Ben Edwards is an evangelist that I respect. He’s at IBM (a PodTech client) and been involved from the early days in helping to progress communications forward.
We talked about what it was like to help a culture open up using communication tools to reach customers. When I was building out my Social Media programs at my recent corporate employer, I often use IBM as a model for a large company that is progressive with communication.
Last week, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Ben on a panel on Business Bloggging. I was able to get a few minutes away and interview him regarding IBM’s social media strategies. They’ve deployed blogs, wikis, forums, events, and even have a few islands in SecondLife.
If you’re reading this in a feedreader, you can access the video directly by going to the PodTech site.
I’m starting to take my video camera with me to different tech events to interview folks, although IBM is a client of PodTech, this video was not paid for by IBM.
If you’d like to share this video on your blog, forum, or website, please click the orange share button and grab the code and embed.
Customer Reference Programs to transform due to Social Media
This post is intended as a resource and a start of a discussion for those that manage Corporate Customer Reference Programs, please forward this post to the right person in your company.
[Social media tools enable customers to share with prospects, creating both disruptions and opportunities for customer reference programs]
This is an important intersection that required some light in a recent Customer Reference conference. Social Media (Blogs, forums, podcasts, social networks and other tools) impact nearly every arena of the corporate organization. I’m not part of the Word of Mouth organization, nor part of the Customer Reference industry, but I am a Social Media consultant looking in.
Value of Customer Opinions
Nielsen Buzz Metrics research indicates that consumers trust other consumers above all others. Other research leans towards word of mouth. Prospects value the opinion of a customer over that of the vendor.
About Customer Reference Programs
As a result of the value of network based customer opinions, Customer Reference programs were born to the corporate enterprise.
Having managed or helped to lead four Enterprise Intranets at large corporations over my web career, I know that deliverables from a Customer Reference program is an invaluable to the Sales Cycle.
The Customer Reference Program Manager is responsible to build a library of examples of how customers have deployed their products across different industries or environments. Often, they obtain these references by providing bonus services to customers, beta testing products or other incentives. Sometimes, sales teams are required to obtain customer references before a compensation check is issued to account teams.
These important references are captured, organized, and republished (from PDF, video interview, a phone reference etc). Many corporate websites make excellent use of these references, here’s a few great examples from EMC, IBM customer videos, Microsoft, SAP Webcasts, and Hitachi Data Systems.
It’s possible to quantify the actual return from customer reference programs.
Diagram 1: Traditional flow of Customer Reference information
Social Media Tools lower boundaries for sharing
The examples above are a good indicator of the path of least resistance for a prospect to find a detailed customer reference was from the corporate vendor. It’s widely known that Customer Reference Programs often filter, adjust, and select the content for the benefit of the company.
Now with easy-to-publish web tools such as blogs, forums, rating site, and social networks, individuals can openly and honestly provide opinions, thoughts and engage in discussions. I, and others like me, do this frequently for products we use. The barriers to entry are internet access and basic tool knowledge.
Social Media empowers anyone to publish their voice and to be easily heard, for negative customer feedback this is a disruption and opportunity, for positive customer feedback, this is an opportunity.
Future generations of workers and decision makers primarily rely on their social networks to communicate, known as the tivo generation, digitally native, and myspace generation.
Diagram 2: Social Media Transforms Communication
Customers and talk directly to prospects bypassing a corporations, marketing and customer reference programs.
1) Customer References Content is selective
Content from customer reference programs (like other Marketing materials) gloss the company in a positive light. When a prospect is evaluating an important decision (such as a tool that could impact their career) they are expected to obtain information to make a logical business decision.
2) Customers can easily publish their customer experiences on Social Media tools.
When I was the Community Manager at Hitachi Data Systems, I experienced how customers were talking about our products, (from evaluation, installation, performance and more) and there was nothing I could do to prevent them from publishing their raw opinions. (example of our flagship product review)
3) Google makes finding opinions easy
We live in a Google world, and blogs score high in search results due to their high degree of linking. Blogs tend to have specific niche content (long tail) which indicate a high results score on search results for specific product name. (example: search results, at one time, this blog was higher in the results than the corporate website)
While an overused example, at one point, Jeremy Zawodny’s post complaining about Dell Support was displayed higher on the Google search results than the actual Dell Support page. (it’s now lower on the results page) Be sure to read the many comments of folks that offered their opinion.
Both of these examples are disruptive to how traditional customer references were captured and share, the first being a positive mention, the second being negative.
3) How Prospects can find Customer Opinions
Here’s some examples of how prospects can easily find opinions of customers using Social Media tools, please note, some of these are as old as the Internet.
Social/Network Ratings: CNET is one of the early adopters when it comes to customer ratings and reviews. Also see epinions, yelp, and other sites.
Blog Search Tools:
Tools such as Technorati, TalkDigger, Sphere, and Google Blog Search.
Sentiment Mining Tools
Robert and I had a discussion on using the terms X sucks to find out customer opinions. Also try tools like “Google Fight”, see Intel vs AMD, HDS vs EMC, Google vs Yahoo, Also see Opinmind: An early version of a sentiment mining tool
Fortunately, there are more opportunities to make a customer reference program strong using these tools, here’s some suggestions to get started:
1) Partner up!
In many companies, a “Community Manager” role or “Social or Digital Media Manager” is starting to appear as a result of the customers talking to each other and talking back. As a Customer Reference Manager you should align with them. If your company has yet to recognize the impact of these tools on your company and brand, see this post on Corporate Blog Evangelism.
2) Start to Monitor and Listen to what Customers are Saying
Learn how to use Technorati, Google Alerts, apply them to your company name, specific product name, executives. Teach Product teams and support to do the same. There’s a lot to learn from the Church of the Customer blog.
3) Engage and Harness Customer Feedback
Customers that praise your products from websites and blogs will make natural candidates for your customer reference database. Reach out to them, and ask them if they’d like to participate. Of course, as you tell prospect about their opinion, you’ll want to indicate that they willingly and voluntarily provided this feedback without your coaching or being incented. Give consideration to using negative customers opinions to win a customer for life.
If you reference customers with blogs, they are already public information, so the process in getting customer feedback is that much faster.
4) Reuse these references in other ways
If you’ve already established a corporate blogging program at your company, encourage your bloggers to link to the positive references of your customers, as well as learn to deal with the negative ones.
5) Best Practices as Social Media
Now that you’ve started to understand how to listen, your company will need to figure out how to respond to raw customer opinions. The worst thing to do is to listen and do nothing. (See what happened to Dell) Learn how to turn negative feedback about your company into a positive. There’s been cases where a customer having problems with a product will publicly blog about it, the company will respond and fix it and the customer will become a brand advocate and defender. This art is a bigger discussion, but I suggest starting with the book Naked Conversations.
Anti-Marketing Marketing emerges. At Microsoft, Robert Scoble (now my colleague) was hired as a technical evangelist for Microsoft products. He became a living customer reference program by linking to bloggers who said positive and negative things about Microsoft. By leveraging both the good and bad feedback from real customers he became a trusted source to find customer and market opinions about Microsoft.
6) Customer Reference Programs to use Social Media
There’s some fantastic tools available at your disposal now. You’re not limited to only creating PDFs on your website. With little resources you could create use social media tools to harvest the voice of the customer, and share with prospects, here’s a few ideas:
A) Organize internally
Create an internal blog at your company that references all the instances of customers talking about your products in public forums, blogs, podcasts, social sites etc. I recommend attending a conference by the Blog Business Summit, New Comm Forum, or Word of Mouth Association.
B) Publicly recognize opinions
Create this an external blog and link to all customer references on blogs, forums or in podcasts in your industry. To build the most audience trust, both negative and positive. If you work at a company with a passion community, it’s likely some customers may have already done this. You’ll be able to save yourself some time by referencing public blog posts (perhaps from your own blog) which could reduce the time to getting customer permission. In some cases, public recognition is incentive for these natural references. Here’s an interesting outcome of a small customer getting the CEO of Sun Microsystems to listen and respond.
See what people say negatively about PodTech, and how we responded. Also learn about this panel I spoke on, the theme was “Negative is the new Positive”
C) Capture and encourage those voices
That lets real customers provide their best practice information, real feedback, and rants and raves about your products. Consider involving your practice groups. For many companies this is a safe approach as you can control which passion customers will be selected to attend this session. Here’s some interesting ways to generate buzz for your program, both internally and externally.
D) Video shares human stories
Customer References shouldn’t be limited to PDF or Audio. Video is a great way to convey the human emotion and display a deeper connection.
Customer Reference Programs will expand in scope or overlap with other corporate programs:
1) Expanded Scope
There will be an overlap between the Customer Reference Program and Community/Social media programs at many corporations over the next year.
2) Listening Toolset
Customer Reference Programs will use Social Media tools to find customer opinions.
Effective Customer Reference programs will integrate negative comments and opinions into it’s program for great trust and authenticity with the market.
4) Conversational Toolset to Publish
Customer Reference Programs will use Social Media tools to help tell the stories. Some companies will benefit from the interactive benefits of these tools.
[Customer reference programs that integrate unfiltered opinions of customers and use social media tools will increase trust and accelerate the word of mouth network]
Diagram 3: Future Customer Reference Information Flow
This post stemmed from a discussion with a PodTech client (see right nav for list of clients) whom I serve as a Social Media consultant. I frequently use this blog as a resource for our customers as well as be a resource to the network. I would be interested in sharing additional information at a Customer Reference conference, you can learn more about me on my profile.
Media 2.0 Workshop is an aggregation of voices in the New Media landscape, you can easily subscribe via one feed or grab the OPML.
If you’re familiar with my writing style and focus, you’ll know that I focus on how Corporations can benefit by using the web. The changes in power that Social Media provides the power to the participants. My frequent theme is letting go to gain more, and to become a participant. I’m most specifically interested in the intersection and collaboration of customer and corporate media to improve communities
As a professional, I grow by hashing out ideas, memes, and themes with folks that have similar passions. Friend Daniela looped me in with Chris Saad, and has asked me to participate in a different way. Chris is the brain child of the Media 2.0 Workgroup which basically is an aggregation (or Digital Magazine if you will) of the voices that focus on this topic:
“The Media 2.0 Workgroup is a group of industry commentators, agitators and innovators who believe that the phenomena of democratic participation will change the face of media creation, distribution and consumption. Join the conversation…” -Read the rest of Chris’s vision from his blog
You can view other similar voices and thought leaders in the new media landscape on the Media 2.0 Workgroup page.
While I’ll still continue to write about what matters to me on this ‘career blog’, I recommend you subscribe to this aggregated feed, (leave a comment below if you did) add it to your feedreader and categorize or put into a folder tagged “media”. This aggregated feed will save you time from finding common voices and adding to your own feedreader.
Thanks Chris Saad for setting this all up, I look forward to these conversations.
Tagged Media 2.0, “Media 2.0”
(Left: I took this picture of Shel Israel using my color selector feature my Canon SD600)
Last night during coffee after dinner, Blogging Jedi Master Shel expressed to us of his concerns with some situations of bloggers taking advantage of their power, or organizations fearing bloggers. When he talks, there’s usually great wisdom or a lesson to be learned, this was no exception.
These four instances of abuse of power by bloggers and those that were watching bloggers. I suspect this trend will continue, just as it does for politicians, journalists, and anyone who obtains power.
Blogger ethics call for being 1) Honest and fair, 2) Minimize Harm, and to 3) Be Accountable.
I would add that any blogger should try to add to the community, and give credit when appropriate. And yes, that means that A-list bloggers need to start linking out, interesting thoughts from Chris.
As we gain more power by having a louder voice, we need to maintain credibility, I remember last Monday at the Frost and Sullivan conference where one attendee told me “Blogs are just a bitch session”.
Today over lunch, I told my friends I’m careful not to blog about folks that might not already be on the web. What I say about them can quickly find it’s way up search results, impacting their personal brand. The same goes to companies that do wrong, a blogger with incredible page rank can quickly destroy a search marketing program. I blogged about him using his first and last name a while ago, and it’s the top search result in Google. Since employers are known for doing Google searches for new employees, this is power I must yield carefully.
I just created a new category called ‘ethics’, and this is my first post tagged to it, probably something I should have done a long time ago.
Last night, Robert showed his 60″ Sony High Def projection LCD while enjoying a glass of red to Shel our wives and I. Of course, Shel and I used this is a springboard to convince our wives how our lives are somehow incomplete without one. The clarity of the image is just amazing. Interesting to note that Robert has a Polk speaker setup (as do I).
We were watching Mark Cuban’s HDTV channel on Direct TV, Mark’s recently been discussing what should lead, Internet or TV. At one point the AVN footage came up from Vegas, since we were waaay to busy working at Bloghaus, it was interesting to watch from afar. Yes, really interesting. Not to worry, our wives were there to kick, pinch, slap us.
Quite a bit of Robert’s content is being recorded in High Definition, and with IPTV slowly peeking it’s beak out, I know good things will come. I’m predicting a marriage of the Internet and TV into some new type of tool that will have the benefits of all.
Of course, I teased Robert a bit about his post yesterday, I told him he had so many updates he “should have just published a wiki” so everyone could correct him.
I must add that Maryam is a wonderful hostess and cook, excellent salmon and chicken! I told her that her latest post was pretty funny. Shel brought a very nice bottle 2001 Cab over from Silver Oak winery, it was a great wine, had a smoky woodsy taste to it. The interesting thing is, he had stocked up on a few of those bottles before they became popular or expensive. This man knows potential when he sees it. We were also expecting the Citizens but they couldn’t make it, next time for sure.
Maryam, Robert, thanks for being great hosts, Shel, Paula, wonderful wine and brownies. It seems like we all run into each other quite a bit. I’ll be in Miami with Shel in two week at the WeMedia conference, we’re hosting yet another blogger dinner.
(I owe an apology to someone! I was not able to make another event, and I feel pretty bad. Sorry man, I’ll make it up to you next time!)
Update: Funny Conversation
I just ‘casually’ asked my wife:
“Since Robert has an HD, and since we do so much video at PodTech we should probally get one for home. don’t you think?”
“Tell John to get you one”
Dang, I never win, ha!
Lunch 2.0 is about community.
It’s an open house of sorts for startups (and big companies too) to welcome the community that talks, influences, and communicates with each other using the web. It’s a great way to get exposed to new people, ideas, and products.
Meebo the ultimate Instant Messaging company was no exception. Nestled in hip Mountain View (an interesting city with free municipal wifi) on bustling Castro Street, Meebo hosted quite a few folks, catered in Thai food (as well as some ‘Thai pizza’) in their cozy abode.
For the most part, I’ve cut instant messaging out of my life, save for the computer reboots that auto start one of my five IM clients, and the immediate business need. If I were to jump back into IM, I would probaly start with Meebo as it aggregates all clients onto one page –literally.
I ran into friends Juan, Mark Jenn, Joseph Smarr, Noah Kagan, and finally got to meet Jason Calacanis (now hanging with Sequoia that funds meebo) who does a podcast with PodTech, have you heard the Calacanis Cast yet? Jason told me he reads my blog, and liked some of the posts I did on B2B Social media, sweet!
This picture is great, you can see my Asianness is rubbing off on Jason.
This video is of Andreas and Danny of Meebo, two of our hosts. I took that video towards the start of the event, by the time I left at 12:30 it was nearly double the crowd.
Video: Lunch 2.0 at Meebo
Thanks Meebo for being such wonderful hosts, pictures below (tagged “lunch20”).