Social Marketing Grows Up! From Social Media to Social Business and ROI

social businessThe first wave of social media provided tremendous benefits to consumers.  Suddenly, corporate communications became  more than one-way messaging for companies who wanted to deliver their canned content to their customers. Social sharing sites—including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram—grew rapidly as users generated their own multimedia content and required brands to come up with more  interactive and engaging ways to attract and retain them as customers.  Large parts of the web became customer-centric  rather than company-centric, as users distrusted the blatant self-interest of brands in favor of information derived from  friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. Even the opinions of strangers became more influential than corporate ads,  direct marketing, and promotions.

As consumers, we gained control over the companies we chose to conduct business with.  But what about our work lives? How  is the millennial, who grew up with social media and is joining the workforce, supposed to react to a typical SharePoint site as  a way to learn what’s going on?  And how can businesses benefit from social media as much, if not more than, consumers? Social business leverages social listening, collaboration, analytics and other “industrialized” versions of Web 2.0 technologies to improve business effectiveness and ROI. The following applications of social business demonstrate some of its power.

Social Intranets provide a more dynamic and personal way to consume and share corporate knowledge. They work very much like the social networks we use as consumers, but in a highly secure manner that is limited to a company’s employees.  Similar to LinkedIn, all users have a personal profile that describes their role in the company, areas of interest and expertise, as well as they type of content they publish. This enables individual employees to follow people who can help them perform their jobs more effectively.  Every time some you follow publishes new content, you receive a notification via a mobile application or through your email.  Just click on the link and the information is available for your use. Social intranets fosters knowledge exchange and collaboration within project teams, departments, and entire enterprises.

Social Listening provides an excellent way to understand what customers think of a particular brand, competitor, product or service provided by a company.  Marketers simply set-up the keywords that determine the content that is mined across social networks, blogs and the web at-large.  The highly unstructured information is given quantitative structure through the development of customized dictionaries and natural language processing to parse the information into a structured framework that can be analyzed and acted on.  The resulting market research data—collected unobtrusively without the bias inherent in questionnaires–provides tremendous feedback as to how the company can improve its products, services and reputation. Social listening tools often come with an engagement console that enables customer service representatives and product managers to respond to specific posts.  This enables companies to mitigate the viral spread of negative information that could damage the brand and to amplify the viral spread of positive information to enhance the brand image.

Branded Community Sites are developed for entire industries but also serve the interests of a sponsoring brand.  By providing content that is relevant to the entire community and enabling members to share their own insights, experts across the entire industry are motivated to join the community.  Once they join, they will experience the thought leadership provided by the sponsoring company and are likely to click on links that will enable you to market more directly to prospects who may currently be a customer of one of your competitors.  Branded community sites drive customer acquisition and retention efforts.

Social Customer Service solutions range from a presence on such open social networks as Facebook and Twitter to branded sites that are restricted to customers. Many companies have been successful providing proactive customer service on Facebook and Twitter.  In addition to responding to posts about service issues, customer service representatives can post resolutions to known issues generated from other sources.  When companies establish their own social sites for customers, they can provide an enhanced version of the experience. Gamification is often used to reward customers who answer questions raised by other customers.  For instance, every time a customer provides the correct answer to a question, they can be given rewards points.  It isn’t even necessary for rewards points to have monetary value.  As social beings, we are often satisfied with being recognized as a community leader as our screen names climb the leader board. Social Customer Service solutions not only increase customer engagement levels, but also reduce servicing costs by deflecting questions that would otherwise be answered by phone conversations with customer service agents.  The fact that the answers are seen by whole groups of people further improves operational efficiencies.

Social CRM shares some of the capabilities of social customer service, but serves as an extension of a company’s existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. This enables businesses to market their products and services to prospects on social networks through both social and traditional communications channels.  It also enables companies to provide better service to existing customers via the social channels where so many people spend their time.

Crowdsourcing solutions foster corporate innovation as product managers and engineers collaborate with customers and suppliers. They can be used to develop new products and services, as well as ways to market and distribute them to customers. This is another area where gamification is helpful.  Because real profits are made by the new products and services, however, participants are given lump sums or percentages of profits commensurate with their contributions, rather than token rewards points.

Social Commerce applications leverage the recommendations of friends, family and others to stimulate e-commerce revenues.  This can be accomplished through marketplaces (remember e-Bay) and great e-commerce sites such as Amazon, where recommendations are made to the buyer based upon other customers with a similar purchasing behavior.  The large numbers of reviews on Amazon, moreover, have a far greater impact on purchase decisions than do the reviews of so-called experts.  A company can also integrate e-commerce with their Facebook page or with their branded community sites. There are also numerous applications that help friends view the same merchandise (at least virtually) to help one another on purchase decisions.  One class of such applications enables one of the friends to be in a store, while the other friend is on a PC or mobile device.  Videos, texting and voice communications can support the making of yay or nay recommendations.  Another class pertains to situations where both friends are online.  The combination of co-browsing, multimedia and texting becomes the next best thing to shopping together.

So we have come a long way from the early days of social media, when businesses seemed to lose their ability to control the messages received by prospects and customers.  Even if benefits were to be gained, there was no way to understand the ROI associated with their social media initiatives. This made it difficult, at best, to figure out how much to invest in their labor-intensive social media efforts or the specific areas that merited investment.  Today, companies have a broad range of social business applications that can be tailored to achieve a large array of business objectives.







Microsoft Takes Page From 1980s Playbook by Acquiring Yammer

Microsoft LogoHave you ever heard of Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, Harvard Graphics, cc: Mail or Netscape Navigator?  If not, you are probably too young to remember a PC world that was not yet dominated by Microsoft Windows.  Those that know of these products may recall that they were once the most innovative, best-of-breed and market-dominating software for such PC applications as word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, email and web browsing, respectively.    That is, until Microsoft decided to buy/build similar software programs  (e.g.,  Outlook, MS Word, Excel,  PowerPoint, Paint and Internet Explorer) and bundle them with MS Windows.  Due to bundled pricing, a common user interface and tighter integration, the original innovative products became obsolete once Microsoft took these actions.

Now, hot on the heels of’s acquisition of Buddy Media (to complement Radian 6 and Chatter for a strong social business offering), Microsoft announced Friday that they are acquiring Yammer for $1.2B. Yammer, provides Facebook-like features (e.g., profiles, activity streams) to improve the collaboration within enterprises. Microsoft of course already has a product a product within this space, SharePoint.  However SharePoint is generally simply used for content and document management.  While it is a favorite of IT, adoption among employees is generally poor.  This is generally attributed to difficulties users experience when  trying to find the information housed within SharePoint.  It also fails to have a social component that has been a critical aspect of the consumerization of IT, the underlying trend that has forced IT organizations to adopt some of the more compelling experiences that employees have in their personal lives.

Microsoft can take a page from its 1980s playbook by bundling Yammer functionality with numerous Microsoft products.  This might not only provide the most significant upgrades to such products to date, but also weaken or eliminate some of their competitors within the space.  By integrating Yammer functionality with several existing Microsoft applications, MS can provide product bundles that weaken or even eliminate competitors, as they did in the 1980s. By integrating with MS Outlook, Microsoft could bring Yammer’s social business functionality to the PC application that is almost always open on most  employee’s desktops. Rather than going to a separate application, relevant activity streams would be visible from within Outlook itself.  Integration with MS Office applications, moreover, will enable users to easily collaborate to co-author Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.  Better collaboration within MS Project would ensure that updates to project plans can more easily be seen so each member on the project team can adjust their work accordingly or negotiate further changes.

Yammer’s potential also extends to Microsoft’s enterprise solutions. By integrating Yammer functionality with Microsoft Commerce Server, Microsoft may be able to offer a social commerce solution, whereby the opinions of community members could influence the purchase decisions of others.  And of course SharePoint itself can be improved dramatically via integration with Yammer’s user-friendly, social features, as described above.

What does this mean for other vendors who have developed social business software (SBS)?  For instance, Jive software also integrates with MS Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint.  But won’t Microsoft have the advantage by owning the source code for these programs?

Upon learning of the acquisition, Jive Chairman and CEO Tony Zingale gave eWEEK an optimistic assessment of the acquisition, as one would expect.

“No question that this news is a huge validation for the space. If you remember, the world’s largest software supplier claimed for at least five years that the SharePoint content management system was, in fact, their social offering. They tried in ’07, they tried in 2010; they were going to try in 2013 to put out SharePoint versions that were going to add social features. So by evidence of this announcement today, a $1.2 billion all-cash purchase, of a company that was nothing more than an activities stream and a ‘freemium’ supplier, it’s pretty significant evidence that as the enterprise retools, that Microsoft was behind. And they needed to take action to integrate social capabilities–not only into SharePoint, but also Office 365, their CRM tool Dynamics, and a host of other things inside that Microsoft stack.”

Yammer also has several known flaws.  Probably the most notorious shortcomings are related to its poor administrative features and security. These, of course, can easily be fixed by Microsoft, a true enterprise player. However, Yammer’s SBS functionality is itself quite limited when compared to other solutions available in the marketplace, as noted above by Zingage and what Moxie CEO Tom Kelly told eWEEK: 

“Microsoft’s acquisition validates the critical nature of social connectivity as an enterprise capability. However, the activity stream supported by Yammer is only one slice of the value possible through enterprise collaboration. If over the coming years MSFT is able to build out a fuller capability, they and the companies that invest in this technology  might see a return on their investment. What the market needs to know is that fuller capabilities are available now…”

Yammer also lacks the the externally facing features that other  Software Business Solutions (SBS) have to:

  • Provide better and more cost-effective customer service experiences.  Jive, for example, empowers customers to answer one another’s questions and customer service representatives (CSR) to find expertise throughout the enterprise to quickly provide better answers than CSR scripts or FAQs could possibly contain.  Such social customer service solutions improve customer service and engagement while reducing service-related costs.
  • Enable sales and marketing to leverage the entire enterprise to respond more quickly to customers and support marketing campaigns.  This capability impacts both top line revenues and bottom-line profits by facilitating customer acquisition and retention while increasing the productivity levels for sales and marketing personnel.
  • Drive product innovation by collaborating with customers, partners and suppliers.
Therefore, vendors that provide such externally facing social business solutions–including Jive, Telligent, Moxie, Chatter and Lithium–may fare better than those who do not.  The biggest loser appears to be Newsgator, who served as Microsoft’s partner to build social business functionality around SharePoint prior to the acquisition of Yammer.
So what do you think of Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer?  
How do you think it will impact other vendors who provide social business collaboration solutions?  
How do you expect other large players (e.g., Oracle, Adobe and IBM) to react to this news?
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Quirky: The Ultimate in Social Product Development and Commerce

So, what do you think of Quirky?  Have you seen other examples where crowdsourcing, co-creation and/or social commerce come together to produce great ideas or products?

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Social Commerce: How and why its a big deal!

groupon2 Driving traffic to a site is much easier than converting that traffic into sales.  Average e-commerce conversion rates are pitifully low, ranging from 2-4%.  For an etailer who purchases media (e.g., keywords for paid search, banners on other sites),  96%-98% of their budget is wasted by driving traffic to their site without making a sale, resulting in horrifically negative ROIs (aka, spending much more than you make!).  We have already discussed the importance of multivariate testing of landing pages and better online merchandising to improving e-commerce conversion rates.  Two trends have emerged that are dramatically improving conversion rates: Social Commerce and Mobile Commerce.  Today, I will discuss the impact of social commerce and reserve my thoughts regarding mobile commerce for my next post. Continue reading