ORLANDO, FLA. — This is the year that social technologies can actually be used to accomplish business goals. That's the takeaway delivered by Josh Bernoff -- vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies -- in his keynote here this morning at Nuance Conversations 2008, the annual users' conference for Nuance Communications.
By supporting customers with the groundswell -- a social trend in which people use social technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions such as corporations -- Bernoff told attendees that businesses can help customers help each other, and those businesses can benefit in the process.
Noting that corporations are often threatened by the increasing power of social technologies, Bernoff outlined a four-step process known by the acronym POST --
-- through which businesses can harness the groundswell.
[In related coverage, Bernoff and his Groundswell co-author, former Forrester analyst and current independent thought leader Charlene Li, were named among CRM magazine's Influential Leaders for 2008. CRM had previously written about Groundswell itself, including a Q+A with Bernoff. Here at destinationCRM.com, we've covered a joint Bernoff/Li presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo in April 2008, as well as a presentation that Li gave at Li gave at the recent Eloqua Experience conference, following her departure from Forrester and the opening of her own consultancy, The Altimeter Group.]
The first step -- People -- requires corporations to make an assessment of their customers' social identities.
"If your customers are college students, then you really have to connect with them [using] Facebook because that's where they are," Bernoff said. "If your customers are 65-year-old retirees, then maybe MySpace isn't the right place to connect with them."
Once a company understands the people it's trying to reach, Bernoff says it can begin to focus on step two: Objectives.
"This is why ‘Yes, let's do a blog' or ‘Yes, let's do a wiki' is the wrong strategy. Instead you need to decide what to do," said Bernoff, who noted that different departments within companies match well with various aspects of the groundswell.
"You have a research department, in the groundswell you can listen to your customers and learn from the things they're saying to each other," he said. "You have a marketing department, in the groundswell you can have conversations with them, talk to them and have them talk to you. You have a sales department, in the groundswell you can energize them to sell each other. Your support department can actually save money by enabling them to support each other. And you have a product development department that's coming up with new product ideas, in the groundswell you can actually collaborate with them and embrace their new ideas."
According to Bernoff, concentrating on objectives allows for a shift to the final two steps: Strategy and Technologies.
Bernoff described the "Strategy" phase very simply: "Plan for how your relationship with customers will change. You can't do this and then stop it, like you would with an ad campaign. This will create a permanent change in your relationship with your customers."
The final step brings the entire process together, he said. "Lastly, you decide on which technologies to use. By starting with the people, objectives and strategies you are much more likely to succeed then if you start with the technology."
Bernoff showcased numerous examples of companies benefiting from the groundswell, citing a participant in Dell's online community forum named "Predator" who has posted 20,452 times since 1999.
"Now what's in that community forum?" Bernoff asked, rhetorically. "There's lots of questions and answers about how to solve problems with Dell computers. His answers have been viewed over a million times by other people and since 1999 he's been online 473,000 minutes, which, if you do the math, means that he's been online for about 120 full time days a year, every year since 1999?"
Bernoff recalled tracking down Predator, who told Bernoff that his thousands of online posts were motivated by a desire to help people. "He posted 20,000 times because he likes to hear people say 'Thank you,' " Bernoff told attendees. "And I put this up here not because it is unusual but because it is typical of what happens in these online environments. That's what drives them -- the psychic value of a thank you."
Bernoff calculates that Predator's online postings have significantly reduced the number of incoming support calls -- and saved Dell $1 million since 1999.
"Once you implement these things...it changes your long term relationship with your customers, but it also changes your company," he says. "You will begin to have customer feedback in all your processes. As a result of hearing what your customers want, your development can be much faster.... You can try things out...and sometimes they fail, but you'll fail more quickly and in a smaller way because you're in constant contact with your customers."
Bernoff told the crowd that the groundswell also breaks down internal boundaries within companies.
"The support department becomes a resource for the development department because you're giving them information on what questions people have -- information that can be seen right in the community," he said. "Your research department ends up working with the development department as it finds out what people are talking about."
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