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Social CRM is Just the Beginning: Looking Beyond Customers

June 9th, 2010

In Engage!, I review the important catalysts and methodologies defining the new era of Social CRM or sCRM. In the discussion, I also introduce the idea of SRM (social relationship management), a concept that may at first blush, seemingly appear to introduce yet another acronym or perhaps challenge the promise of sCRM. However, its only intention is to spur thinking beyond the literal frameworks of traditional customer relationship management, whether it’s social or one-way.

Much of this chapter was cut as the book was already well over its target word count. As it’s an important topic, I’ve reassembled the pieces into a two-part series to spark useful conversation and innovation around the subject.

At a minimum, SRM focuses beyond the social customer and escalates the promise and potential of sCRM across an entire organization, not just customer service. Equally, SRM zooms in to evaluate the various stages of decision making and the channels and people that influence outcomes.

The Culture Shift: CRM to sCRM

If we look at CRM and the methodologies and technologies that support customers today, social CRM represents much more than a modernization or even socialization of an aging system of support and service.

I believe that among the chief attributes of social media, the ability to identify active communities of relevance, trace channels and voices of influence, and also discern and dissect the various stages of decision making, all in real-time, is nothing short of profound and transformational.

Information is becoming commoditized. Conversations, sentiment, inquiries, and intentions are vocalized and open for organization, categorization, and analysis. Our newfound sense of hearing is there for the benefit of learning. Accordingly, adaptation will be the key to earning relevance in our markets and this continuing practice of adaptation is how we will ultimately establish prominence.

This is easier said than done of course.

The culture that prevails within businesses today actually works against the pillars of socialized CRM. As such, everything begins with change and the compelling case to do so. While social media has traveled a great distance from our personal exploration to our profession endeavors, this unstructured groundswell has forced a bottom-up revolution led by us, the social champions who believe that the customer should once again, come first.

Eventually however, we hit a ceiling where the effects of championing change are met with challenge and skepticism. This opposition is natural, as the energy and persuasion necessary to break through the ceiling and impact the entire organization from the top-down, requires much more than enthusiasm.

Before businesses can collaborate within their communities, they first have to learn how to collaborate internally.

As Charlene Li points out in her new book Open Leadership, organizational transformation is only truly attainable through the willingness of leaders to embrace a change of course, act, and do so without having all of the answers. But, neither Charlene nor I endorse changing for the sake of change, nor do I suggest that we take any steps blindly. Instead, I believe in the power of data and as such, I rely on the real-time social information that visualizes impact, influence, sentiment, and opportunities.

Research, analysis, and insight offer clarity and direction. When combined with recommendations for process enhancement and ultimately compelling forecasts, we can then begin to demonstrate the ability to increase customer acquisition, retention, sales, and market share overall. This is the only language, for the time being, that seems to resonate with executives.

Introducing the Mantra of SRM

The premise of SRM is that the Social Web is distributing influence beyond the customer landscape, allocating authority amongst stakeholders, prospects, advocates, decision makers, and peers.  The activities that govern each form the separation and distinction between customer acquisition, retention, and advocacy. I believe at the heart of sCRM methodologies, the recognition that customers are only part of the new equation, sets the stage for long-term and advantageous change.

Every day, customers and prospects are faced with making decisions and the paths that they take are increasingly open to input. People are not only taking to the social Web for options, research, and recommendations, the insight they receive is derivative of the experiences and observations of others.

We reap what we sow.

This is why the concept of SRM shatters the boundaries set forth by CRM and the prevailing methodologies that inspire the progression towards sCRM.

Again, the idea of SRM recognizes that whether someone recommended, purchased, or simply recognized a product or service publicly each makes an impact on behavior at varying levels.

In the realm of SRM, influence is distributed. If we define influence as the ability to inspire action and measure the corresponding activity, the socialization of influence now expands beyond the strategies and software that organize and optimize customer relations and the management processes that govern it.

The entire organization needs to socialize and optimize in order to affect decisions and earn relevance.

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff formerly of Forrester Research called for sovereignty through jurisdiction in her post, Who Should Lead the Customer Social Media Interaction:

“The best strategy for a company is always to have everyone do what they do best. That’s why the various functions departments got created”

Customer service, combined with participation and engagement, forms a powerful foundation of marketing without blatant marketing. And, as the socialization of our business is introduced through open leadership, engagement brings into focus the fifth “P” of the marketing mix – people.

Indeed, this is about people and the recognition of influence wherever and however it takes shape. Equally, this is about relations and relationships. As such, we need principles, guidelines, processes, and systems to identify and engage in relevant communities and corresponding activity to trigger, cultivate and harness the rewards for paying attention and connecting.

This is just the beginning. The road to SRM is rich with insight and it affects the entire organization and in turn, the ability to impact decisions.

Top 10 Ways to Become a Real Social Media Expert

June 7th, 2010

The headline is shared mostly in jest, but this topic is one worthy of serious attention. The question at hand is whether or not the general advice shared in popular blogs and books when designed to be snappy, shareable, and consumable, help or hinder the ability to learn critical and important lessons in social media.

I recently read a post by Alan Maites that used an article that I wrote for AdAge as the nexus for an industry-wide quest to seek answers for specific marketing challenges and ambitions. Chris Syme also continued the discussion.

There was a line in Maites’ post that resonated with me and serves as the inspiration for this discussion,

There’s nothing here that addresses the special circumstances that can make social media difficult for marketers to use.

Obviously, a guide on style and persona is not intended to address special circumstances on how to make social media easier for marketers. However, herein lies the essence of the frustration many share, including me – the ongoing need to discover useful direction, answers, how to’s, and guidance.

Advice is a commodity, but usable, not practical, instruction is scarce.

While his counsel to help marketers find solace is to “Google it,” I would like to take the opportunity to forward the discussion.

My advice? Reduce the weight you place on the social media guidance and examples that are universal, as they won’t apply to the specific circumstances or context of your challenges, opportunities, and market dynamics. Use them solely for inspiration, but not as templates for your endeavors.

It’s Time to Write Your Own Success Stories

We can’t assume that the lessons and successes we study are motivated by planning, calculation, and purpose. Many of those experimenting online today do so with more resolve than strategy. Creating a profile on Twitter, blogging, and introducing brand pages on Facebook are rudimentary. Mapping social media capabilities and corresponding objectives that contribute to the common goals of any organization require vision, creativity, and business acumen that are vastly absent from Google’s search results.

The only resolution to help you begin your path to learning lies in the questions you ask and answer yourself.

The sentiment shared by Alan and others is not at all wrong. It’s exactly right. When I started to write Engage!, I too, couldn’t find meaningful advice or instruction that I felt would apply to a majority of the organizations that face distinct challenges. And at 300 pages, it makes no apologies for the amount of information within, as there really are no shortcuts.

I spend every day experimenting with new media in marketing, advertising, communications, media, business, service, and I can assure you, that there is no “top 10 guide to do X” that will apply across the board. I answer my own questions in every case I work on and I share much of “how to get those answers” in everything I write.

Self Empowerment Leads to Self Actualization

Any program tied to templates will perform as such.

For example, I recently met with a handful of small businesses as part of a Citibank initiative to help companies get started in social media. It was very different than anything I write or read, and in each case, the steps they would take the next day shared very little in terms of execution. When you really peel back the layers of specific business objectives and how to attain them against unique market conditions, the questions and answers that surface bear little resemblance from business to business.

I’m a champion of self-empowerment and the only replicable process that I’ve discovered that consistently works in new media, is the necessity to gather, interpret and implement insight into programming that matches the dynamics and challenges of the matter at hand – one company or one objective at a time. It is the only way to evolve from where we are today to the level of expertise we so often seek from others.

The truth is that experts, whether it’s social media or any field for that matter, are inspired by possibilities, but proven through experience and the ongoing quest to transform theory into practice. The more seasoned experts will also have figured out how to establish business metrics and in turn, design campaigns that map to objectives.

It’s this process of asking and answering questions that forms the framework for how and what to measure in order to capture everything necessary for KPIs, ROI, and also action that has a pre-defined impact on any effort. But you can’t measure what you don’t know to track. You can’t start if you don’t know what questions to ask. I believe that programs inspired by insight, data, and business-caliber goals (before you start experimenting) set the foundation for a program that might share some attributes with many of the “how to’s” that are out there, but are unique in their content, context, execution, support, and measurement – and that’s the point.

Much of the information online is helpful for inspiring creativity and direction. But, it’s up to each one of us to get the answers through the hard work necessary to see how any of this applies to our unique challenges and opportunities that face us today and tomorrow. We have to become the very experts in our space that we once sought to answer our own questions.

Our works should focus on empowerment, placing the responsibility of leadership and direction directly on us. The real opportunity lies in our ability to teach individuals to become self-sufficient.

Sometimes it’s easier to think outside the box, when there isn’t a box to begin with…

Social Networks are Touchpoints for Customer Acquisition and Retention

May 31st, 2010

Touchpoints serve as the point of contact between a buyer and a seller. As the race to socialize commerce escalates, these touchpoints represent the nodes that define the human network, connecting people across the social Web and uniting them around common interests, themes, and movements.

While the technology to connect buyers and sellers on the social Web is universal, the architecture for true engagement is antiquated. Customers are flocking to the social web to not only connect with friends, family, and peers, but also the brands that attract their attention. However, there is a tremendous disconnect between the volume of potential customers and the brands who truly understand how to find and more importantly, how to establish mutually beneficial connections with them.

The roadblocks that contribute to the absence of traffic on the bridges built between consumers and brands are trivial once brands understand the dynamics of social engineering and the allure of content in order to stimulate transactions.

Everything starts with an acute awareness of where existing and potential customers are discovering and sharing information today combined with a genuine appreciation for what moves them. The moment we have the insight necessary where to construct our presences, we can then engage with influencers, peers, and consumers based on a transparent foundation of contributing value, direction and resolution to each interaction.

According to research conducted by ForeSee, the opportunity for online retailers is profound. In the 2010 Social Media Report, ForeSee observed that 60% of online shoppers already use social media sites and networks regularly. And, 56% of those online shoppers friend or follow retailers, but they can only do so, if the retailer is actively engaging within those networks. The study found that only one-fourth of the top 100 e-tailers (e-retailers) has yet to create a Facebook page.

ForeSee found that of all the social networks frequented by online shoppers, Facebook consistently earned the top spot.

56% of online shoppers frequented Facebook, followed by YouTube at 22%. MySpace, believe it or not, ranked third with 15% and actually edged out Twitter by 4%.

However, pay attention to the real opportunity. While existing users are important, over 30% reported that they do not use social sites…at least not yet.

If only 25% of the top 100 online retailers maintains a Facebook page and with Facebook ranking as the most active network among online shoppers, the following data should be more than enough to change 2010 marketing plans posthaste.

Over 60% of consumers follow one-to-five brands online with another 21% following six-to-ten.  10% actually reported following 11-20 brands and 8% stated that they follow over 20 of their favorite products and services.

What motivates them?

Affinity and allegiance are of course among reasons for following brands, but as documented late last year, consumers are also motivated by receiving invitations for events, special offers or promotions.

For those skeptics who have yet to allocate funds and resources to engaging customers and prospects in social networks, perhaps this information will erode suspicion.

Your customers ultimately will engage with their favorite brands where and when possible, but eventually, your absence will eventually contribute to the insignificance of the brand as competitors will ultimately step in and capture the attention and loyalty of the very people you need to reach.

This research is testament to the rapid evolution of customer acquisition, retention, as well as defining the new landscape for advocacy.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Redefining Viral Marketing

May 28th, 2010

In September 2008 at Web 2.0 Expo in New York, I shared something that many, to this day, believe to the contrary, “There is no such thing as viral marketing.”

The declaration was empathetic in its direction to those marketers who have been on the receiving end of directives instructing them to create and unleash viral content. In parallel, the statement was aimed at those decision makers who assign such projects.

Content, no matter how brilliant, creative, abstract, or controversial, is not inherently viral. Yet, we’re asked repeatedly to create viral videos, posts, and other social objects that will trigger an endless array of retweets, pages and profiles that immediately attract fans and followers accompanied by a deafening wall of sound propelled by word of mouth.

Content doesn’t make something viral; people are the primary source of powering social objects across the attention nodes that connect the human network.

Despite what appears commonsensical, we’re surprised when our brainchild doesn’t attract the views, attention, and circulation we believe it deserves.

The reality of social media is this, in the attention economy, information isn’t randomly discovered and broadly disseminated. It is strategically positioned to either appear when someone searches for a related keyword or it’s presented to someone manually and deliberately.

As individuals, we no longer find information, it finds us.

The same is true about social objects. We must create packaged content with social hooks that comprise the story we wish to tell and the action we hope to spark – whether it’s through video, text, images, badges, widgets, or apps. While there is no such thing as viral marketing in and of itself, marketing inspired to catalyze word of mouth (WOMM) is a bit more thoughtful and calculated in its approach and it usually seeks options in and around Social Media.

Good Ideas are Worth Sharing

Ideas represent change whose time has come…

At the heart of any campaign is an idea. And even though good ideas are worth sharing, in order to have any hope of going “viral,” social objects require sustenance and herding. Essentially, our job is to not only create the content, but also connect the dots for those individuals who can help us spread our story across first degree relationships defining social graphs (friends) and second-degree graphs linked by friends of friends and so on.

Social scientist Dan Zarrella has analyzed over the years, why ideas spread. In his research, he discovered common characteristics of contagious content, those elements prevalent in many popular memes, whether organic or proactively marketed.

Seeds

The first group of individuals who are exposed to the idea/social object determine the extent and reach of the meme. These “seeds” are often mistaken for built-in audiences, for example, Twitter followers, Facebook Fans, blog subscribers, email lists, etc. The true opportunity for extending the lifespan and audiences for ideas is to carefully pick influential individuals who can spark activity and response. Early involvement, prior to anything being released, is key as is the definition of the role they will play in the roll out of the content.

Novelty

Distinctiveness is required for all transmittable ideas. Personal connections are also paramount. The personal motivation for sharing content is driven by how well something connects or resonates with the person exposed to it. Ideas connect initially because they’re relevant or personal. Other communicable emotions that factor into the motivation for sharing in a one-to-one model include:

1. Personal/Relevant/Timely

2. Humor

3. Utility

4. Relationship Building

5. Common Interests

6. Missing out

7. Conversations

8. Reciprocity

Association and Correlation

As Zarrella observes, intuitiveness is a key attribute for determining the likelihood for pass alongs. If someone can’t understand an idea, they simply will disregard it and move on. And in the era of the real-time Web, we move too quickly to further analyze or interpret ideas. Its intention and purpose must be clear from the onset. And to be quite honest, it’s our job to create compelling objects worthy of connection. Data shows that you have three-to-five seconds to engage your viewer and in that time they’ve already decided to either continue and possibly share the idea or simply abandon it.

Relevance

In the attention economy, our focus is concentrated on what flows through our attention dashboards and we’re distracted at will as relevant content appears. As intelligent filtering tools are slowly emerging, human filtering still prevails. Through selective attention, we each possess the ability to tune out the volume of information that relentlessly attempts to lure our focus. Relevance is key to encouraging someone to take the time to purposely share content with those they know.

It is the art and science of creating content that appeals to people individually and also as groups of shared interests. This is why social media is social in the first place.

People connect with individuals who share their passions, interests, and ambitions. Designing social objects based on the psychographics rather than demographics of those you wish to reach and inspire, proves critical in the viability of engendering personal connections – connections worthy of sharing.

Utility

Give someone a fish; you have fed them for today. Teach them how to fish; and you have fed them for a lifetime…

While much of the content examples we hear and see so often are aimed at short bursts of entertainment, creating and distributing helpful content is contagious in its own right. Help me answer or ask a question. Help me find a reason to participate. Give me a voice. Help me do something I couldn’t do before I came into contact with your social object.

The idea of integrating utility or resolution into social objects increases the sharability of content while also increasing its lifespan.  Continually introducing useful content sets the foundation for invaluable relationships based on the theory of social exchange – those connected will grow with one another based on the ongoing exchange of ideas sparked by objects and conversations that flourish over time.

Social Influence – A Cascading Effect

Tying back to the importance of initial and repeated seeding, peer-to-peer influence sets the stage for perception, urgency, and also weaves the fabric that wraps us with a sense of exclusivity and inclusion. By aligning with those individuals who are recognized as leaders, trendsetters and authorities, an ambiance is established that carries with it the lure for affinity, belonging, and association, inviting individuals to “join the club” simply by viewing and sharing.

The reward for these influencers is that they’re perceived to stay ahead of trends. It’s rare when you see someone of this stature join later in the game. They’re usually on the prowl for the next undiscovered object that when disseminated, reinforces their reputation as an early adopter.

An element of wisdom of the crowds is also at play in the realm of social influence. There is an allure, an unspoken emanation of prestige when a group of people surround and react to content and objects. After all, if a person possesses crowds of qualified followers, readers or if a particular bit of content earns significant views, reactions, retweets, shares, and likes, then it has earned a state of prominence that begets validation. Communities literally form around objects and in doing so, they influence the actions of participants and spectators, now and over time.

Social objects should thus be supported before and during their release to garner attention, support, followers, and influential activity.

Information Voids

In the absence of truth or information, speculation fuels hearsay, which in turn sparks movement and ultimately gains momentum as new voices attempt to answer questions through conjecture. I refer to the introduction of an event or object as the information divide, the difference between the moment information is introduced into the social web and the time it takes to verify its accuracy. Therefore I ask, is content or context king in the real-time web? The same can be said for word of mouth marketing.

When information is intentionally missing or it’s positioned cleverly to incite speculation, social objects can spread across incredibly vast networks at blinding speeds. When BMW, for example, introduced its 1-Series, it did so through a video documentary (mockumentary) entitled “The Ramp” or “Rampenfest,” which chronicled a filmmaker’s visit to a small village where the town rallied around a record breaking attempt to launch a 1-Series BMW over the Atlantic. In doing so, BMW intentionally steered viewers towards wonderment. Was it really an attempt to cross the Atlantic? Was BMW behind this video? With every new question, more viewers and shares ensued.

Today, visiting Rampenfest.com takes you directly to the BMW 1-Series home page.

Experiences Cause Action

Social objects engender experiences. The difference between the failure and success of a meme is directly rooted in the resulting activity that they’re intended to cause. Perhaps the most powerful characteristic of social objects is their ability to masquerade as catalysts that carry cause and effect.

Strategic marketers will calculate what happens after the initial view and resulting share.

They’ll define the complete series of meaningful steps and then reverse engineer the process to design content that delivers a complete and directed experience.

Content can carry with it the ability to raise awareness and also incite change. It is done by appealing to the very people who align around the subject and in order to convince them, these social objects must carry personal and emotional messages that connect with the hearts and minds of participants. Affinity is driven by emotions, exacting the essence that inspires someone to support something they believe in and fusing it with the passions of others who also share in the mission. If the intention is supported through the content and as such, designed to further action, meaningful connections are then forged and replicated. We are after all, attempting to make human connections and they are, to say the least, priceless.

This is social media and word of mouth marketing with a purpose. And, it’s the most powerful form of engagement I’ve practiced. When content connects with someone at a truly personal level, and explicitly asks them to participate and share, wonderful things come to life. I would say that the Pepsi Refresh Project is among those campaigns that connect people, ideas, emotions all while furthering the sentiment and support towards the Pepsi brand and the ideas and people orbiting it.

Sharing the Spotlight

Among the most powerful forms of galvanization is that of recognition and reciprocity.

Movements can and should feature the very voices of those who can power the spreading of ideas. Providing them with a platform where they can voice their thoughts and views among vested audiences who can celebrate contribution is empowering and rewarding to brands and equally to participants. Social Media is powered by people and its future is dependent on how we not only consume content, but also invest in its significance and relevance.

In Nokia’s recent experiment in the UK, the company erected the world’s biggest signpost to visually demonstrate and promote GPS functionality. The sign featured the locations of those individuals who sent information directly to the sign, and in turn, the information was shared via the sign’s Twitter account. It’s personal and gratifying as Nokia places you and me at the center of the experience.

Sharing isn’t Caring, It’s Furthering an Idea

Ideas are worthy of sharing, when there is incentive to do so. The incentive isn’t always rooted in rewards however, motivation can simply stem from a reaction – a smile, an email, an emoticon, credit, etc. This sharing transpires in the social communities where relationships are entwined and as such, social objects are most effective when they integrate sharing mechanisms designed to simplify the process of dissemination. AddtoAny recently studied the networks where sharing ideas and content and corresponding dialogue tended to concentrate.

At 400 million strong, Facebook is by far the most active of all social networks, eclipsing email by more than 2x. And, even though email is second to Facebook at the moment, Twitter is in a draft position.

The point is that without the inclusion of one-click sharing capabilities, combined with planned syndication strategies, the reach of our content is restricted even before it’s introduced.

To that end, Zarrella also studied the effect of the word “video” on sharing within Facebook and Twitter. His observations were interesting indeed and actually make the case to consider focusing efforts on Facebook.

Stories that contained videos were shared more on Facebook than that of the average story. On Twitter, Tweets that included the word video were shared less than the average story. Zarrella believed that the Facebook platform is conducive for sharing as it enables the embedding of multimedia content where as Twitter requires an outbound link.

The Epitome

In a recent post in SearchEngineLand, Jordan Kasteler shared the seven types of sharing motives:

1. Self Expression

2. Affinity

3. Validation

4. Prurience

5. Status Achievement

6. Altruism

7. Self-serving interests

While there are many published formulas designed to help you make your social objects “go viral,” nothing is more important than…

1. Creating content that’s relevant

2. Identifying the tastemakers and influencers who will help us reach the right audiences

3. Involving them in the process before the campaign is officially introduced – seeding

4. Striking a chord with the person they’re trying to compel – making an emotional connection

5. Encouraging them to share it with their contacts

6. Rewarding them for doing so

7. Defining the action we wish viewers to take after the engagement

8. Providing them with a forum for self-expression

9. Recognizing all of those who helped us

10. Connecting everyone together for future engagement

The strategies, examples and supporting data are only minimized when we view them as ingredients to a recipe of viral marketing. Doing so underestimates the value of the roles people play in the spreading of ideas and practically dehumanizes overall experiences.

When we introduce social objects, our ability to create, connect, and define experiences around these information and idea catalysts defines whether we earn the attention we feel we deserve or we savor the collaboration we engendered through design.

Reflecting on the words of good friend Hugh MacLeod, the three keys to social media marketing, or marketing in general, are as simple as they are profound…

1. Figure out what your gift is, and give it to them on a regular basis.

2. Make sure it’s received as a real gift, not as an advertising message

3. Then figure out exactly what it is that your trail of breadcrumbs leads back to.

I don’t believe in viral marketing, but I do believe in the socialization of relevant ideas and information when connected to the right people, in the right places, with genuine and pre-defined intent.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

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