The internet makes it easy to publish; social technologies make it easy to share. The resulting explosion of user-generated-content (UCG)—real, authentic voices of shared experience—has changed our economy forever.
Yet most companies today struggle with social media blaming lack of resources, no competency, or the inability to measure. Many that have jumped in so far mostly just fold social in to existing business processes as a new channel. They get a Twitter handle and a Facebook page and start tracking channel successes like fans and followers. They congratulate themselves as the channel successes pile up, but eventually someone starts looking for business outcomes and their channel-centric view of social media blinds them from being able to point to a single dollar saved or earned.
But social media isn’t just another channel. It’s a new and hugely efficient collaboration engine—a mechanism for matching talent and knowledge with those in need. With online communities, smart brands give people with problems instant access to people with solutions—real people just like them. When 92% of customers trust each other and just 14% trust brands, viewing social media as a trust building opportunity rather than just another channel is exactly the kind of strategy that keeps pushing these brands to the head of the pack.
Today’s business environment demands that we get our heads out of a channel mentality and align our social strategies around the customer. Further, we must get out of our functional siloes and align our business strategies around the customer—to stop treating service and marketing as separate initiatives. We need better functional alignment across the business to deliver more cohesive, meaningful, impactful, and relevant customer experiences across all parts of the customer journey. And we need to build those experiences around something our customers trust. Not the brand messages we proclaim—the user generated content our customers trust.
In order to build valuable, trusted UGC, today’s forward-leaning brands create engaging social customer experiences that motivate and reward contribution. They develop full-blown knowledge bases around UGC, capturing it, organizing it, and making it easily accessible by anyone in need. And they save multi-millions per year in the process. When it comes to creating and distributing information customers need, smart brands prove every day that social technologies offer a novel opportunity to realize off-the-chart scale.
Using the power of the crowd, top social brands today grow their service and support teams exponentially, deepen their knowledge bases many-fold and speed up innovation by looking at thousands of ideas instead of several. They don’t just push impressions through existing social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They build their own customer networks, turning the power of social into a perennial business asset that delivers returns year after year.
Australian-based voice and broadband company, Telstra, has realized a 20% decrease in calls to the call center since launching its own customer community. UK-based mobile service operator giffgaff has no call center at all. Their customer community answers 100% of inquiries in an average of 90 seconds. What’s more, giffgaff enjoys one of the highest Net Promoter Scores on record, right up there with the likes of Google and Apple.
Driving meaningful results through social media is fast becoming the new normal. We’re not fully there quite yet, but there is an enormous opportunity for differentiation in a crowded landscape. While the channel-centric, functionally siloed competition is still counting fans and followers, smart brands like Telstra and giffgaff are using social to change the way they organize work, apply talent, conduct research and make and market their products. These trailblazers show us every day that when we stop approaching social as just another channel and start seeing its potential to transform our operations, our customer relationships—indeed our entire business—we unlock its full potential.
Rob Tarkoff is President and CEO of Lithium, responsible for strategic direction and corporate vision.
He joined Lithium in Sept 2011 from Adobe Systems, where he served as Snr VP and General Manager of the Digital Enterprise Solutions business unit.
You can follow him onTwitter: @rtarkoff.
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This morning, Lithium announced the completion of a $50 million round of mezzanine financing. This additional investment means a lot of great things ahead for Lithium’s customers and employees, and will allow us to deliver even more innovation even faster. This financing also signals an exciting market shift.
This pre-IPO mezzanine financing was led not by a handful of industry insiders, but by a syndicate of global institutional investors. This is an important and exciting vote of public investor confidence in the social software market—and, specifically, in Lithium. This financing brings major global institutional investors to Lithium as partners for long-term growth, allowing us to grow aggressively without distraction while we consider the right timing for an IPO.
Leading Lithium customers like Barclays, Commonwealth Bank, eBay, Skype, Sony and Telstra demonstrate the transformative value of social customer engagement and crowdsourced service and innovation every day. And the strong investor appetite we’ve seen with this mezzanine financing clearly validates our long held belief that the time for dabbling in social has long past. This is a seminal time for Lithium and our industry—a period of rapid growth and acceleration.
I’m also pleased to announce that to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead, we’ve extended our leadership bench in two key areas. Former Yahoo! executive Tapan Bhat has joined Lithium as Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer and will bring his vast consumer web technology experience to bear as he drives Lithium’s product platform to even greater heights. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) Venture Partner Brooke Seawell now strengthens our senior strategic leadership team by joining our board of directors as audit committee chairman.
I’d like to especially call out our trailblazing Lithium customers for their pioneering spirit—we couldn’t have gotten here with out you. Brands like Sephora, Autodesk, giffgaff and Telefonica have been delivering cutting-edge social customer experiences for years using Lithium’s platform. These pioneers haven’t just been delivering amazing results back to the business; these forward-leaning risk takers have been cutting new road through unmapped territory, pointing the way toward sustainable social innovation for rest.
I hope you’ll have a chance to read the full release on Lithium’s recent round of $50 million mezzanine funding.
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The Forrester Wave TM for Social Depth Platforms, Q3 2013 led by analysts Kim Celstre and Zach Reiss-Davis published today. This detailed research evaluated nine vendors who provide "technologies that help marketers deploy online communities and related social capabilities."
We're excited to make the report available on our site—of course in large part because Forrester evaluated vendors across 57 criteria and gave Lithium the top rank for both strategy and current offering. We knew that our customer roster alone showed our leadership in serving Interactive Marketers at great global brands, but this third party validation is something I'm particularly proud of.
Just as important, however, is that Forrester highlights key market trends that are bringing critical focus back to the corporate website:
The Internet is now THE primary research tool for making purchase decisions.
Social activity attracts site visitors.
User-generated content favorably influences buying behavior.
Forward-thinking digital marketers will incorporate social technologies into this customer experience to deepen engagement and increase revenue from online purchases. You don't have to look much further than the success that brands like BarclayCard, Sephora and Sony have had in executing this strategy.
Lithium Product Development: you nailed "make products we’re proud of" and to everyone on the team—this is the reward for taking customer success personally. The quality of our offering has everything to do with this key win.
And to our customers—thanks for helping us to "leave others in our dust.” (!!!)
Download the Forrester Wave TM for Social Depth Platforms, Q3 2013 to learn why Lithium has been named a leader.
Rob Tarkoff is President and CEO of Lithium, responsible for strategic direction and corporate vision. Rob joined in Sept 2011 from Adobe Systems, where he served as Snr VP and General Manager of the Digital Enterprise Solutions business unit.
You can follow him onTwitter: @rtarkoff.
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Friday May 10 th at 7:25 am Pacific Daylight Time, Lithium experienced a significant network outage. However unwanted, unpleasant, and unplanned such events can be, in the world of SaaS technology, outages can be a very real possibility. But that factor doesn’t mitigate the downstream effect we know this has for our customers and their customers who depend on our technology. In the spirit of our company value of ‘being real’, I want to share with all of you what Lithium learned from the experience and where I see opportunities to continue to strengthen our performance.
The outage in our North America data center lasted just under 3.5 hours and created an intermittent experience for a number of our customers, both in the US and those that this data center serves abroad. We believe that the outage resulted from what is called a Denial of Service attack on our servers, which essentially means that someone from the outside flooded our networks with spurious traffic impacting Communities, Lithium Social Web instances and our internal email system. As a result of this attack, there is no evidence that our customers’ information stored in our systems has been compromised. While we continue to investigate exactly what triggered the attack, there are a number of immediate steps that we are taking including:
1. Fortifying our edge network with increased capacity and additional DOS prevention features to withstand traffic floods and thwart DOS attacks.
2. Improving our monitoring system so it can identify the attacks faster.
3. Practicing our ability to quickly route our traffic through our existing DOS prevention partners. Our partners have the ability to strip out the spurious traffic and route clean traffic to us giving us the ability to withstand a DOS attack.
I know many of you often hear me talk about the values of Lithium, and Friday’s situation reflected two of these values very accurately: Take Customer Success Personally and Learn Fast, Act Faster. For me, Friday was a solid testimony of how well Lithium is living up to its core values.
While the engineering and tech ops team worked urgently to solve the network issues, our sales, service and marketing teams rallied to provide transparent communication to affected customers in short order—leveraging both social channels and outbound call downs when emailed failed us. Our performance here was strong and in my eyes reflective of just the type of culture I want to see thrive at Lithium.
I want to reiterate that we are committed to being a world-class SaaS company. We are proud of the service-levels we provide customers and I want you to know just how seriously Lithium takes any disruption in our service to you and your customers. You rely on us and I can only assure you that what transpired on Friday demonstrates what you can expect from Lithium: quick recovery, full transparency and incorporating any learning quickly back into the business.
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