Tuesday, April 15, 2008 The Impact of Social Technologies on Sales, Support, Marketing, and Branding Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li recently published Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Josh is a Vice President, principal analyst at Forrester Research. In this interview, he discusses the impact of social technologies on sales, support, marketing, and branding. 1. Question: Can the CEO of a publicly-traded company possibly write an interesting blog? Answer: It's very, very hard. The examples can be counted on one hand. Jonathan Schwartz at Sun comes to mind. You can also check out Forrester CEO George Colony's blog, but to be fair it's more about ideas, which is our stock in trade, than about Forrester itself. Bob Lutz, the FastLane blogger at GM, is the Vice-Chairman, so his is not a CEO blog, but it is interesting. Some CEO qualities are good for blogging -like showing leadership and being analytical -- but others aren't a good match being circumspect in communication and analytical vs. passionate. Plus, CEOs are pretty busy being CEOs -- communication isn't typically the largest part of their jobs. Finally, a good blogger needs to listen to the blogosphere. Public company CEOs can hire others to help with this, but they don't have time to do it themselves, and that gets in the way. 2. Question: How can it possibly have cost GM $283,000 to put up Fastlane? Answer: We don't really know exactly what FastLane cost, but that's our estimate for a similar blog for the first year. Senior executive time is expensive, and so training them to do this well is expensive, too. Turning a senior executive loose to blog without training is very dangerous and could end up costing a lot more than $283,000 to clean up! 3. Question: It's great to be on Digg or TechCrunch and get ten times the usual traffic, but four days later traffic returns to just about the same level Ñ where's the long-lasting "groundswell" effect in that? Answer: The value of Digg and TechCrunch is similar to the value of a news story -- it's great as part of a long-term PR strategy, but one hit alone isn't enough to make a difference. The long-lasting effect ends up being felt in Google juice, as these posts tend to rank higher on Google because of the links to them. 4. Question: Wouldn't it be better if "regular people" were telling their "regular friends" about your product than some pompous A-listers reviewing it? Which is to say, isn't a ground-based groundswell more powerful than a top-down dissemination model? Answer: Definitely. Top-down and groundswell don't match up very well. We love you talking about our book, Guy, but even better would be if 1000 people who just read the book started talking about it. We see this all the time with clients who contribute to the creation of a bottom-up groundswell, like Fiskars did with its Fiskateers community. Google or Tweetscan "Groundswell" and you'll see lots of regular folks are talking about it, and we're delighted. And, just for the record, I don't think you're particularly pompous. 5. Question: If the blogosphere loves your product or service, does this "guarantee" that it will be successful? Answer: Nope. Jericho was a huge hit in some segments of the blogosphere, but when they brought it back it turned out those folks weren't representative of TV viewers. The people who talk the most aren't necessarily like the rest of the world. See my post about Jericho being cancelled again. 6. Question: Concomitantly, if the blogosphere hates your product or service, does this "guarantee" that it won't be successful? Answer: Again, you can get by if the blogosphere hates you. Maybe the stuff about your service that annoys bloggers doesn't matter so much to the general public. But if bloggers hate you, you're probably doing something pretty badly, and in general, that means fighting a headwind in all of your marketing and sales. 7. Question: Many experts cite Dell Hell, Comcast rep sleeping, etc. as cataclysmic occurrences, but Dell Hell didn't cause Dell's issues, and Dell is substantially back. Comcast is still around, and it gives me 25 megabit Internet access in my house. Isn't there a lot of fear mongering? Answer: Dell Hell was actually a wakeup call -- Dell is substantially back in part because it has learned to listen better to its customers. They should thank Jeff Jarvis for waking them up. As for Comcast, it's paying millions to run commercials about how Comcastic it is, but if you go to YouTube and search Comcast the first result is the sleeping technician. In part, those commercials are paying to undo that YouTube video. These aren't cataclysmic experiences and we aren't fear mongering. We're trying to draw attention to the fact that the groundswell has an impact on brands. If you say your service is great, but search results point to lots of places that say you are not so great, many people will make decisions based on those searches. And that costs a lot to fix. 8. Question: What is the sequence of actions for a large company to implement a "groundswell" social technology? Answer: Here's where our four-step process for companies makes sense. POST is the acronym (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology) 1. People. Review your customers' participation in the groundswell. 2. Objectives. Clarify your own objectives so you know what to measure. 3. Strategy. Think about how engaging with the groundswell will change your relationship with customers. 4. Technology. Then, and only then, go on to choose the appropriate technologies to accomplish your goals. 9. Question: What are the proper and reasonable objectives for such an implementation? Answer: We talk about five key objectives mapped to the usual functions of your business. 1. People in research can listen to the groundswell. 2. Marketers can talk with it. 3. Sales can energize their best customers in it. 4. Customer support can use it to help their customers help each other. 5. Development can tap it for innovation. What matters is to start with one of these clear goals, and measure progress toward it. 10. Question: "Nordstrom sucks" yields 65,000 hits: Isn't there a danger in extrapolating what a few angry people are saying to the "general public" because there will always be a few dozen people pissed off at what any company does? Answer: Sure. The questions are, How many people are noticing those Nordstrom comments, and Do they reflect an issue that's spreading? Sometimes the people who are saying that Nordstrom sucks have a point, and Nordstrom had better fix something before the rest of their customers notice. That is, don't panic, but do listen. 11. Question: And how should a company listen to what happens on the Internet? Answer: A brand monitoring service like Cymfony or Buzzmetrics can boil down all those comments into measures of general sentiment and specific issues. Sometimes what matters is not what they are saying, but how it's changing. If negative sentiment climbs two months in a row, then something important is probably going wrong. Or if it spikes on a single day, you'd better find out why. One of the simplest strategies is simply to find a few people every day who are talking about you, and get in touch with them. If they took the time to talk about you, you could probably learn something from them--or even turn them into advocates. 12. Question: But what should a company truly believe? Answer: Your brand is what people say it is, not what you think it is. So you should believe any measures of sentiment that are consistent or consistently growing because your customers are hearing it--which makes it true. 13. Question: Are there any companies or types of companies that simply shouldn't try to use your principles of groundswelling? Answer: If your main market consists of a group with low participation like people over age 55, then you can wait a while and move more slowly. But even those companies should keep an eye on this, it will catch up to them. Imagine if you asked, in 1995 "Are there any companies that shouldn't pay attention the Internet?" I'd say the answer then was no, but companies with mostly offline customers could afford to be a little more deliberate in their strategizing. 14. Question: How do you explain the absence of Apple employee blogs? Answer: You mean beyond Fake Steve Jobs? Obviously you know more than I about Apple, Guy, but I think it's pretty clear. Their corporate policy says that beyond a very small number of senior executives, employees are not permitted to communicate about the company to others. So blogging will get you fired and possibly sued. Even if you are blogging anonymously, that's a huge risk for any individual employee. If they sued and shut down Think Secret, what would they do to a blogger? Makes me shudder to think about it, and I don't even work there.