Although the press release doesn’t say, I suspect it will be a platform that a customer can rebrand to ‘fit’ on a corporate website. I also want to know if there are ‘widgetized’ components that can embed on a static/irrelevant website. It’s my prediction that websites (corporate ones at that) will become social, with community components being a big part of the experience. Here’s primers on Social Graph and Open Social if you need to get up to speed.
Despite this being a very, very crowded market (see my master list of over 80 companies) Six Apart has three things going for them: 1) Brand recognition: companies that have already deployed a social media program have already looked or used their blogging tools. 2) Experience. With Vox, a form of a more secure social network site previously launched, the hopes are the company has worked out any bugs to extend this tool to brands. 3) Movable Type: Reading between the lines, I suspect this is an ‘upsell’ opportunity for existing MT users, which is a good move for them as they already have a strong footprint with existing customers.
Rafe at webware, who has positioned this story as a solution for forums (I see it as much more than that), suggests that the $10k price tag is steep (not sure if a one time or monthly fee, but I suspect a one time fee as this appears to be a licensed sale). As an analyst, clients are sending me proposals from vendors and I see monthly price tags for these community-in-box solutions comparable or even more per month. Big brands don’t want to deal with infrastructure problems and are willing to pay up that price tag, also Marketers may not want to deal with a confused or slow IT department. Lastly, brands have more important things to worry about, like building a strategy.
I used to be an implementor, and in 2005, I launched a corporate blogging program at a brand you know, we started with Typepad, as it was easy, aimed for corporate, and I could avoid dealing with a long, over-calculated IT department. For these same reasons, white label social networking and community platforms will experience similar adoption patterns in corporations.
Oh, and thank you Jane for writing a press release void of hyperbole, it’s refreshing, and respectful of our time.
(Above video: this 90 second clip from the folks at MediaSnackers summarize the changing landscape)
What’s a mediasnacker? Folks who consume small bits of information, data or entertainment when, where, and how they want. If you want to be part of their lives you’ve got to respect them. I’d argue that the folks who created this video emphasized too much that mediasnackers are the youth only, because business folks of any age are busy, get information from multiple sources, and need filters.
Here’s how I respect MediaSnackers
The reports I will write as an Analyst are designed to give decision makers the right information in the most concise medium
What I’m not good at
Keeping my blog posts tight and concise, I need to work on that more, I’m known for excessive writing, and it likely scares people off.
I also publish too frequently, which is also not respecting your time, as I get busier at work, that will naturally change.
Scoble does long videos (although Rocky often creates summary versions), and Chris Pirillo streams for hours a day, does that work? How does that work in today’s new attention economy? We have more inputs but the same number of hours a day.
Great conversation with this WebEx commissioned podcast with John Battelle the founder and CEO of Federated Media. John’s a thought leader, speaker, and author, and luminary. He discusses how the marketing has shifted from broadcast (disruptive yelling) to conversational (exchanges in communities).
What you’ll learn:
Understand the changes between publishing and advertisers
Boing Boing’s rapid growth without spending a dollar on marketing
How the internet flattens the distribution curve
How are traditional marketers adopting conversational marketing?
Why packaged marketing is no longer viable
AOL as a case study
Who gets conversational marketing in the media business
Although we end up at the same ending point, my belief and practice area is on Community Marketing. Conversations are certainly part of the sphere, but I see conversations being a verb that is an output for a community. Lastly, communities can succeed without verbal or text conversations, gestures can indicate interest. In the end, we end up at the same point, just different ways of looking at the same solution.
Adam “Tay Zonday” Bahner, a PhD candidate in American studies at the University of Minnesota, produced Chocloate Rain. Since it first appeared on YouTube in July it has spread as a ‘meme’ around the web resulting in countless remixes (try seeing related videos on any of the YouTube videos).
If you’ve not seen the Chocolate Rain music video, it’s a simplistic, repetitive theme that has deep focus on society, racism, and inequality. It was highlighted on YouTube’s Featured section:
“Of course, it doesn’t hurt to get a little help from YouTube. The site’s editors have featured several of Zonday’s recent videos on their homepage, where a video can get tens of thousands of hits in an hour. On July 26, “Chocolate Rain” was even featured by YouTube alongside several of its pretenders.”
As a child, I was often labeled as disruptive in the classroom, always to my parents dismay. I’m now very disruptive to corporate strategists, but I’m bringing a message that needs to be heard.
A few months ago I spoke at the Customer Reference Forum in the city of Berkeley. My presentation was loosely based around this post: The impacts of social media to customer references.
I opened my presentation with a the recollection of a conversation I had with two of the attendees over lunch. They were talking about which wing to stay at in the hotel that was hosting the conference. One cleverly learned that one side was more desirable, and she learned this from a hotel review website –not the official hotel website!
What’s a customer reference program? It’s a group within a company (often B2B tech companies have this group) that harvest the positive customer mentions and turn them into marketing or sales tool materials. The end goal? To convert prospects by using these filtered and biased customer opinions.
I suggest these great folks that run these programs need to evolve, as prospects can now find customer opinions online. Tools like Yelp, (restaurant rating) blogs (like this one you’re reading now) and the emerging Get Satisfaction (universal product support) product that could be very disruptive to the corporate website.
At the conference, I gave the suggestion that the customer reference teams were to evolve and start being more active in social media. I received push-back from the already startled crowd. (One attendee even called my message scary, but in a positive way). So who’s to manage these ‘unbiased’ and ‘organic’ customer references? Robin Hamilton of reference geeks cares a lot about customers, and would be a great start to learn more.
[Previously, there were dedicated groups that were responsible to harvest the testimonials of customers. Now with the world wide web, these voices appear organically and are easy to find. Now questions of ownership and management rumble from within the enterprise]
So who owns the customer testimonials? Well we all know that they do, but within the organization? We all agree that there’s likely folks who we don’t want talking to customers (and they probably don’t want to either) however I must suggest that everyone who’s a touch point to a customer is actually responsible for customer references. And with many, many employees being on the world wide web, this can include many folks, even those not in sales, marketing, or support.
Back in Febuary, I was curious to see how people consume content, so I shared my media consumption habits, on this post, and encouraged others to share. I tagged five people, but only a few of them actually did it, and it started to spread. I’m not a black hat SEO and I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything mischievous but the meme spread.
What’s my secret? People want to share, people want to talk about what’s important to them, so I just figured out what I wanted to share about and let it spread. Always remember it’s got to be opt-in, so what’s in it for them? What’s going to let them want to blog about it? You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes, that’s how to be viral.
I was a speaker at Ad:Tech in SF earlier this year and I’m sick of hearing my Social Media colleagues (who I still respect greatly) complain about why they hate advertising: “It’s intrusive, it’s nasty, it looks horrible, it doesn’t work”
Get over it, it’s not going away
See Social Media folks are marketers at heart, they are conversationalists, communicators, and community advocates. We believe that we can be a better society by getting rid of the blasting of messages from the ivory towers. The funny thing is, on many of these folks websites, I see them have banner advertisements or ad units promoting the next conference they go to –ironic.
Much of the internet’s revenue is from Ads
As I understand it, 85% of Google’s revenue in the past has been from online advertising. Contextual Ad sense is Advertising, sure it’s not the annoying “punch a monkey” type of advertising, but it’s still advertising. I predict Google will start to do this with video in the near future, it’s certainly not going away. Read my predictions about Google and Online Video.
We hate shotguns
Advertising is a shotgun approach, and sadly that means that innocents are subjected to the chaff. Advertising messages are often (or should be) targeted at a specific group or demographic, when we’re subjected to advertising that’s not aimed at us, we often don’t like it or try to screen it out.
We love lasers
When Advertising is focused and hits the right target, not unlike a laser, it hits home and resonates. Advertising becomes part of our culture, and people start to talk about (that’s a conversation) from Budd-wise-er, to Got Milk. We hate advertising when its not for us, but in the rare times that it’s on the mark, it resonates with us, and becomes part of us. This can apply for text ads, mobile, ads, and most importantly, contextual ads.
Even though we don’t like it, advertising works
Advertising works. In business school, we were taught that 11-13 impressions of a brand (often advertising) will cause the prospect to be highly likely to try or purchase the product. This is a deep rooted human, psychological, and sociological instinct that’s difficult to ignore.
Is it possible for products to be adopted by people without word-of-mouth networks? Absolutely. Is it possible for both to co-exist? Advertising online will become more targated, the advanced media buyers will shift to sponosorships, and technology will allow us to triangulate data online, and using mobile devices like never seen before. If done right, there will be more lasers than shotguns.
Online Advertising will evolve, as will word of mouth, conversations, and communities too. Let’s evolve with it.
He discusses how “Conversation Marketing” is key in the new marketplace:
“To influence the influencers, companies need to have two-way conversations with bloggers, whom Gillin terms “enthusiasts.” Disney courts John Frost, author of the DisneyBlog, for instance, because it knows that his posts can inspire stories on mainstream TV shows and in news publications.
Such “conversation marketing” requires a completely different set of skills than those that marketers typically use. When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman criticized General Motors for fuel inefficient cars, GM punched back just as hard with a post on its corporate blog, Fastlane. Friedman fired back, and in the ensuing spotlight, GM got its points across to a big online audience.”
In the article, he futher suggest that being early is the only way to become powerful and infuelntial, which is not true. Guy Kawasaki was a late comer to blogging and quickly rose to the top 100.
While I’m not an A-lister, this blog is in the 2000 Technorati rank, which I started less than a year ago. Of course, I did have a previous URL domain, so reputations matter, and that’s really what’s important, not numbers.
To further the influence of word-of-mouth, eMarketer indicates that decision makers rely on first had, or in-person word of mouth above all other forms. It puts technology bloggers at a influence rate of 19%.
In the past, a few former colleagues and friends have teased me about attending so many tech events on weeknights. Well, if it’s not obvious to you, face to face meetings build so much more than any blog could.
Lastly, eMarketer reports that word of mouth only works when a company has solid offerings, without it, word will not travel effectively; “Without satisfied customers, there was nothing for WOM marketers to talk about. ”
Arrogant A-lister? Succesful Entrepreneur? Or a generous knowledge resource?
Guy is never a short of words as he shares how he became one of the top bloggers so quickly (I’ll admit, I was one who is jealous as he skyrocketed to fame in 3 month). His content is often written as a resource, a “how to” be an evangelist or entrepreneur.
Best quote? “Who give a Shitake” about your personal journal. I was the one that told Jennifer not to throw around that “A-list” term, well she asked Guy right up front, pretty cool. Wow, Guy has a nice estate, what an incredible backyard. His goal is to be ranked in Technorati as the top 10, he’s 14 pegs away. Guy says he doesn’t read any other blogs other than his, well he only has about 40 feeds that he reads.
If you can’t see the embedded file above, access the webpage directly.
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]
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.