The Digital Client Is Older Than You Think

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In my recent focus on the Digital Client -- defined as any individual who utilizes online services -- I've received a lot of thoughtful emails from CRM readers. A 57-year-old executive writes: "Social networks are as much for my Baby Boomer generation as they are for any other.... I can't live without them in either my professional [or] private life!' In fact, Hitwise -- an Experian firm that tracks 10 million U.S. Internet users interacting with more than a million Web sites across more than 165 industries -- has data suggesting that, of all social network traffic, 18-to-24-year-olds account for only about 30 percent -- and dropping. People 55 years old and over now account for more than 10 percent of that social traffic -- and that figure's rising.

Digital Clients -- of all ages -- most often get hooked at home, using social media to learn about topics of interest (e.g., a hobby, a sport, a vacation). Until recently, most were unable to continue their digital lifestyles in the office -- not enough of those offices were prepared to offer employees internal social networks or other Web 2.0 social media (e.g., blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, widgets, podcasts).

Here's some good news: A rising number of organizations'public, private, not-for-profit'have completed their Digital Client roadmaps and are in the midst of implementing them. I personally favor a roadmap that offers a long-term continuum in three distinct phases:

Phase 1: Create the Network
As Baby Boomers begin to retire -- taking lots of institutional memory with them -- organizations are in grave danger of losing significant strategic and tactical knowledge. The average tenure of a Generation Y employee is only around 18 months, and they're typically hesitant to formally document memory. Efforts relying on a knowledge base -- a technological information repository -- are falling short because they're unnecessarily complex. Social media can be a great helper for retaining institutional memory: You simply create social networking threads -- which most employees are happy to collaborate on, for their own purposes -- and you then capture and store relevant knowledge from these threads.

Phase 2: Define the Network
Many organizations are quite concerned about "opening themselves up" (to competition, to revenge-seekers, and so on). So the next step in the social media continuum should engage key clients and partners in invitation-only forums that are planned and facilitated by your own subject-matter experts. This way, you proactively involve your clients in a desired information exchange that can be controlled. We're working with a financial services client to realize this approach; the firm plans to limit its invitation-only social network to a half-dozen invitees at a time so as to ensure a tightly managed, information-rich experience.

Phase 3: Explode the Network
Tripadvisor.com and Wikipedia.org are examples of sites that are open for public comment and content. For many, this is the ultimate phase in the continuum. At the same time, some feel threatened'they fear losing control of their brand. To address this, you need to not only carefully monitor (and correct) comments posted on your Web site, but also actively participate in the discussions there. Get proactive with your Digital Clients' they're going to chat about you over the Internet regardless of whether you host the discussion.

This three-phase continuum applies as much to the younger Digital Clients as it does to a 57-year-old executive. We'll discuss this continuum'and its effect on the Digital Client'at the destinationCRM 2008 event (www.destinationCRM2008.com). We'll also explore the three core Digital Client values:

  • always on, always connected;
  • multichannel; and
  • business in an instant.

Leaders and best-in-class organizations -- Amtrak, AAA Northern California/Nevada/Utah, and North Shore Credit Union, among others -- will share their trials, tribulations, and successes in engaging Digital Clients of all ages.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, Md. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation and author of the new CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today, Inc.).

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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