Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

September 27, 2009

Small Businesses interest in Social Media increasing rapidly

In a recent very small business (businesses with 10 employees or less), Social Media ranked at the top of the list among the tools used by small businesses to market/promote their business (see Figure 1). The use of all ‘Digital Media’ tools by SMB has seen a dramatic increase in the past 2 years at the at the expense of ‘traditional media’ tools. Many businesses are finding that marketing campaigns using traditional media tools are seeing reduced effectiveness in reaching their target audience. Consumers and businesses are placing less trust on information provided through traditional marketing vehicles, as those are mainly static tools supporting one-way conversations – other than word-of-mouth. The new digital media is changing the rules of marketing and even small businesses need to proactively participate in this change.

Figure 1photoshop-1

Why has social media seen this dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by 3 factors:

  • Change in the consumer and business workers personal communication environment and habits
  • Low barrier to start participating in the social media communications – tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress are free. Social media is much more than traditional forms of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network
  • Much more real-time communication support to start conversations with existing customers and prospects

As the data shows, most small businesses are already participating in social media to varying degrees. Most of the social media adoption by small businesses is happening in an adhoc and sporadic manner. Majority of it is being driven by their use of of these social networking sites for personal communications. This use of social media in business today is more experimental, some to get a feel of the type of small businesses that are starting to participate in such communications and others to experiment with the type of conversations that are taking place and the type of communications they could have using this medium. As small businesses get more comfortable with these communications media over time, their importance in the marketing communications mix will increase. However, there are several issues that need to be resolved before they become mainstream communication tools for the small businesses. Some of them are:

  • Efficient and productive ways to monitor and participate in social media – small business do not have the time to individually monitor the various social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, etc. They need tools that can integrate with their existing business solutions to pull-in conversations that could have relevance to them. Some new solutions from vendors like Salesforce.com will help small businesses harness the power of social media through solutions like Service Cloud, Salesforce Answers and Salesforce for Twitter and Ideas. New vendors that provide some solutions in this area include Lithium, Helpstream and Elgg.
  • Finding areas where social media can add value and provide business benefit – potential areas include product marketing and customer service
  • Integrating Social Media solutions with current marketing tools – Now that we know small businesses are interested in social media, it would be a good (for ISVs) to integrate social media interaction with your current marketing solutions like CRM, e-mail marketing, marketing automation, etc.
  • Customer sentiment monitoring – This is area small businesses can monitor conversations that are taking place about their products, brands and competition. Although this area today is primarily leveraged by larger consumer focused companies, over time this information can be leveraged by small businesses also.

To make this communication and collaboration effective and supportive of key business objectives, small businesses need to craft a social media strategy as part of a marketing plan to positively reinforce brand awareness and improve customer relationships.

Key elements to this plan should include:

  • Integrate social media into your current marketing plan, don’t abandon what is working to get on the social media band wagon
  • Find out where your target audience (existing customers and prospects) gathers online and learn how they are engaged. Start by asking your current customers where they are and then join in.
  • Match your audience to the social media tools they use – some people like Twitter other prefer Facebook or LinkedIn. Focus on relationship building.
  • Don’t limit yourself to most immediate “universe” of your target. Find people who touch your universe and engage them too.
  • Listen to what people are saying about you in the social media world
  • Use social media to drive traffic to your website
  • Develop plan to measure the success of your social media efforts (topic for another blog)
     

June 3, 2009

The next generation Contact Center – Social Networking + Traditional Contact Center

The traditional contact centers now support more real-time communications technologies – VoIP, IVR, e-mail, IM. However, the intelligence and information repositories that are leveraged by these contact centers is very much static and internally focused.

With the growing popularity of social networking and community knowledge, where contact center agents can take advantage of consumers/customers helping each other with issues and queries – reducing the number of inquiry interactions the contact center service reps have to make, delivery real cost savings and improving the contact center ROI. The issue is – the lack of a comprehensive easy-to-use solution that integrates blogs, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, etc.) and search to easily aggregate the desired knowledge and mesh it with the internal knowledge repository, including the customer information stored in the enterprises CRM systems.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their service cloud strategy. This Service Cloud showed an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the contact center agents – this will help them take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress,

Traditional contact center solutions when integrated with an easy-to-use comprehensive community knowledge solution – presents a market disruption elevating this new contact center solution to one that provides significantly higher ROI and customer satisfaction. The Salesforce.com ServiceCloud can be integrated with the traditional contact centers solutions that have primarily relied on static internal information to service the customers, and have been separated from the community knowledge in the cloud from social networking conversations, blogs and Google. The Service Cloud presents an excellent dashboard to bring these two disparate clouds to establish a cloud-based customer service platform and knowledge for contact/call centers – for customer service agents, customer self-service portals and partners. SIP and presence enable this cloud service platform, and it is ready for some very significant communication and collaboration – via VoIP phones (click to call), e-mail, or IM based conversations.

Why is this of value to Customer Contact Center solutions companies? The current leading Contact Center solutions from the leading telecom equipment vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel are more along the lines of the traditional on-premise solutions and do not present an easy solution to integrate the cloud-based community knowledge, except in some cases they have integrated search solutions by integration with Google. The Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform can be used to provide an integrated internal knowledge base and the community knowledge/social network (enterprises can define the scope, and members of their communities) from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Google search, etc. In addition, one can include CRM to monitor customer satisfaction, address any questions/concerns, resolve problems quickly, provide product tips and tricks, and send out information in the customers’ preferred way of communication – without long waiting times or endless forwards and escalations. This could present a disruptive service solution which has the capability to significantly improve customer satisfaction and at the same time reduce the cost to provide this service.

This presents a good partnership opportunity for the traditional contact center application vendors to integrate with the social networking/community knowledge cloud-based service platform without the long internal development cycle. Adopting the Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform will provide a 1-2 years time-to-market advantage vs. the vendors that choose to do it themselves.

 


 

Social Networking – The SMB challenge and how the SMBs can gain value from Salesforce.com Cloud Service solution

Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress are all the range in the B2B and B2C world today. But does the SMB business owners/CEOs or a lone marketing person have the time to devote to track and follow these sites without spending an inordinate amount to time and effort – especially when there is no clearly identifiable direct linkage that this leads to increased sales. How can SMBs participate in and leverage these market trends effectively to address their business and marketing needs?

All these social networking sites present vast amount of unstructured information to the SMBs. In addition, SMBs are also beginning to see a large number of e-mails sent to our e-mail In-boxes from these social sites – leading to information overload, and in many cases turning away the SMB that could benefit from it. What is needed is a solution that aggregates information from all these social networking/community knowledge sites and presents it to the SMBs in a manner that make the information (which at times is very valuable) more easily consumable and easily searchable.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their social networking integration and service cloud strategy. The Service Cloud shows an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the SMB and mid-market enterprises – this will help the SMBs take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, etc. CRM platform has the potential to pull together information/community knowledge from the various social networking sites and meaningfully relate it current customers, prospects, and partners to deliver more engaging conversations and communications – providing significantly better ROI compared to an ad-hoc social networking access.

Social networking & community services do have the potential to:

  • Improve customer interactions and relationships
  • Actively engage customers and partners
  • Engage potential customers in technology education and learning
  • Interacting with the channel/VARs for information exchange and support

SMBs are actively exploring how to participate and incorporate all of these social networking sites/feeds to develop a social networking strategy that drives a broader marketing and services strategy.

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