Social media has propelled us into a new world where marketing and PR are basically one and the same. Your business can either avoid this new era, or embrace it. Below are the stories of companies that have taken huge risks and jumped headlong into the world of practically free online advertising, customer service, and brand building.
Last week I attended the B2B Social Communications: The Case Studies & Roundtables Broadcast conference that took place at CUNY. Not until I entered the conference dressed to the hilt in my gray Brooke’s Brothers suit, and shiny black leather Bostonian shoes, did I realize how much of a departure from my normal work day the conference would be. In the web 2.0 era, where awkward geeks like me dominate the space, it’s easy to forget that the rest of New York wakes up every morning and begins the arduous process of getting dressed to impress. Men and women alike were sitting at tables reading the Wall Street Journal, carrying on casual conversations and exchanging business cards dressed in outfits that cost at least as much as a month’s mortgage payment.
I don’t mean to focus so much on what everyone was wearing, but I think the point is necessary. For online marketing companies, especially those who focus is on social media, an experience like this is rare—and out of place when one considers the casualness of conferences like Affiliate Summit. The speakers were not other affiliate marketers or social media entrepreneurs. The speakers were representing huge brands like IBM, Deloitte, Intuit, Dupont, and Pitney Bowes among others.
Their only similarities being that these large companies might be regarded as unlikely venturers into social media, and yet, here they were, promulgating the success of their well-executed social media projects. Below are my thoughts on the most interesting projects.
Deny Thyself; Increase Conversions
Intuit (the developer of Quickbooks) began its foray into social media in an effort to solve their two biggest challenges:1) Intuit as a small business brand was brand new and 2) its flagship business—accounting—isn’t much discussed amongst small business owners. To put it simply, they had to figure out how to get small business owners to see the value of their product even though “Accounting is not sexy!” (as Kira Wampler of Intuit said).
Their solution was unique and unexpected. They put together a site that would allow small businesses to elevate the conversation surrounding their business and which offered a number of free small business products, held a contest that allowed entrepreneurs and small business owners to share their business with the world, and didn’t really ever mention their product. Wampler said that their goal was to make the Small Business the hero.
Guess what happened? You’ll never believe it, but the site converted at almost exactly the same rate as their transaction site. Moreover, they empowered small businesses through the content on their site (and their contest helped small business understand how the internet is a simple and incredibly cheap way for them to advertise). The concept was simple, provide small business with good, relevant content, and small businesses will trust you. You talk to the people right outside of your sales funnel, and over a long period of time, they work their way through your site and purchase your product.
Free Labor—No Sweatshop: The Art of the Forum
Pitney Bowes’s case study had less to do with how to increase conversions. Their problem was quite a bit different than intuit’s. For them, the goal was savings. The problem they face is that once every year the Post Office changes rates, and their call center gets hammered with customer service questions. Matthew Broder, the presenter for Pitney Bowe’s, said that each call costs them nearly $10, and so reducing calls to their call center is a huge cost cutter. Their goal in creating the forum was simply to reduce customer calls to their center using free content generated by their customers.
Invoking the popular marketing book Groundswell they are using the somewhat anecdotal projection that for every 20 visitors to a broad-subject post, their call center receives one less call, and for every 20 visitors to a subject post that is more specific, their call center receives four less calls. Whether those numbers are accurate or not is questionable, but they said that their call center employees noticed a huge reduction in the number of calls since the forum was instantiated.
If their case study is taken seriously, then it seems that the key to a forum’s success is in how the forum’s users are managed. There are three types of users (I’m not sure where they got this, but it seems to be a fare assessment of internet usership): 1) lurkers – they never make comments, they are consumers of content; 2) Occasional users—they consume a lot of content, but they also produce occasionally; and 3) power users who are on all the time. This core group of users (maybe as many as 10-50 depending on the forum) generate almost all the content. In Dell’s forum, Broder said, there are something like 50 users who spend the equivalent of an entire work week on the pages of the forum producing content and answer questions, and none of them are paid to be there…FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE CONTENT. The success of a forum is contingent on incubating these power users.
Pitney Bowes does this by reaching out to them specifically. Pitney Bowes estimates that an user who posts one good answer to a question every day saves them $520,000 in call deflections every year. And as any good business will tell you, $520,000 saved is $520,000 earned.