One of the most common frustrations expressed by Lithium's business advocates is the difficulty of selling social to the C-suite, especially at older, more hidebound companies that haven't quite come around to the power of digital engagement. As our own CEO, Rob Tarkoff, discussed in his opening talk, 74% of businesses have a digital strategy, but only 33% of them believe that strategy is correct, which can make it difficult for advocates of social's brand-boosting power (and subsequent effect on ROI) to cut through the noise.
So we brought in two C-level executives and freshly-minted Lithium evangelists to make their case on the LiNC stage: Pete Hess, the CEO of Advent Software, and Bill Brand, the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at HSN, Inc. Each faced a stage where they knew they had to make a big change to bring their businesses into the NOW, and each is glad to have made the leap. Even more astonishingly, neither was a Lithium client until the fall of 2013, and now both are passionate advocates of communities and their potential.
Advent is a 30-year-old company in the somewhat old-fashioned industry of accounting systems, where many clients don't change or upgrade their systems for 20 years at a stretch. Despite $400 million in revenue and a client base of more than 4,500 companies, Advent's product was siloed and stuck in the past, making it difficult for users within the same company to work together, much less across trading counterparts and other industry peers. "Lithium has been the engine that we’ve used to connect our clients and help them interact with people outside of their four walls,” says Hess.
It's also a way to tap into their customers' innate expertise: many of them have used Advent's products for 20 or 30 years, cultivating a previously untapped knowledge base that outpaces that of even Advent's most senior call-center representative. These superusers' willingness to step up and assist their fellow community members has reinspired Advent's own culture. "Our standards for response are going up. Transparency is increasing," says Hess.
Staying relevant in changing times was also a key concern for Brand, who came to HSN (once known as the Home Shopping Network) with the goal of completely revamping the company's organizational structure as it increasingly transitions from on-air to online. After showing a sizzle reel featuring everyone from Sofia Vergara to Wolfgang Puck to Angelina Jolie, he noted that all but two of the video's numerous featured brands and personalities were introduced after he joined eight years ago.
"We want to build emotional connections with customers through storytelling," says Brand. "90% of our customers are women, and they're centered in the 35-54 age bracket. They weren't the early adopters, but they now use social far more than average." The gambit has worked: instituted in December 2013, HSN's new partnership with Lithium has already increased community membership by 150%, SEO by 14%, and engagement by double digits. "The women in our community aren't just talking about products and shopping, they're talking about their lives and their days," says Brand, who's been able to leverage these community conversations to create new products that have been smash hits with his audience.
So what do these two C-suite veterans advise when it comes to getting bosses on board with social? Brand says building credibility is key: " Do what you say you’re going to do. Whatever you sign up to do, do it and do it well. It’s easy to chase the fun new stuff and let up the gas on old projects. See them through and position yourself as credible." For his part, Hess is an advocate of honesty. "You may still be iterating on something old. Tell your bosses when things aren’t working. You may be afraid to, especially if it's your responsibility, but it’s better to switch gears and do something that works. An n+1 release on something we started 10 years ago isn’t going to meaningfully differentiate us." Either way, remember that traditional measures of ROI aren't the beginning and end of a brand's power with consumers. "What it’s really about is brand loyalty, and an ecosystem that would make no one want to leave our company," says Hess. "It’s about getting our customers the access to resources that we don’t even provide. So just do it! You can ROI yourself into non-action so easily, on something that’s so common-sense.”
If you are a customer, partner or attended the event, you can watch the recording of this session on demand.
Denise Jack is Lithium's VP of Global Field Marketing. She has more than 14 years of experience in customer marketing, technical sales and management consulting. You can follow her on Twitter at @denisejack.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.