High-tech firms that build and manage online communities attain superior results in creating happy customers, reducing service costs and driving revenue growth (Tweet this!).
That’s the overall finding of a new report released by Aberdeen Group, based on primary research done for Lithium. If you’re wondering how to take your community strategy to the next level beyond providing customer support and reducing servicing costs, join us for our next webcast on Mar 3 featuring Aberdeen Group’s CX Research Director, Omer Minkara, as well as Infoblox’s Head of Social Media & Communities, Eric Steig.
They will be sharing the latest research around the use of communities to help boost a HT organization’s financial success by way of higher customer retention, revenue and cost savings. This webcast also highlights findings from some of Lithium’s HT B2B customers including MicroStrategy, Alteryx, NetApp and Weebly.
You can reserve your spot here: Beyond Support - How B2B High Tech Communities Drive Revenue and Customer Retention (Tweet this!)
To get a sneak peek, download the Aberdeen report to learn how online communities help companies to:
Increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn
Cut service costs by providing rich self-service options
Grow revenue through efficiency, cost cuts and profit margin increases
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If you can't make it to NYC next week, don't fret! Our keynote session with Comcast and StubHub will be livestreamed from 2:30 - 3:15 ET on Thurs Oct 22nd. Sign up here - http://1.incite-group.com/LP=7145
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The key factors in building a great digital community-- trust, transparency, responsiveness-- were echoed again and again by the speakers at LiNC '14. But despite these overarching themes, it's clear that companies in different industries have to grapple with different issues. An older, more established industry like financial services might resist diving into social because of entrenched legal and regulatory structures. Yet forward-thinking, social-loving industries like technology can become so interested in chasing the next "new" platform that they neglect tried-and-true methods. Some industries enter the social playing field with strong, trust-driven relationships already in place; others must overcome poor perception and frustrated customer-service refugees in order to rebuild credibility. Our LiNC '14 industry tracks gave veterans of three industries-- B2B technology, communications service providers, and financial services-- the opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of their social strategies. They also answered plenty of questions to help others in their respective industries starting out on the same path. Here are some key insights from each session.
B2B Technology: "Businesses are made up of people," said one speaker in the B2B technology track, and especially in the ever-changing technology sphere, that can mean getting dragged in different directions by different stakeholders.
Bill Johnston, Autodesk's Director of Social Media and Community, is the first to admit that the company's social strategy took some trial and error.
"We over-indexed on low-hanging fruit with the mass social networks, and hyper-focused on support-based communities," he admits. Autodesk's goal was to create a network of relationships between customers, prospects, partners, and employees, facilitating real exchange of ideas and supporting these groups' genuine interest in networking. To make it work, they had to relinquish some control, letting members drive the changes to their community's structure. Some of these new ideas, like highlighting expert elite users with photos and creating specific product and category pages to avoid repetition, took off. "Start with customer needs, and only then move to business goals," says Johnston. "If we're not measuring user behavior, then we're failing."
Communications Service Providers: Creating a social strategy within a large telco company can be a real challenge, as different stakeholders from different teams create organizational issues.
This was definitely the case at Telus, where Sr. Strategy Manager of Social & Digital Customer Experience Scotty Jackson was confronted with a distributed system that gave a chunk of the social pie to three different teams.
"Marketing owned Facebook, PR owned Twitter, and Operations handled everything else...We had to be social about social," he says. That meant bringing the three teams together, using LSW, and capitalizing on their strengths: PR designed a consistent voice, Operations kept their eye on the current state of affairs, and Marketing added a dose of spirited engagement and creativity.
The same issue arose at Vodafone New Zealand, where the strategy, platform, and social care teams all had a hand in the community. By bringing them together and creating success stories, Digital Help & Support Manager Mike Hales says that internal reaction to the community has improved. Hales also gives employees a stake by treating the internal team like customers, giving them the same UI and UX so they can see firsthand what customers are dealing with.
Jackson agrees that in the face of difficult-to-measure ROI, creating a narrative is key for C-suite buy-in. "Create the stories you want to tell," he says. "Make them meaningful. Play to hearts and minds."
Financial Services: In an industry that faces more regulatory and legal pressure than most, one of the greatest challenges is creating a sense of transparency.
"We obviously can't disclose everything, but we can do our best," says Jennifer Hitchens-Greenfield, Social Media Manager at Barclaycard Ring. "At the end of the day, to give is to get."
Ring is Barclaycard's "test kitchen," says Hitchens-Greenfield, and getting other stakeholders on board wasn't always easy. Her goal was to give speedy responses and win over customers having service issues, while her legal team was entrenched in a calcified structure that required her to fax every request and wait weeks for a response. Using an emotional, story-driven argument helped her get the dedicated, faster-moving team she needed. "Our core values are simple, transparent, and fair. How do we treat customers right?"
Clemens Eckstein, Sr. Expert, eCommerce at Cortal Consors, agrees. "The phrase was always 'The Customer Is King,' but now with social media, an individual customer truly has that power," he says.
"The customer has crowned himself. Smart companies are listening closely and understanding his demands."
If emotional appeals don't work, fear is also an option, says Christina Martin, Vice President of Digital Marketing at MoneyGram.
"The 9-5 model for social media didn't work for us. We're a global business. One of the days people are most likely to send money is Christmas!" She used the angry customer responses the company got on Twitter and Facebook to "scare the **bleep**" out of the C-suite, earning a strategic social-care hire in Lindsay Conant. "We've been able to bridge the gap between marketing and the social team," says Conant, who also recommends taking an experimental approach that embraces imperfection and learns from mistakes. "We had to jump in, try it, and learn. We'll continue to add things, iterate, and add more resources. It didn't have to be a perfect program, 24/7/365, right off the bat."
Do you have any additional key insights to share on building a social strategy?
If you are a customer, partner or attended the event, you can download the presentations for these industry sessions here:
Track A: Financial Services (Barclaycard, Cortal Consors, MoneyGram)
Track B: Communication Services Providers (Telus, Vodafone New Zealand)
Track C: B2B Tech (Autodesk, AppDynamics, Persistent)
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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.
Photography: Arnaud Lerondeau (@ArnauldL)
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