One of the biggest questions facing organizations interested in launching peer-to-peer social networks involves determining the return on investment (ROI) -- with a particular eye on improving the customer experience while simultaneously lowering support costs. "Most firms, when looking at building an ROI model, are focused on customer service in the beginning because that is what's tangible," said Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "You have a gut-level instinct on what is tangible in terms of customer support." However, additional value opportunities are equally attractive -- yet are often overlooked or under-utilized in building an ROI case, she added. These include:
"Voice of the customer" or "customer-driven innovation" (indentify new product and services opportunities and how to improve existing products and services).
Reduced search engine optimization (SEO) costs
Increased customer retention
Natalie noted that while champions of community must ultimately prove the value to management, many who are initially unable to prove ROI are forced to start with informal "ad-hoc" budgets and borrowed resources with an eye on starting small and then later proving the worth for expanded initiatives. To help win these battles in both cases, Natalie published a recent report titled "The ROI of Online Customer Service Communities." In it she identifies four key factors to determine ROI that encompass:
Benefits: How will your company benefit from customer service online communities?
Costs: How much will your company pay, both in hard costs and resources, for customer service online communities?
Risks: How do uncertainties change the total impact of customer service online communities on your business?
Flexibility: How does this investment in customer service online communities create future options for your organization?
Natalie will address all four factors - and will also share in-depth insights in addition to fielding participant questions - during a free, live webcast on Sept. 2 (more information and registration here). During the webcast (which will include Lois Townsend, manager of social media strategy and operations at HP), Natalie will also review key findings from her most recent report, titled "Best Practices: Five Strategies for Customer Service Social Media Excellence."
In the meantime, if you have questions for either Natalie or Lois that you'd like to get in ahead of time, please post them below. I'll do my best to get them addressed during the webcast (or following it). I also invite you to follow Natalie on Twitter. Her user name is drnatalie .
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In this video post, Motodev social media/community manager Randy Ksar shares some tips for creating blog content -- and, as important -- for promoting posts. Be sure to check out the MOTODEV blog and follow MOTODEV (and Randy) on Twitter.
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As a veteran of forums initiatives, it's always exciting to see the launch of a support community -- especially one by a company that understands the value of unlocking its customer network to support and promote on its behalf. The Crucial.com customer network is one such example.
The new community was designed to help customers connect with peers to solve issues related to the company's computer memory products. Crucial.com, the online destination of memory products provider Lexar Media, has attracted more than 1,000 members in the community's first two months online.
What's even more impressive, however, is that Crucial has seen an enormous reduction in support call center traffc -- including a staggering nearly 50 percent reduction in support chat volume -- freeing up valuable company resources to deliver even better customer support. Hence, it provides Crucial with an improved ability to scale support needs while keeping operational costs in check.
It's a win-win: The community gives customers access to their peers, a trusted source for information and support, while easing the burden on existing support channels during a time when increased demand for better memory solutions and an expanding customer base might otherwise strain internal resources.
Fred Waddell, general manager of Crucial.com, said adding community was a way of enhancing the overall customer experience while amplifying existing word-of-mouth marketing by "exposing new customers to potentially thousands of raving fans talking about our products."
In addition to answering one another's questions, community members have also provided feedback to the company that has already proven valuable. For example, thanks largely to feedback from the community, Crucial.com discovered that 64-bit windows users were experiencing problems using its System Scanner tool. After additional testing and development, the company was able to resolve the issue and make an enhanced 64-bit version of the tool available to customers.
As a computer geek myself, I'll be keeping a close eye on the Crucial.com customer network as it continues to grow and evolve. In the meantime, drop by and take a look around for yourself. And if your a fan, follow them on Twitter.
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Last Thursday evening my colleagues Scott Dodds and Erik Langner accompanied me to the debut "Silicon Vallley Tweetup."
A "Tweetup," according to organizer Michael Brito, is: "A geeky term for an in-person networking event (or meet-up) with people who use Twitter." Though he was quick to add: "But there is no official rule that you have to have a Twitter account to participate." Michael, a social media strategist at Intel, established the "Silicon Valley Tweetup" earlier this month for two reasons:
1) As a networking venue for area business professionals who use Twitter
2) To give back to the community (he has partnered with several non-profit organizations)
The July 23 inaugural Tweetup, held at Rosie McCann's Irish Pub in San Jose's Santana Row, raised $650 for the George Mark Children's House and attracted some 80 "peeps."
I took the opportunity to ask Michael a few Twitter-related questions between beers.
Tom: When did you start using Twitter? Michael: I started using Twitter in April 2007. At first, I really didn't understand the dynamics of the tool and took six months off from using it. I jumped back in after a close friend began to "follow me" and haven't turned back since.
Tom: What's changed in how you used it then -- and how you use it today?
Michael: When I first started using Twitter, I used it as a tool to broadcast one-way messages. When I realized that no one was listening, I toned it down and became extremely more conversational.
Tom: Why should businesses pay attention and participate in Twitter? Michael: Well, not all businesses do have to pay attention to Twitter. The feedback I usually give to others is to first see if there are any conversations going on about their brand, product/service or industry. If there is, it's a great opportunity for brands to gain intimate customer insight and to create brand affinity within Twitter. Zappos has done it; and Comcast is well on its way to turn around their reputation of listening to their customers.
Tom: What Twitter-related metrics do you track and what do they teach you? Michael: There are a lot of tools to use for metrics. I use Twitalyzer. It tracks signal/noise ratio, clout and influence to name a few. Tracking my personal influence does more than stroke the ego. Since 20 percent of the content I share on Twitter is related to Intel, this allows me to measure reach and influence for that given content.
Tom: You wrote a "Twitter manifesto" last year. Please tell me more about your "80/20" rule.
Michael: Sure, the Twitter Manifesto is still relevant to me today. The 80/20 ratio really separates marketing messages from authentic conversations. 80 percent of what I tweet is conversational or industry related. It involves "reweeting," asking/answering questions or uploading personal pictures. 20 percent is Intel related and usually links back to a piece of Intel content. I use Bit.ly urls to track performance and usually see a 25-35 percent click-through rate -- which is unheard of in the search marketing world. Because those who "follow me" trust me and see me as more human than that of a logo or brand contributes significantly to that level of engagement.
Tom: What are the key elements to a good tweet?
Michael: The tweet has to have some level of humanity associated with it. Meaning, using tools like Twitterfeed are good in some cases, but should be used minimally if a brand is trying to galvanize a community. Links to relevant content should also be included to substantiate any points of view.
Awesome. Thanks, Michael! Folks who have questions, just post them below and Michael will get back to you if he can.
And in case you missed this month's news, Lithium's new Twitter integration enables companies to stream real-time comments and questions about their brand and products directly into the customer community as well as their own management console. From there, action can be taken. A customer advocate, for example -- based on information about their profile and reputation -- might be given permission by the system to respond to a tweet directly or to start a new thread of discussion based on a tweet. Those responses not only improve the customer experience, but the amplified voice of the company can now bring more people in from the "Twittersphere" to the company's brand.
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Yesterday's launch of Lithium Social CRM marks an exciting step forward for our customers -- empowering them to create a powerful network of advocates across the social web.
Who are these mysterious advocates? They're a unique segment: Loyal enthusiasts who evangelize your brand, products and services wherever they go -- whether they're online or in the "real" world.
A great example in my own interactions with an "advocate" was at a conference last October. A fellow attendee was conducting an interview for her blog with one of those trendy Flip camcorders. That was my first glimpse at one. Afterward, I asked her about the device, which was smaller than my iPhone.
She raved about her Flip -- about how easy it was to use; how it fits in her pocket; how she never left home without it -- and then showed me all of the gadget's cool features. She told me that she blogged about her Flip; wrote a review on Amazon; and recommended the camcorders to her family, friends and acquaintances (like me).
The next day I ordered one from Amazon. And soon I became a Flip advocate, too (I have a weakness for gadgets). I blogged about mine and showed it off around the office (telling people how great it was, etc). I also wrote my own Amazon review. And, like the person who introduced me to it, I also use mine for all of my blog-related videos (like those below).
Social CRM is all about the value of advocates. For today's post I spoke with our CMO, Sanjay Dholakia, about Lithium Social CRM which he explains allows businesses to build stronger, deeper customer relationships by integrating social customer conversations into existing CRM business processes and systems.
Part 1: What is Social CRM and how is it different from traditional customer relationship management?
Part 2: What do organizations need to do in order to inject the "social" into their existing CRM initiatives? And once they do, what are the payoffs (for both companies and their customers)?
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