This Year's 'Swell Set

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What do a yarn manufacturer, the NASCAR racing circuit, and a credit-report company have in common? Well, for starters, they’re all using online communities to invigorate customer relationships—and they all got some attention from industry analysis firm Forrester Research’s Groundswell Awards, announced at the recent Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago. The massive variation among recipients, according to Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff, is a testament to the power and impact that social technologies, when used correctly, can have for any company in any vertical.

The word groundswell describes a social trend in which technologies help people get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions such as corporations. Three years ago, Bernoff and Charlene Li—at the time, a Forrester colleague, and now founder and partner at Altimeter Group—began recognizing leaders in the space, and subsequently wrote the book Groundswell outlining achievements and a framework for social participation. (For their troubles, the co-authors earned a slot among CRM’s Influential Leaders in the 2008 CRM Market Awards.)

“Whether it’s people at a high level in the organization or the folks with their feet on the ground, marketers are effective at this if you give them the right tools,” Bernoff said. 

“Submissions that would have won last year or the year before wouldn’t have this year,” Bernoff said, in a subsequent interview with CRM magazine. “[The winners] raised the level of innovation.” In order to win a category, he added, a company had to prove that the community generated clear results of measurable benefit. Commonplace initiatives were passed over. “The people who didn’t win?” Bernoff asked. “Their technologies were ordinary.” 

The Groundswell winners in the B2C division (see below) were compelling, Bernoff said, but B2B winners were particularly impressive. “I’ve seen a lot of successful B2B communities, especially with service in the technology space,” he says. “If you have a business customer, you’ve got to do this.”  

2009 Groundswell Winners

Forrester divvies up its Groundswell Awards between B2B AND B2C deployments. The B2C winners are below; you can find the rest at http://sn.im/jan10-issue.
• Listening: NASCAR Fan Council (Vision Critical). With Vision Critical, NASCAR’s fan community expanded to 12,000. By tapping into consumer conversation, research costs dropped by 80 percent and brand attributes improved. 
• Talking: Lion Brand Yarn Blog and Podcast (Converseon)
The yarn company monitored online conversations and injected relevant commentary. Learning about knitting customers and identifying them in blogs and social networks, 
the company suggested that knitters download Lion Brand–sponsored podcasts called “Knit-Alongs.” Downloaded more than 20,000 times, the podcasts had listeners 41 percent more likely to buy yarn from Lion Brand online. “Who would guess a yarn company would win, out of 41 entries?” Bernoff said, underscoring the fact that social media use cases cross all verticals. (For a deeper look at Lion Brand Yarn’s efforts, see this month’s Real ROI section.)
• Energizing: Norton Advocates (Zuberance).
Norton used Net Promoter scores to identify users most likely to talk about its products, and then suggested to those users (via Zuberance tools) that they post reviews on sites such as Amazon.com and CNET—eventually provoking a thousand such online reviews. Norton’s average rating increased from two stars to four stars—and, what’s more, its Net Promoter score doubled. 
• Supporting: myFICO Online Customer Community (FICO).
FICO, a Web site that scores consumer credit, is regulated from advising consumers on their credit—but that doesn’t mean consumers can’t help one another. FICO launched a customer community for individuals to converse about credit and share knowledge. Now 10 percent of support calls are directed to the community—a significant decrease in support costs. 
• Embracing: Scholastic Book Clubs Reading Task Force Community (Communispace). A community of 200 teachers and 100 parents sought to redesign the Scholastic Book Clubs reading flyer. The community began generating ideas about the clubs, such as student recommendations and parent ratings of book levels. In test markets, the new flyer generated a 3 percent increase in sales.

The Rising Tide

At this year’s Forrester Consumer Forum, Forrester Research’s Josh Bernoff shared lessons learned from the Groundswell Award winners.
  1. Regardless of your industry, you can do this. “While each industry has unique patterns, social technologies are universal,” Bernoff said. 
  2. If you haven’t started yet, you aren’t late—yet. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, you will be. 
  3. It’s better to start and adjust than to spend too much time planning. 
  4. Find a friend with a corner office. Having a c-level executive or the director of operations on board can be a big help. 
  5. Marketers know their customers—they just need the freedom to relate to these customers.
  6. Build in metrics in the beginning. Today, only 41 percent of companies developing social initiatives claim they’re able to measure the return on investment, according to Forrester.

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