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Best Practices Are Born Every Day
Social media success is often hard to spot, but you need to know where your industry is headed.
Posted Sep 24, 2010
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One of the most significant side effects of rapid change is that it calls all our best practices into question. What used to be intuitive quickly becomes dated, and it's easy to lose sight of objectives amid the effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Nowhere is this more true than in brands' use of social media, though we already have many compelling examples of brands doing groundbreaking work on the social Web.

  • Frank Eliason, a former customer service representative for Comcast, now goes by @FrankEliason on Twitter but became famous under his old alias of @ComcastCares. Under that handle, Eliason began a customer service revolution on behalf of his then-current employer by asking one simple question: "Can I help?" 
  • John Deere regularly engages with thousands of passionate fans on its Facebook page.
  • Dell has been at the forefront of social media use, applying customer suggestions from its Ideastorm platform toward product innovation.
  • Verizon customers now solve each other's problems within a customer community, saving the company millions of dollars.

Each of these brands is pursuing innovative, value-added efforts that contribute to its overall health. The benefits are many: improved reputation and more goodwill, an increase in customer loyalty, revenue generation and/or operational savings, organizational learning, and innovation.

"That's all very interesting," you say. "For them. But I'm not Comcast or John Deere or Dell or Verizon. My business has nothing to do with cable TV, tractors, computers, or wireless services. How am I supposed to know what I should be doing on Facebook or YouTube or Twitter, let alone with customer communities and innovation platforms?"

The first step, as always, is to remember your business objectives. How can you better support those objectives by engaging more directly with customers and others?

The second step is to recognize that the social Web adds a new layer of information that you need to understand about your customers, because it will greatly influence how you engage with them online.

If you're a marketer, you are undoubtedly well-versed in several levels of customer information — demographic, geographic, psychographic, behavioral — but there's now a new level to consider: sociographic, or how your customers interact online — not just on your Web site, but on all the social sites they frequent. Altimeter Group, a strategy-consulting firm, suggests posing the following questions before engaging in a social strategy:

  1. Where are your customers online?
  2. What are your customers' social behaviors online?
  3. What social information or people do your customers rely on?
  4. What is your customers' social influence? Who trusts them?
  5. How do your customers use social technologies in the context of your products?

[Editors' Note: Altimeter Group was named one of CRM magazine's Rising Stars in the 2010 CRM Market Awards, which appeared in the magazine's August 2010 issue.]

Clearly this requires careful watching and learning, from both your own experience and that of your peers. But, as outlined above, your peers may not be the ones who are doing the most visible work in social media.

This is where industry benchmarking comes in.

And no, this is not to suggest that if Wally's Perfume Hut does a cool Facebook widget, you need to call your developers right now. But you do need to know that new best practices are being born every day, and much of that activity is happening under the radar. For you to remain innovative, profitable, competitive, and connected to your customers, you need to know where your industry is headed.

So, in a perfect world, what would you want to know about your peers' actions across the social Web? Here are a few ideas; please feel free to add your own.

1. Are there demographic differences between customers who buy our products or engage with content on our corporate Web site versus those who interact and transact via online channels? How do audiences that interact both socially and on our site compare to those that just engage with our site?

2. Where are people coming from? Are they using a desktop or laptop computer (suggesting they're at home or at work), or are they using a mobile device (such as an iPhone or iPad, or a smartphone running Android or Windows Mobile operating systems)?

3. How much revenue are online retailers — overall and/or in my industry — deriving from (a) Facebook, (b) Twitter, and (c) other social channels?

4. How much time and engagement are brands — overall and/or in my industry — deriving from (a) Facebook, (b) Twitter, and (c) other social channels?

5. What is the average order value of sales or the average value created from online channels?

6. How long do visitors stay on our site?

These questions may loom large today, but their answers hold the seeds of a new set of best policies — for online retail, for customer engagement, and for our industry as a whole.

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About the Author

John Squire (JSquire@coremetrics.com) is the chief strategy officer at Coremetrics, where he is responsible for defining the company's vision and technical strategy for online marketing and business optimization solutions. For more information, please visit www.coremetrics.com.

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Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors

You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.

If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the September 2010 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

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