Embrace your Customers
At Forrester, we use the term Embracing as a social strategy where customers and employees work together using social tools to build next-generation products. Quite a change for the strong headed product manager, who now has to set the roadmap, while in collaboration with customers.
Popular Examples: Dell and Starbucks
We’re all familiar with the popular Dell “Idea Storm” website that let customers vote for which features and products they wanted to be bore to the marketplace. In Dell’s case, the linux community asked for a UBUNTU box, which was created and launched and sold. I wish I was a fly on the wall when Dell’s strategic partners at Microsoft found out about this.
Recently, Starbucks has launched My Starbucks Ideas, where customers are voting for improved services or products in each of the stores. Looking at the site, the request for free wireless or ‘punchcards’ for frequent customers is under consideration or has been improved.
Both powered by SalesForce
Both of these sites are powered by Salesforce’s product, Ideas. Move on over, there’s a new player in town called UserVoice that offers the same features right on their site.
UserVoice, a new kid on the block
I’ve played around with UserVoice and even created a version for my own Web Strategy blog, the simple features made it easy to setup and let others submit ideas. I’ve not stress tested this service to see if it can withstand enterprise activity like SalesForce can, but it’s a nod to a common feature (voting) that we should start to expect to see in white label social networks. (in fact, I know of a few that are going to launch this)
Reporting, Query features, and easy to setup
Other UserVoice features to include Google Analytics, and the ability to collect demographic information and let owners know of suggestions. Owners of voting sites can also segment their customers by different purchasing sizes, in order to help prioritize. Also, polling features will help to put color around suggestions from users, and other conduits to improve the connectivity between employees and customers.
For example, I created this own Web Strategy UserVoice page where you can go and make suggestions on how I can improve this website.
If you’re a small company or individual blogger, or run a niche product, I encourage you to try out UserVoice, test to see how it scales, and come back and leave comments on your experience on this post. If you’re from a large company that has thousands or millions of customers, start with SalesForce and also trial UserVoice. Anyone that wants a fully custom user experience should start with SalesForce.
Update: I’ve received some tweets and comments also suggesting IdeaScale (which I think is the same as this product of the same name), I’ve not looked at it, please leave a comment if you’ve a review. Also, passionate CEO Matt from BrightIdea left a comment about his enterprise class competitor to SalesForce, I look forward to a formal Forrester briefing from him, let’s take a closer look at this growing segment.
What to Expect
UserVoice would make for a good partner for any of those white label social networks, and could even be an acquisition target for a vendor that’s not up to speed in this emerging feature set.
Expect other White Label Social Networking vendors to offer this feature, soon it will be on the ‘checklist’, of features. Customer voting? “Yup we got that.”
They aren’t the only ones to watch, Get Satisfaction, a support site for any product, anywhere, (no reason to go to that irrelvant corporate website) has launched, and customers are self-supporting each other, and some savvy companies have their employees there participating. Without surprise, I’m there representing Forrester, although there’s been no activity. Satisfaction is still very startup focused, I hope to see some Fortune 1000 companies appear on their site.
Lastly, UserVoice itself is, “eating their own dog food” so to speak, using their own service to improve their product, there’s already a small flurry of votes happening.
We live in a hyper-connected world, yet part of the blowback is the excessive communication that occurs –I fear it will only get worse over time.
Today, I spoke to an Executive at medium sized corporation who confessed that she cannot keep up with her email inflow. She receives about 500 emails a day, and told me at the end of the day she sorts by sender. First from her CEO, then by the folks on her team directly reporting to her, and then whatever else she can get to.
Despite the many collaboration tools available to all of us, we use email for way too many tools (I’m guilty too) from: Status updates, document management, calendaring, collaboration, social networking, and even for ‘conversations’.
Part of the reason I blog is that I can get my message, thoughts and story out to thousands of people in just about twice the amount of time it takes to write an email. My colleagues follow me on twitter, and often know where I’m at, what I’m doing. Scoble publishes his calendar so those he needs to interview can help schedule. Yet despite these, I, my colleagues, and Scoble and you likely have more email than can be consumed.
Ironically, most of my social media peers and I still use email as one of the main ways to communicate back and forth to each other But even more, there are more inboxes to check, twitter, facebook, linkedin, I’m getting business messages from these tools and I’m sure you are too.
So what’s the solution? It’s going to be part process, and part tools. Some have committed to responding to emails only in five sentences or less, and new tools like Xobni are starting to appear (I’ve requested a beta account)
Questions for you
1) How is your email intake? Can you handle it all?
2) How do you make your communications more efficient?
3) We’re headed to a hyper-connected world with an increase in communication channels, how will you cope?
Update: I’m all for solutions, and have found that aside from the excellent comments below, that some suggest to only check email twice a day (11am and 4pm) and to set that as an expectation. Colleague Julie Katz has announced an upcoming strategic report to help marketers how to understand how to reach those that are consumed. Hopefully, this email service vendor ClearContext promises to help with the problems.
For 2 minutes, forget about these tools: Seesmic, Facebook, Ustream, Justin TV, Blogs, Forums, RSS, Utterz, and all the rest of the tools I listed out.
I’m seeing a lot of web strategists over focused on the tools. Secondly, I’ve even seen a few social media books written that focus in on the tools. While there’s a need for this type of focus, it should be at the end of your strategy, not the start.
In too many cases we focus on the next shiny objective, from this video player, to the new light mac book, to the newsfeed changes, or to the latest gizmadget. Only a few professionals out there can do this, like heat seeker Robert Scoble, and honestly, keeping up with him is just frantic, believe me, I should know.
Instead of honing in on the specific technology, you should approach developing your web strategy as you would building a house. Focus on who you’re inviting to come over to your property (websites) and what is it that they want (needs). Start there.
Next, think about the different rooms in your house, and how they all serve a different purpose, from the decor (branding), mailbox (blogs), front door (advertising), living room (chat rooms), and basement (document library), they all do something different. We use tools in a lot of different ways, some are great for attracting folks (advertising) some are great for making them stay (media and content), and some are great for encouraging them to interact (social tools). In any case, the value of each of these on their own is weak, and the real value is all of them together in context.
There’s a couple of ways to develop your strategy, one of which is to follow a methodology of framework, when I speak at events, I’ll often discuss the POST methodology, which focuses on people, objectives, strategy, then tools (and only in that order).
So stop fondling the hammers and nails, instead, focus on what’s really important, the guests you want to attract and what type of house they want.
Twitter is one of the top referrers of traffic to my blog, over 2000 referrers from twitter to my blog in the last 30 days…there’s something happening there.
I’ve also noticed and increase of new users over the past 30 days, feel free to add me as a friend,
I will add you back. (Update: I’m no longer adding anyone back, as it’s not time efficient for me to do this)
Twitter is becoming a major communication tool for me lately. There are more intimate conversations being held on this next-generation chat room, and it’s filled with early adopters and those who are trying to reach them.
If you’re not familiar with Twitter, my colleague Peter Kim recently did research on it, as well as recorded a podcast. I’ve also got a post up on why Twitter matters to the web strategist –it’s a quick start guide.
Here’s a few of the conversations I’ve been having in the last week
Just this morning we were debating the (lack of) user enterprise software debate
This past weekend I met over a dozen people who like the same type of music I do, and they recommended new artists to me.
News and information breaks on Twitter before it hits blogs
Last week I was on the phone with Francis Tapon, author and world traveler, he told me his secrets to getting paid to traveling the world, so I tweeted it to my 1900 followers.
I also share interesting links to content I’m reading, mainly around web and technology, as well as events I attend, much of this does NOT end up on my blog.
I’m starting to use Twitter like my link feed, why I find interesting I put on twitter, rather than on my google shared reader or my blog.
You won’t hear me talking about what I ate for lunch, but you will learn things about me that I’m passionate about –strategy, music, art, etc.
Who it’s for and who it’s not
If you’re in the tech industry, and in marketing, you should be paying attention to what’s happening on twitter. There’s even search tools that can help you find discussions and memes. Also, if you’re trying to reach early adopters, these are tools for you. This really reminds me of the the whole blogging industry in 2005, it’s the same type of pros and cons –it’s just much smaller now. If you don’t meet these criterion, then it may not be for you, always remember to find the audience you’re trying to reach first.
Hope to see you there, my profile is jowyang, and I’ll follow you back.
If you’re seeking more followers and want to connect with folks (once you get a few dozen active friends, a real ‘conversation’ starts) leave a comment below with your twitter name.
Update: I’ve tweeted to my network to add their name to this comment area if they want to connect with other folks (see my actual tweet) that are interested in social media+marketing+and are on twitter.
[The Fabric becomes stronger as the Threads connect]
In just a few minutes there are over 20 responses. This is testament to how rapidly things are evolving. Now the title of this post is needs to be modified: “Some conversations are moving to twitter..and back to blogs”
Update 2: Three hours since I’ve posed the first tweet pointing people here (Have about 50 new followers, and over 160 comments on this post, dozens of replies within twitter, became the top node on techmeme, as well as direct messages), and I’m getting messages that Twitter is slowing down as people are starting to add other, the fabric is growing. This is a good test of what could happen in an emergency, as folks were using Twitter to get messages out during the South CA fires a few months ago.
The viral activity in and around Twitter was amazing, people of like minded interests were leaving their twitter profile below, then connecting to each other at a rapid rate, it then spread the the blogosphere slowing both twitter.com and my blog.
There are echoes on the blogosphere too:
Why is Twitter Exploding? Because it’s A Conversation Ecosystem.
Jeremiah Owyang Causes Twitter Explosion
Help! I’m Addicted to Twitter!
Twitter is a Conversation Ecosystem
My assumptions were right, there really is something happening in twitter, it’s clear it’s the desire to connect and communicate.
Update 3: The Day After
It’s very clear this was twitter storm resulted in meeting the objectives of getting folks to connect. I’m receiving messages and reading blog posts that many people now have added 20-100 followers or connections that they might have not been able to connect to previously, you can track the many incoming links from Technorati. Sadly, having a few hundred more contacts has flooded my mail inbox with notifications, but as promised, each person I’ve promised to follow and listen to in return. Lots of clicking to do this weekend.
Most importantly, the value of a network is determined by it’s size, yesterday (which some are calling ‘Twitter Tuesday’) resulted in a stronger fabric across the social network. All of the boats rose with the tide.
Recently at our home, we purchased a new laptop, which came with Vista on it. Sadly, it didn’t come with Microsoft Office on it, and I was not able to open any word docs, excel, or powerpoints. I asked the store how much it would cost to add office, and they suggested in was $175. This seemed like a lot of money for a software system that I’m used to seeing as a base line image on most computers.
As a result (and being web savvy, of sorts) I started to use Google Docs, an online, ‘free’ version of office. Google offers an online spreadsheet tool, as well as an online document word processing tool, all with collaborative features that I could share with others.
As I continued to use these Google docs, I started to infect others, evangelism runs within my veins, and soon my wife started to use it, and I used it for a variety of documents within my new employer. I’m not sure if it’s becuase of me, but other colleagues in my team are using Google Docs for team collaboration. It’s not just Google either, Zoho is coming around the bend quickly, and had quite a presence at the recent Office 2.0 conference in SF that attendees were wondering why Microsoft was not present.
I wonder if Microsoft is missing a major opportunity here by: 1) Not providing these basic tools on the OS that buyers are not willing to purchase and 2) Not being agile to see how information is moving to the cloud and thus offering tools for the online office. When I do a google search for Microsoft online office, it results in thanksgiving colored templates.
Talking to Rafe of Webware (they believe in the web as a platform) he mentioned to me that the internet has made boxed software irrelevant, as users can now download them from the web, or use web versions of products.
What other software companies are missing an opportunity because of the web?
A few weeks ago, I met some SF folks at Lunch 2.0 in SF (see pics of this rooftop party.
Randy Fong is a Flex champion and evangelist and gives us his reasons why he prefers to develop there. He tells us about the differences between Flex, Ajax, and Silverlight, and answers which one he thinks will have a faster development time.
I probed him about measurement, which has been a point of contention for many web strategists, he gives his response.
There’s a lot of web strategists reading this blog, tell me about which technology you’re using for rich user experiences and why.