Social Business Builds Brand Equity

27 06 2012

Social business has mainly been discussed in terms of what it can do for the company in terms of efficiency of Knowledge Management and Sharing and the impact it has on the organization and culture. One of the aspects of Social Business that so far is under-exposed is the positive (or negative…) impact on the way customers perceive the brand and thus the influence it has on their buying behavior. In this post I will briefly outline how Social Business and Brand Equity are related and help to reframe your thinking about Social Business and why it can be a sound market approach for your organization.

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Social Learning and Customer Engagement

9 12 2009

One of the approaches to improving Customer Engagement and Experiences I’d like to explore is the potential to include customers, partners and suppliers in the Social Learning process. One of the drawbacks of an customer ideation platform/community is that more than 99% of the ideas are never looked at or implemented because they do not take into account the business context and constraints.

Whilst ideation may be a good source for innovation for companies, they can be a source of dissatisfaction for those customers who submitted ideas if they do not receive any acknowledgement for the effort they put into it. So rather than feeling closer to your brand and becoming advocates for it, the quite opposite may occur.

The approach that I would advocate is to educate the customer about your brand and its environment, even let them actively get involved in your internal Social Learning processes of continously striving to gain new knowledge and insights. By infusing ideas from outside of the silos of your organisation, you may discover innovative ideas that will give your company a competitive advantage.

Crowdsourcing has lost favour a little due to the number of uninformed suggestions that bubble up and which generate a lot of overhead to percolate into useful innovations. Smartsourcing has been put forward as a better approach, relying on the ‘better elements’ in your community to exchange with for customer insights. As such I agree with this, but I believe there is an even greater opportunity for informed innovation through the education and deeper implication of those we wish to engage with for smartsourcing by implicating them in collaborative learning.

Education and customer collaboration has the potential to create a real and very deep level of engagement, and thus the germination of fervent customer advocates, who in turn entice others to join this process (and increase the smartsourcing base for qualified innovation).

As Harold Jarche points out in the comments below, I herewith add that the objective of this type of collaborative learning would be to close the loop, not only take the feedback but reinjecting it back into the customer communitites and so on with insights so that we get a virtuous learning cycle. And by being open with your social learning approach, you will lower the barrier for new entrants and thus new points of view and sources for innovation, as well as sending a clear signal to the rest of the customer base that you are listening and collaborating to take their needs into account.

There is of course the (perceived?) risks of competitors glaning information and using it to their advantage, but examples have shown that this risk can actually be a driver for more rapid innovation integration such as Sage has shown with its ACT! community.

To summarize, I believe there is an opportunity to create a collaborative community learning platform that will ultimately lead to informed ideation and nurture more fervent customer advocates.

Let me know your thoughts, am I completely off-track, or is this the TGV to Customer Engagement?

Social Media Communities

20 09 2009

About a week ago John Moore @JohnFMoore put his stake in the ground on what Social Support Communities are in the arena of Social CRM. His definition centres around their purpose of conversation around dealing Support questions, for example the Dell Support Site. This got me thinking about what Lithium and Helpstream o.a. actually do, and I believe they cover can a far wider purpose.

A couple of days ago I stumbled on an excellent piece of out-of-the-box thinking (and rant) called ‘the hughtrain’, first started in 2004 in response to ‘the cluetrain’. What stuck was what Hugh MacLeod described as ‘Social Objects’. (The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson has a nice synopsis of Jaiku Founder, Jyri Engstrom’s “Social Objects” idea).

The main idea is that people use Social Objects (not necessarily limited to physical object, but they can be ideas, faith, culture, events, activities such as bowling etc…) as a way to socialize, which is an ingrained basic human need. Quote: “The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them”.

 To take this back to our Social Media Communities discussion, we can find some excellent examples such as iRobot and Barnes & Noble Review. The brand provides a convenient platform where people passionate about their Social Objects can gather and exchange (and salivate) over them. Think of the Star Wars franchise – every guy in the world would probably want to be Luke Skywalker. Put a plastic Light Sabre in his  hands and there is a good chance he will start swashbuckling whilst making the characteristic ‘zoom-zoom’ sounds ;). Star Wars is a shared Social Object to which people can relate and start conversing about.

By implementing Social Objects Communities and offering incentives for people to gather there – such as exclusive content, or just lively discussions – around which they can socialize, the brand has an opportunities to exchange with a captive, passionate audience and better understand their needs.

Below I will quote John Moore’s definitions, and add my comments on Social Objects Communities. Many points overlap of course but there is one main difference, one that offers a tremedous opportunity for improving brand equity.

Social Support Communities are not Social CRM [and neither are Social Objects Communities (SOC)…]

  • SSC is a discussion group, a forum, on steroids.So is SOC
  • SSC incorporates social networks as additional channels through which customer conversations can occur. Same goes for SOC
  • SSC enables customers to directly converse with other customers.  Companies and partners can also be equal participants in this conversation, but are often playing the role of moderators in the examples provided by the webinar participants. Again, same thing
  • SSC is a small subset of Social CRM, a very small subset. Ditto
  • SSC focuses on the customer almost exclusively, ignoring in large part, other participants in the marketplace including the company, partners, and competitors. Same thing
  • SSC focuses on customer support services.  It fails to provide value in marketing, sales, finance, or other aspects where CRM is utilized. Hold on, this is the main differentiator!

 Barnes & Noble Review is a great  example where Social Objects Communities provides value in marketing and sales. The content is rich, it has a very positive effect on B&N’s image, and average customer spend is increased for participants in the Review as compared to visitors that only go to the webstore. Nike+ is another example where add-on sales are generated by selling enabling gadgets that allow you to share and compare your ‘Nike’ experience with others.

The other ‘pierre à l’édifice’ that I would like to add is the notion of Hosted and Non-Hosted Social Media Communities. Hosted implies that the brand manages the platform on which the community they can hang out (. The advantage to a non-hosted community is that it is easier to monitor and analyse behaviour and provide for the needs of the community (define the respone). In theory this monitoring could be done on non-hosted communities as well, but the data gathered will be less rich and less useful for understanding the customers.

Whilst SSC focuses on dealing with the ‘unpleasant’ side of unmet expectations (‘I have a problem, how do I get it fixed without wasting too much of my time’),  Social Objects Communities have a whole different purpose and can be a tremendous opportunity for engaging with and responding to the community – for Brand Marketing in particular. Help people express their passion, understand what makes them tick and add value to the conversation as an equal.

Think Global, Act Local – International Peer Community Contributions

3 09 2009

The very promising field of Social CRM has been using english as its lingua franca to discuss and exchange ideas. I for example  am Dutch, live in Paris and but I use English to express myself in this blog. Likewise,  the #scrm discussions seem to take it for granted that online customer communities will use english, and thus these communities run the risk of missing out on solutions found in peer communities hosted in other languages. 

In the perfect online customer community the best-of-breed solutions are selected, localised and transposed for the benefit of all the customers wherever they may be. China for example now has more internet users (est.338 million) than the USA has inhabitants – imagine the potential for crowd sourcing!

Some  Social CRM platforms already have mechanism to flag the best solutions, the most innovative ideas and bring these to the attention of other community members. What would be interesting to add is the ability to provide this as syndicated content in a localised format to other international communites that deal with the same preoccupations.

A couple of months ago I was trying to hack my new Satellite receiver, so I scoured the net for information. I am lucky in the sense that I am able to go use forums in German, English, Dutch, French and Spanish, so I have a lot more information sources available to me (you could argue that you can use Google Translate – but this doesn’t do a good enough job in my opinion). What I noticed was that many of these forums dealt with the same issues. I would have loved to have flagged some of the solutions found in one country and share them in a rapid, transparent way with the users in the other countries! 

In this area of cross-seeding solutions to peer communities the moderators or workflow mechanisms could play an important role . When an issue bubbles up in one country and not dealt with within a predefined timespan, they consult an international  knowledge base of solutions flagged and suitably tagged in peer communities in other languages, and contribute a translated version (maybe autotranslated, cleaned up and submitted through a superuser). 

The “Think Global, Act Local” adage still holds true in Social CRM, and I would even say especially in Social CRM.