runs the risk of being destructively self-reinforcing, of making the benefits you’ve identified grow in importance as they are talked up internally beyond what a reality-test of some kind would permit. That’s a potential trap. No amount of process improvement means anything unless it enables you to deliver a product perceived by your customer and prospect base as having value to them. “Behind any winning strategy must stand a superior value proposition – a clear, simple statement of benefits that your company will provide, along with the approximate price you will charge each customer segment for those benefits.”[1]


[1] “A business is a value delivery system,” Michael J. Lanning and Edward G. Michaels, adapted from a McKinsey staff paper

Leveraging a Great Value Propositon into Great Customer Experience

Information-based strategies leverage expert knowledge of the profitability, preferences and transaction histories of individual customers to increase the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service. To transform your ho-hum, run-of-the-mill value message into an eye-popping, head-turning, “must have” proposition that positions you head and shoulders above the competition, we suggest you implement the following solutions:

  • Define what makes your product-service offerings unique and better than those of your competitor.
  • Improve customer service and market it as a key differentiator.
  • Offer value-added services to your most profitable clients.
  • Provide highly customized, one-to-one relationships, through a personalized marketing and selling environment.

4 factors are either barriers or opportunities; good or evil.

Understanding our barriers gives us the ability to size up our situation more objectively, and to see where extra effort is needed to smooth the path to success. “While we look for new ways to serve customers, I don’t want to do anything to upset what is already working.” This comment came from the CIO of one the world’s largest financial services providers “We now have 28 different mainframe databases. We spend half our annual budget keeping these systems working with each other. How can we gain leverage when we are fighting every day just to do the basics?”

Four high-level factors are either barriers or opportunities; good or evil.

  1. People and Politics – People are either attributes or detriments. I find it somewhat amazing when working with some of the best companies in America how often, inept people reach senior positions. Everyone around them knows it, and they know it. That is precisely when internal politics becomes a factor that limits success. Inept people in positions of power play politics to hide their inabilities. When they make mistakes, they point fingers. Wars break out. If these people are not identified and given training to strengthen their ability to lead wisely, they will need to be demoted to a position in which they can be effective or be dragged off the bus.
  2. Process Resistance – Another form of fear is the disruption of process improvement. Transformational leaders need to spot the fearful and help them see the benefits of change. If they stall progress to protect their current position, they need to be pulled aside and shown how they can succeed when the organization needs to update or improve processes. Resistance or silent subversion cannot be tolerated.
  3. Culture – This is the way “we do things around here.” Every organization should strive for a Culture of Productivity. When laziness, absenteeism, missed deadlines, relational conflict, lack of respect for others or other such negative factors become embedded in the culture then costs go up, over-staffing occurs and value to customers drops.  Culture then becomes a barrier to success.
     
  4. Resources including Technology – Failure to equip people with the resources they need to do their jobs well is a huge talent-waster. If leadership expects the people they have hired to do the work and achieve their goals, it must provide everyone on the team with the resources to do quality work in a timely manner. Leaders need to be skilled at understanding every job in the organization and know what resources are needed. If finances are limited then a plan should be put in place to prioritize the most critical resource needs and then acquire those left unfilled as soon as they can reasonably be provided.

Customer Experience Marketing: The Value-Strategy Scorecard

Your list of customer promises will be added to the Value-Strategy Scorecard – a tool for evaluating how well you line up with customer expectations, and where you want to refine your marketing strategies.

The Value-Strategy Scorecard illustration below defines what a particular strategy looks like from the customer’s point of view. Have a panel of customers from each of the targeted Personas rate the match-up. Also have key employees within your company rate your ability to deliver on the promises. Place a symbol in each box to indicate how the product strategy aligns with customer needs. Use a High, Medium and Low scale where H = 10, M=5 and L=2. If there is no match, leave the square blank, where Blank=0. If you want to place “weighting” of the entries, limit yourself to no more than three High’s, Medium’s or Low’s to force a tradeoff between factors.

 

For a finer-grained look at Value-Strategies, break down each overall strategy into its component parts. Examples might include: reliability, durability, appearance, cost, ease of purchase, quantity, service, speed, accuracy and emotional satisfaction.

 

Total the columns and graph the results for a fast visual impression of what the Scorecard is telling you. Which Personas are worth pursuing? What products will align best? What communication strategy factors will resonate best with reality of the market?

There is one more piece of reality that must be analyzed to answer these questions. Where are the gaps? Which of the highly valued factors do your targeted Personas take for granted and are mandatory and which are they not now able to satisfy … either from you or from your competitors?

Plot out the highly valued factors that are not now satisfactorily delivered. Have them rank those factors on a scale of 10 to get a sense of priority. Then have your staff rank the same factors on a scale of 10, based on consensus opinion of your ability to deliver. The difference between these two groups gives you a metric on which factors you most need to improve so you can delight customers with exceptional value.

You now have a quantifiable means of looking into Reality and using metrics to guide your customer experience marketing strategy.

Mesh with the Experience your Customers Want

We insert our conversations into a point-of-view (POV) that already exists in the customer’s mind.

But this time we are armed with the axiom Yes-Maybe-No. Still our job is not easy.

This point-of-view (POV) includes values, beliefs, biases that collectively determine how we engage in conversations with our friends, associates and with the companies from whom we buy things.

The POV explains how we can see the same information and make totally different decisions.

Changing the POV is difficult and often impossible.  Early adopters are a very small subset of any market.

  •  It is hard to convert a Republican into a Democrat.
  • It is hard to convince an alumnus of Ohio State University to support Michigan University.
  • It is hard to convince a vegetarian to eat at McDonalds.
  • It is hard to get a cost-driven purchasing agent to buy a high-end product.
  • It is hard to get a CIO to put versatility ahead of security.
  • It is hard to get a brand-loyal shopper to switch to a new brand.
  • It is hard to … well, you get the point.

Our task as customer experience managers is to leverage the POV that already exists in the minds of our customers. You gain this leverage by first identifying clusters of customers who share a certain point of view. Then you can frame your conversation in terms of that viewpoint.

Customers sniff out imposters fast so your conversations must be authentic … you cannot lie your way into a point of view. A good conversation engages the audience fast and holds them tight with relevance to what they already believe. If it does not ring true, the conversation is over.

Customers are listening for what’s new and different and relevant to their needs and beliefs. If your story is unique, they will listen and then make a very quick decision to engage in the conversation, or not. Once the customer has decided that the story fits into her POV and hears a few supportive factors, the customer will stick around to hear the complete story. If it continues to ring with authenticity, the customer will move with you – might even consider altering the POV – and share the story with other people who have a similar POV.

The Acquisition Power of Yes-Maybe-No

With the “Yes-Maybe-No” axiom in hand (see my previous post: The Axiom for Changing the Customer Conversation), you can now map out the entire campaign for conversing with every customer in your database; not just those two percent who might say “yes” but now to the 98 percent who have not yet said “yes.”

Now a “no” response is just as important to you as is a “yes” response.

Let’s see how this might look in a customer experience initiative where you want to invite prospects to attend an educational Webinar.

    • The mailing goes out to 1,000 individuals.
    • 20 say “yes” when they go to your registration landing page and sign up (the typical 2% response rate). Your pre-planned action for any “yes” response is to send back to them an email with instructions for attending plus a whitepaper that positions you as an expert on the subject.
    • Another 20 say “maybe” when they go to your registration page and request more information be sent to them by email. You have now collected their email address which goes into your customer database. Your pre-planned response for “maybe” prospects is an email with a sample audio clip. Of these, 10 come back and register. (The other 10 are moved into your “no” list … but we will ignore this complexity for the moment).
    • You hear nothing from the other 960 prospects on your mailing list. Normally, you would ignore these people until your next episodic campaign in a couple of months. But instead, your pre-planned action for all “no” responders is to send them the same mailing a second time (statistically this always produces a bump that is about half the number of “yes” responders). From this group who get the mailing the second time, you get 10 responders who are now fulfilled as “yes” prospects. The remaining 950 get another touch to encourage participation … in this case, our pre-planned action is to have the telemarketers call 50% and to send the remaining another mailing with a promotional overlay as added motivation to register. The telemarketers call 480 to discover if they are interested in the Webinar topic and to gain further information regarding their issues and needs. The telemarketers gain another 20 attendees. The information they gather is entered in the customer database. The upgraded mailing is sent to 480 and it gets a 5% response rate for an additional 24 attendees.

 

You have launched a new kind of customer conversation.

Instead of the 20 who said yes to the initial mailing, you now have a total 74 attendees. But even more important, you have initiated a different kind of conversation with your marketplace. The task is to learn something new about each of your customers every time you talk with them. You begin to string these conversations together into a longitudinal experience, you collect information about their needs, wants and expectations and you use this information to fine-tune future conversations.

This then launches a different kind of promotional sequence. Instead of the quarterly episodic direct mail initiative, you begin running more frequent but smaller campaigns to customers who have similar attributes or needs. The campaigns are smaller, but the returns get bigger. You can move from 2% response rates to 50% and higher. And your marketing programs will begin delivering greater value to your customers. Marketing then shifts from being an intrusion to being a valued part of the relationship between your company and your customers.

The axiom for changing the customer conversation

Conversations can be a lot like watching a game of soccer. Players on two teams run back and forth until someone finally scores. If you do not know the rules and the strategy, the game looks confusing and with no apparent rationale. Just a lot of running around.

When we are in a conversation with a segment of customers, we send messages out. Some break through and cause a response; others just ricochet into oblivion. Such conversations appear to be a lot of running around with no strategy to guide it in a purposeful direction.

A customer calls your customer service line and gets one answer and they go on your website and get an entirely different answer. You send them a statement that is confusing so they call your sales rep. He can’t help because he’s never seen the statement. The whole thing seems like an unmanageable, quagmire. Mostly when you talk to them, you hear nothing back. Sheer frustration.

It can be confusing until you understand one essential axiom for changing the conversation. The customer must do one of three things whenever you contact her.

Knowing this axiom gives you a means of managing the conversation.

  1. The customer can say “yes” and respond back to you.
  2. The customer can say “maybe” and send back an ambiguous response.
  3. The customer can say “no” and ignore the fact that you were even talking with her.

There’s great power in knowing this.

When you send an outbound message, the customer can only do one of three things. The customer must choose. Once chosen, you can then respond back with a pre-planned next step. This then, is the molecular structure for each conversation and it provides a pathway to a manageable process. No matter how the customer responds, you are ready to keep the longitudinal conversation going.

Nine Strategies to Tie Your Social Media Efforts to Sales and Customer Service

By Louis Columbus

Social media is enough to make any Marketing VP think they’ve found the Promised Land. Online global communities with easy access, no cost to participate and literally millions of people and companies joining every month, driving traffic estimates to the stratosphere. Social networks and their blistering growth is everything a marketer could ask for.

Yet is it?

Companies need to stop an ask, “How can our existing marketing, selling and service processes be strengthened by social media? Can they be strengthened, or is this a distraction?” Where companies have challenges is when they jump into social-media strategies complete with Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and executives blogging with very broad, difficult-to-measure goals, if they have any at all. With so much potential to improve each marketing, selling and service processes, it is better to take the time and define a set of goals first. The following strategies have proven to be successful at helping companies do just that.

  1. Dedicate a person to making social networking work for your company. It requires constant focus and ongoing strengthening of relationships — either online or in person. If you want to succeed with social media, give someone the role full time. This is not a task that can be spread across a cross-functional team or given to someone to do only part of the time. If you want measurable results, get a person dedicated full time and also give them the authority to make decisions for customers quickly. Set them up to win in this role, and as a result, your company will come across as much more focused and responsive. The bottom line is that social networking is also all about connecting with people. Make sure your company is presenting a person — not just a logo — to interact with.
  2. Benchmark the strategies that you plan to integrate social networking with. This will give you a baseline of how each strategy is working prior to integrating them into social networks. Common approaches to do this include creating landing pages that have specifically been designed for social-networking sites. Isolating the effects of Facebook or Twitter, for example, on a landing page optimized for the audience your company has on these social-networking sites will quickly tell you if you are converting clicks to prospects.
  3. Match up individual social networks to strategies based on compatibility with goals and markets. Twitter has found a home in many companies’ customer-service strategies due to its rapid conversational pace and ability to make discussions private through direct messages if needed. Facebook fan pages work well for those brands that have a strong fan base — like Apple, for example. Services companies are using on Facebook put more of a human face on their customer service to make themselves more approachable and easier to buy from in the future. Choose which social networks best compliment a given strategy for best results.
  4. Create a social-media road map that shows when and how each will be used in each strategy. This is important because it will be another data point you can use to measure performance of having social media involved in each strategy. Trending of each strategy’s results will show whether or not social-media strategies are paying off.
  5. Use Google Analytics to get real-time results of strategies using social media. Once a given social media platform has been chosen to match the unique needs of a given marketing strategy or campaign it is time to measure the results. Google Analytics is excellent at this. Using this free analytics service, you can measure landing-page performance by campaign — tying back to the original social-media platform you chose to use. Google Analytics provides free codes that are inserted in websites, microsites or landing pages.
  6. Never stop adding valuable content to your microsites, websites, blog and Facebook pages. Offer free advice and over-deliver value. The companies that are excelling at social-media strategies and generating prospects do this with a passion. Just as it takes a dedicated, full-time person in your company to make social networking happen, consider how you can get your most prolific writers and content providers motivated to deliver content regularly. Be generous in the content you give away and get the annoying opt-in screens that have so many options out of the way. Be a thought-leader and freely share knowledge and insight; don’t force prospects to fill out a massive opt-in form; it no longer works.
  7. Don’t fall for the popular metrics including follower counts or just looking at Web traffic alone — both are incomplete. Influence is based on trust, not popularity. The ability to change a person’s perception then action really defines the meaning of “influence.” Follower counts, if anything, are a measure of churn. Pay no attention to this metric; it is really irrelevant to actually building a connection with customers and prospects. The same is true of Web traffic. Taken in isolation, it is meaningless, but in the context of landing-page analysis based on a targeted strategy, it means much more.
  8. Lead nurturing in social media needs to focus on engaging and helping a prospect to solve problems, not sending them more white papers or collateral. This is why having someone dedicated full time to social media is so critical. The segments or groups of followers your company interacts with on each social-media platform will change over time, often becoming uniquely different from each other. Staying on top of this and devising ways of keeping your company relevant can be an excellent way to keep these target segments focused on what your company has to offer.
  9. Use Google Analytics to link opt-in pages by strategy and campaign to lead conversion. Tracking landing pages that are dedicated to each specific media platform being used in your strategies can in turn be linked to lead conversion rates. An example would be the Twitter-specific landing page promoting a 15% discount on any follower who downloads the coupon in 24 hours. Using lead management and escalation systems, it’s possible to make this link between landing page opt-in and lead conversion. Tracking this also shows the effectiveness of the promotion in each social-media platform. From that, it’s clear to see which social-media platforms, running which promotions, are generating the greatest potential sales.

This is an edited excerpt from Louis Columbus’ ebook “Using Social Networks to Increase Channel Selling.” Louis Columbus has nearly 20 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in market and industry analysis, sales, product management and development. He’s held senior positions at Toshiba America, Lockheed-Martin, Intergraph, and immediately before joining Cincom, as a senior analyst at AMR Research. Mr. Columbus is a frequent contributor to industry publications and has published 15 books on operating systems, peripherals and industry analysis. In addition, Mr. Columbus is a frequent lecturer in Webster Loyola-Marymount University’s graduate program on International Business. He writes for these blogs: http://softwarestrategiesblog.com, http://productconfigurator.cincom.com and http://acquire.cincom.com/blog.

Getting Results From Your Social Networking Strategies

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems

Socialnetworks We’re all getting reminded every day to take ownership of our digital brands and jump on social networks. For companies the pressure they put on themselves is enormous.  So strong in fact that I’ve heard of CEOs monitoring follower counts on their corporate Twitter accounts a few times a day. It’s no surprise that in the past six months there have been more companies joining Facebook, Friendfeed, and Twitter, starting executive blogs, podcasting and videocasting than ever before.

Many of these companies have no idea if these efforts are paying off or not.  Some have no idea if they are actually helping their brands to be seen as more knowledgeable and trusted.  Best case they are educating prospects and consumers, worst case they are quickly earning a reputation for spamming their followers.  It’s time for a reset of expectations on social networking strategies as a result.  The initial excitement any company’s marketing and PR departments generates by creating accounts and blogs quickly gives away to tracking popularity-based metrics instead of ones that can lead to long-term results.  This is a major problem for companies attempting to get results from their social networking strategies today.

Social Networks Are Not a Popularity Contest

Unfortunately many companies including the CEO of one I know of check follower counts like other CEOs check their stock price – religiously and often.  I’ve noticed this popularity contest mentality in companies I’ve been tracking for years as they venture into social networking.  They get a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, YouTube Channel, LinkedIn account, get Wikipedia pages done, even a Flickr account, and maybe even have an executive blog or two set up.  Once created all of these social networking accounts never gel together; they stay separate and often send confusing, even contradictory messages.  It’s easy to tell what’s going on internally. Social networks are being evaluated only on one metric: popularity.  The longer a company only relies on that single metric the longer the social networking efforts fail to deliver.

Making Social Networks Relevant To Strategies First

Conversely there are those companies who take a different approach to social networking and use its innate strengths to better communicate with and serve customers.  They realize customers own the experience, a great point that Paul Greenberg makes in his latest book, CRM at the Speed of Light, 4th Edition.  I highly recommend you pick this book up and read it. Paul does a great job of showing how companies who are getting the greatest value from participating in social networks are customer-driven. They create entire strategies based on the strengths social networks give them to connect with customers and aren’t afraid to be accountable for their customer service performance.  Paul’s book is a great framework for learning how to transform your company using social networks to better connect with customers.

Making It Happen Now

After having read Paul’s book and also from the observations of companies as they move into social networking, some attaining success while others struggle, the following lessons emerge:

  • Begin with the customer in mind first. If you are going to bring lasting change  into your company where social media is concerned, this is the point to get  really passionate about.  Be strong and keep the customer at the center of every social networking strategy, because in the end, serving them is all that really matters.
  • Get your company to quit spinning its wheels on popularity metrics.  Best case this is a measure of upper funnel marketing and PR performance or interest.  Worst case it is a measure of how well you are imitating your competitors who may also be evaluating social networks on popularity-based metrics alone.  This goes nowhere, get away from this metric and get more focused on how your strategies can be strengthened through social networks.
  • Accountability is King.  You have to admire the courage of companies who have had problems with customer service in the past yet they get on social networks with the intention of being accountable.  Transparent. Real.  The buck stops with the managers who run these customer service accounts on Twitter Facebook and other apps.  I suspect there are those B2B and B2C companies who lack the courage to do this, to be accountable for their customer service performance in real-time over social networks.  Yet it is only a matter of time until one of their competitors decides to target their customer base with exceptional support, service and introductory offers, no doubt winning many over.
  • Drive and measure metrics by strategy not by social network.  This mindset needs to dominate companies who are adopting social media.  It is the only way to see if the investment is paying off or not.  Measuring customer satisfaction by which support channels most contributed to its growth instantly shows the relative value of staffing Twitter and Facebook accounts with support specialists and managers for example.  Using metrics to measure engagement and interest rather than just extrapolating click-based activity is a far better predictor of a sales lead. Segmenting audiences using social networking tools for list and audience management are far more effective in generating feedback on new product ideas than broadcasting it to an entire Twitter follower base.  Define your strategic objectives for the year and then map in social networking strategies where they can make the most contribution.  This is a great way to make sure social networking initiatives and strategies don’t go off on their own tangent.
  • Staying ahead of the content curve by finding passionate contributors, using collaboration systems is critical.  On social networks it’s been shown time and again that you get what you give.  When it comes to content, the fresher and more relevant, the more valuable entire marketing, selling and service strategies become.  Consider using collaboration technologies internally to get all the relevant content in your company organized, and use unstructured data analysis tools to fully use this content as well.

Bottom line: Strengthening your marketing, PR, selling and customer service strategies with social networks deliver more measurable and relevant results than focusing on social networks alone.

Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/silvertje/3582297307/

Social Media are Your Ears into the Marketplace

Is the customer in charge?

Consider the following illustration from Sloan Review written by Jeff Bernoff and Charlene Li.

Based on life in a fictional town after a nuclear explosion occurs nearby, the CBS television series "Jericho" developed a moderate-sized but intensely loyal following after its debut in 2006. But in the spring of 2007, after a two-month hiatus, Jericho resumed airing in a new time slot — directly opposite FOX’s hit "American Idol." Not surprisingly, ratings dropped, resulting in the show’s cancellation.

But CBS and the producers of "Jericho" had created a forum on the network’s Web site where followers of the series could interact with each other, and in the wake of the show’s cancellation those fans decided that something had to be done. Led by Shaun Daily, a San Diego online radio talk show host, people began to organize and devise ways to get CBS’ attention. Taking their cue from a "Jericho" character whose favorite expletive is "Nuts!" they settled on a plan to send packages of peanuts to the person responsible for canceling the show: Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. Soon Tassler’s office had received 20 tons of nuts.

The easy thing for Tassler would have been to ignore the groundswell and reinforce her own ultimate power over programming decisions. But she instead engaged with Jericho’s online fans, requesting on their own message board that they rally their friends to watch the re-launched show in 2008 to help boost its ratings. Nina Tassler thus avoided the potentially costly mistake of canceling a TV program with an active, loyal fan base. And as a result, CBS has strengthened its connection with viewers, which will prove advantageous for future research and programming decisions.

This is just one example of many in the Sloan Revew article that goes on to suggest practical ways to harness social media for business applications. It is a MUST READ.

Web 2.0 Taking off in B2B — Forrester Research

Cambridge, Mass.— Web 2.0 projects that make a positive customer experience are becoming more critical elements in business strategy. Web 2.0 will play an increasing role in Forrester Research projects that nearly one-quarter of businesses will make implementing Web 2.0 technologies a major software initiative this year.

The report, “Top Enterprise Web 2.0 Predictions for 2008,” projects business adoption of Web 2.0 applications this year including social networks, RSS and mashups.

“To date, most IT departments have resisted Web 2.0 tools, often viewing them as consumer grade, of secondary concern to other major IT investments or simply frivolous,” said Oliver Young, a Forrester analyst and author of the report.

However, as IT departments start to see the value of Web 2.0 applications to solve worker problems—such as document tracking and help desk ticket resolution—they will begin rolling them out more broadly, the report concludes.

Forrester also projects that more mid-tier Web 2.0 vendors will enter the market this year.