The Next Steps Matter, Too

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For the rest of the August 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

[Editors' Note: This is the second part of a three-part series. The first piece appeared in the April 2009 issue of CRM, and the conclusion will appear in the October 2009 issue.]

In a previous column, we examined Front Runner, a pseudonymous consumer brand with a social media initiative. (See “First Steps Are Always Critical,” April 2009.) That social media plan led to the implementation of a pilot at one of Front Runner’s four subsidiaries, which involved the development of a Community Engagement Plan (CEP). A typical CEP describes:

  • an overview of the pilot;
  • a timeline containing action items;
  • the pilot’s business goals, objectives, and metrics;
  • the target audience;
  • the social media tools that will be used;
  • how users will access the community;
  • the messaging and communication vehicles—including local media—for promoting the community;
  • business partners’ contributions; and
  • who will fill various roles including: project owner; project manager; community manager; partner manager; technical lead; moderator; and administrator.

At Front Runner, the CEP established the following:

  • Overview: Engage in a conversation with customers around how they can save using unique special deals.
  • Audience: Members and prospects of all ages in a United States region, particularly with a strong focus on savings.
  • Goals: Expand relationships, increase the perceived value of working with Front Runner, and support sales goals.
  • Tools: Multiple blogs by subject-matter experts; a contest to identify the customer saving the most, or with the best savings story; forums around customer experiences with the special deals program and suggestions on new deals.

Here are the top lessons so far from Front Runner’s pilot:

  1. Securing support from executives depended on the community’s tight support for Front Runner’s business goals and objectives.
  2. Unlike most consumer social media sites that are still searching for a revenue-generating business model, from the outset Front Runner focused on establishing both standard community metrics (e.g., participation, content growth, etc.) and business-benefit metrics (new-customer revenues and penetration within key customer segments).
  3. The community was not launched as a standalone island, but designed instead to integrate with existing customer/prospect outreach programs and draw on existing organizational resources/initiatives. This helped secure needed backing from the subsidiary’s executive team.
  4. Front Runner decided to invite partners and distribution-channel members to participate in the community—writing blogs, participating in forums, and sponsoring contests. These external resources helped Front Runner add diversity and strength to its community efforts.
  5. On Front Runner’s behalf, we spent months reviewing social media platform vendors. The majority of these vendors are still feeling their way in an industry that’s truly in the introductory stage of its life cycle. It’s a bit like the Wild West out there—so be extra careful to conduct due diligence when choosing a vendor partner.
  6. Front Runner spent a lot of time pondering how best to monitor and moderate its community. While social media platform tools can filter comments for appropriateness, you also want to monitor for accuracy and civility. We share monitoring responsibilities with Front Runner during the pilot, and together we’re still learning about the many effective ways to counter self-serving or inflammatory statements without taking away from the spontaneity of the community.
  7. The community creates a two-way dialogue with customers and prospects—and since Front Runner must be prepared to respond in a timely manner, employees have agreed to actively participate at the outset.
  8. After a few false starts, Front Runner has learned that it’s critical to design and launch a social media community around a topic that the organization is passionate about.

In the final column of this three-part series, I’ll describe the impact that Front Runner’s social media communities have had on customer loyalty, retention, and sales.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a Bethesda, Md.–based strategic consulting organization that since 1985 has specialized in CRM, contact centers, and the Digital Client. 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.).

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