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What are Customers Looking for From Social Businesses?

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 23, 2011

There’s a great conversation going on right now around what Customers are looking for from Social Businesses (e.g. what is Social CRM, really?) between Dennis Howlett, Paul Greenberg (via Dennis), Mitch Lieberman, and no doubt several others I haven’t yet tracked down.  It starts from a survey IBM did on what businesses think the value of being Social is versus what Customers think:

Social CRM PerceptionsLike any great discussion topic, there are layers of data and possible interpretations that become a Rorschach tableau on which to justify one’s personal predispositions; hence I won’t hesitate to share mine!

The money quote is the one Dennis plucked from Mitch’s piece:

Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them.

Ouch! Those darned selfish customers, we just want to be their friends!

OTOH, there is an evil part of me that speculates that an awful lot of our “friends” are not much less mercenary most of the time, particularly if they’re just business acquaintances, so why are we surprised?

The other reaction to the chart is that in terms of measuring whether customers want a relationship, they didn’t ask all the right questions and may not have interpreted the ones they did ask very well.  After all, “Feel connected” and “Be part of a community” are pretty much content free touchy feely BS.  What sort of person do you have to be to seek that sort of companionship in the bosom of a corporate entity?

OTOH, if I consider a more realistic view of Social Interaction, all the areas that scored big on learning seem perfectly Social.  And, when I look at “Purchase”, it makes me wonder what that really means.  Here is a chart from IBM that shows why Consumers go Social:

Why Consumers Visit Social Sites

Presumably, this is the chart we’re meant to compare and contrast with.  Let’s consider some of these categories and ask whether they have a place, even indirectly, in the business Social world.  Consider it a way to think differently about your Business Social efforts in order to increase engagement.

Connect with friends and family

The desire to “Feel Connected” and “Be Part of a Community” is evidently much less important in Business Social.  The corollary seems obvious: if you want to increase this motivation for connecting, get some friends and family in there.   Family is hard, but there are countless Social sites where people go to meet and interact with others who have similar interests.  When I was with Callidus, one of the most popular components of our User Conference was a session we called “Birds of a Feather”.   This was essentially a beer bash organized by industry vertical where customers could go compare notes.  The session had two parts.  First, we had our domain experts present, one at each table.  Their instructions were to listen and only chime in when nobody could answer a question.  They were told to act strictly as a resource and not to try to guide what was going on.  Second, we had a closed session where all the Callidus people left.  Customers were welcome to talk about us, our competitors, or whatever else they needed to in our absence.

I can think of no reason why this “Birds of a Feather” type interaction couldn’t be done in an online Social context nor why it wouldn’t be extremely popular.  Some vendor or other probably already does it and I am just not aware, so please chime in if you’ve heard of it.  In a broader sense, think about whether your Social CRM efforts are purely hub and spoke, meaning they force too much interaction with your company and not enough peer to peer to do very well in this context.  Get out of people’s ways and facilitate their getting to know one another.  Empower the gregarious networkers whether or not they are customers.  They will keep the party rolling.

Access News and Entertainment

This ranks pretty high on both scales.  If you haven’t already figured it out: content is king.  Give away as much valuable content as possible.  Call it Best Practices or whatever it takes, but be the best educator in your space and do it for free.  Free means not even pestering incessently for contact information.  BTW, at my last company, we had a Best Practice Community filled with content that went over extremely well.  Some of our highest landing page conversion rates came from the signups for the community.  People didn’t see a signup to join a community as egregious in the way a signup for a White Paper seems to be.


Several of the entries amount to “Sharing” of one kind or another.  Too often businesses see Social as just another direction to point the megaphone.  Are you giving your customers voices too?  Are they empowered to share?  Are they encouraged to share?  Are your customers actually trying to share and then getting shouted down or smothered by the people in your company that run the Social program?

This is one of the hardest things for businesses: giving up control to the customer, even just a little bit, doesn’t feel right.  But go talk to your best Salespeople.  Aren’t they good listeners?  After all, Social isn’t some High Priesthood that takes years of learning and arcane knowledge to master.  It’s just people.  Go ask people who are good with people how they’d solve a problem and then try that in the your online Social context.

Bottom Line

These are just a few thoughts about turning some of the Social Debate and information on its head to try to get new insights.

If your Social isn’t, well, Social enough, try thinking about it from your Customer’s standpoint.  Forget about what you want from them, give them what they want from you.  Establish reciprocity, and the rest will follow as best it can.  Forcing the issue won’t necessarily help and it may very well hurt.

Postscript:  The Pepsi Refresh Failure

In his post, Dennis refers to the Pepsi Refresh failure :

The Refresh Project accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.

It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.

While Ad Contrarian views this as Social Media’s massive failure, and an indictment on Social in general, I look at it differently.  I don’t think Pepsi’s problem is merely about what they measure or how they engage.  It’s a lot deeper.

How much do you and your friends talk about Coke or Pepsi?  I think the longest conversations I’ve ever heard happened because some restaurant had the wrong brand and someone made a snide remark afterward.  Is it any surprise that while such brands can bribe people in various ways to visit, that these people don’t really want to engage?  These Pepsi guys could’ve saved their $20M.  Rather than asking why Social didn’t increase sales, they could as easily have not spent the $20M on any marketing at all and wondered why it didn’t affect their sales.  Heck, if Coke would save the money they spend to advertise at the beginning of every movie I see I would thank them, “Like” them on Facebook, or whatever.

At some point I will do a post on what sorts of brands benefit from Social or not, but for starters, just observe whether parties who should be interested spend much time talking about it.

Similarly, Dennis in his post touches on some cultural issues companies may have that will ultimately prevent them from being very Social.  Some Company cultures are flat-out anti-social when you expose Customers to them.  But, these two points are peripheral to my main theme, which is to try to think out of the box or at least in your Customer’s corner of the box where Social is concerned.  You have a lifetime of monkey-see monkey-do formal marketing to overcome, but it’s worth it.

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