August 20, 2014

Lithium’s Customer Heroes

I recently attended the 2012 Lithium Network Conference (LiNC for short) in San Francisco to hear about the latest and greatest from Lithium Technologies as well as from thought leaders such as Brian Solis, photo left, who shared about Digital Darwinism from his new book The End of Business as Usual. Lithium’s software powers the social customer experience, including online branded communities, for over 300 brands including AT&T, Best Buy, Sephora, Skype, and most recently added Nestle, Aruba Networks, and Guitar Center, among others. I have attended two of these events in the past – as a Lithium customer (Verizon). This year, Lithium asked me to come as an industry thought leader so I could look at their event and announcements from a different perspective. Here are some of my key takeaways.

Good News for Social Customer Service

Having been a Lithium customer for the past two years, when I was the Verizon Community program manager and social media strategist, I am probably a bit different from other “thought leaders” who attended the briefing and the event. I have used many if not most of the functions of the Lithium offering. I was happy to see a renewed focus on both sides of social business – customer service, as well as marketing.

In fact, I had wondered how much new functionality we would see in the area of customer service. In the past, support communities have been Lithium’s bread and butter. In the past year or so, Lithium had put a renewed interest into marketing and had some great successes; Sephora’s Beauty Talk is a great example of how to engage the social customer. With the renewed interest in the marketing side of the house, I was a bit concerned that Lithium would swing too far in that direction and neglect good ‘ole customer service.

I was pleased to see great improvements in their customer service functionality, mainly the new Lithium Response offering. It takes the already strong features in the Lithium customer service platform and expands further on them, allowing customer service agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can do what they do best – respond quickly. From what I have seen, it seems to be able to provide the full fire-hose of social media information, prioritize issues that come in to the business, route them to the right agents, and surface content (from both the community as well as from self-service pages) that can help solve customer queries. It also includes case management, which had been lacking. It looks like a great step up from the customer service functionality previously available with an online support community, and it will make the interaction between social media customer service teams and community managers much easier. I look forward to seeing more of it in action soon.

Improving Social Media Marketing

On the marketing front, Lithium announced some new partnerships, such as Shoutlet. This particular partnership will allow Lithium customers to take advantage of Shoutlet features that will help make the social conversation easier, especially in the area of marketing campaigns and CRM. It will be great to watch some of Lithium’s marketing communities take this on and deliver strong social media ROI. Other areas where the focus on marketing is visible include additional opportunities for photo sharing, group spaces/private communities (great for research and innovation), as well as improved single sign-on (much needed functionality) and more robust ratings and reviews (served up via widgets). All around, the Lithium social marketing offering has taken a big step forward, and it will make an impact in organizations that take advantage of it. In the future, I look forward to seeing these two pillars (customer service and marketing) of social business come together, as our customers don’t see departments as they go through their journeys with us. These pillars need to meet up in order to create the rockin’ customer experience that will be vital for business success in the coming months and years.

Heroes

I greatly enjoyed the conference itself; it was nice NOT to speak at an event for once! There were a lot of new faces this year at LiNC, both customers as well as Lithium employees, and this helped to keep the conference feeling fresh. New faces always means a lot of energy, and that was definitely apparent. I absolutely love the way Lithium showcases their customers at their events, and this one was no exception. Using the theme of Heroes, the Lithium event team had customers share the stage with Lithium executives. They told some inspiring stories of how their companies, including such leading organizations as Skype and Cisco, are using Lithium to get solid returns on social media as well as innovate in their space. I highly recommend more customer sharing at future Lithium conferences as well as throughout the year; hearing from other community managers was always very helpful, as well as inspiring, when I was a Lithium customer.

Thank you for an exciting and entertaining LiNC event, Lithium, and thank you for having me there.

(Photo credit: Top, Becky Carroll; Bottom -Lithium Technologies video from LiNC 2012, Paul Gilliham)

San Diego Chargers Connect with Their Fans via Social Media

chargers fansAs many of you know, I teach a popular class at UC San Diego Extension on Marketing via New Media. I help my students understand how to look at social media as an opportunity to build relationships with customers rather than just as a campaign or tactic to “increase buzz”. This summer, I had Joel Price from the San Diego Chargers as a guest speaker. He shared with my class how the football team has been using social media to get closer to its fans and create a “virtual tailgate party”. Joel took us on a historical journey of fan interaction during his presentation.
 
Forums First
 
The Chargers started out with fan forums (message boards) a few years back. The boards are still in play and tend to be the team’s most active and loyal fans (as well as mostly males). These are the people that know the players, all the details behind the players, even the back-up to the back-up quarterback. They are very responsive; ask a question of forum members, and you will get instant feedback (great for a regional market).
 

Die hard fans – 300,000 of them.

Facebook Comes In
The Chargers next started a Facebook Fan Page. These 75,000+ fans tend to be people who like to be affiliated with the team but are not as deeply into Charger knowledge as the fans interacting on the forums. Interestingly, these also seem to be people that were not being previously reached online. Demographically, they are about 60% male and 40% female.
These fans are more likely to come to games, and they are quick to react to new information. For example, just before coming to speak to my class, Joel posted on the Chargers Wall about the throwback uniforms the team would be wearing at a few games this season. Within the hour, there were already hundreds of people who indicated they “liked” this information, with over 100 comments as well.


Tweet, Tweet
The most recent addition to the Chargers social media efforts is their Twitter feed, @chargers. With over 15,000 followers (and counting), the Chargers were the first NFL team to be on Twitter. In addition to the main account, there are several players that Tweet including @shawnemerriman and @kassimosgood. The latest Tweets were around items such as EA’s latest Madden Football 2010 video game (who is in it, what are their ratings, etc), open practices, and the upcoming Chargers FanFest.

Social Media Goals
According to Joel, it is rare for an NFL team to communicate well with its fans. The San Diego Chargers want to break through that barrier and do their marketing by communicating closely with fans – and not in a “hard sell” mode, but in a fan appreciation mode. When asked how social media is currently being measured in the organization, Joel described it this way:

“How do we measure social media? How can you measure a hug? We are giving back to our fans.”

Thank you, Joel, for giving back to us and speaking to our class. It was extremely interesting. Go Chargers!

(Professor’s note: The alert student will notice this blog post was taken from the class blog Teaching Social Media. There one will find some of the student blogs as well as posts from previous class sessions.) 

Photo credit: San Diego Chargers Facebook Fan Page

Customer Participation and Social Media Rocker Chris Brogan

participationThis past fall, I was invited to speak on a panel about content marketing at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer. While there, I spent a lot of time talking to my fellow speakers, as well as the attendees hailing from companies large and small, about what social media means to customer loyalty. If we think about the “4 Ps of marketing” (product, price, place, and promotion), they are all still applicable to the new media world we are working in today.  What some are calling the 5th P, participation, seems to fit very nicely with a social media model.

However, I believe that participation applies to much more than just social media!  If we get our customers to participate with us on an ongoing basis, we learn so much more about them than we could in any other arena.  This will lead to (on the customer’s part) trust, better engagement, preference, word of mouth, and ultimately brand loyalty. 

I also had the opportunity to talk about this subject to Chris Brogan at the MarketingProfs event. We discussed why those who want to build a relationship with their customers should consider using social media. And not using it just to talk; using it to finally, truly listen to customers. Chris recently wrote about the difference between having an audience and having a community on his blog. I think an audience is something that you talk at; a community is something that you talk with and participate in.  Chris was nice enough to put his thoughts on video for me as I asked him to talk about social media and customer loyalty. (Note: the conference was in Arizona, hence the cacti – and the slight wind noise)

 

Here at Customers Rock!, I endeavor to have a place where we talk together about taking care of customers. I realize I have not been carrying on my side of the conversation a lot lately as I have been heads-down working on my new book. I will hold up my side of the bargain and be here to talk with you more frequently – now it is your turn to join in! Thank you all so much for being part of this, and many thanks to you, Chris, for your valuable time. 

(Image credit: Paha_L)

San Diego Firestorm and Communications

sd-fire-2.jpg (flickr photo: prgibbs)

We are in part of the area of San Diego that was evacuated this week.  We packed our cars on Monday night and got out!  Fortunately, winds in our area have died down significantly, and we were allowed to return home last night.  Thank you to those who have emailed me to see how we are doing (email has been my primary method of communication)!  Things are calm now, and there is no longer ash raining down on our house.  We are praying that things stay the way they are now.

Having been evacuated, I have been very frustrated with most of the traditional media.  I realize they are trying to do their best, but they are not really set up to give updated, detailed information.  The county’s websites were not up to date (or even up) a lot of the time.  The best information came from blogs, radio, and the county’s 211 service.

I did find some great citizen reporting that helped get me through when I was out of my home!  Blogs were set up fairly quickly as of Monday, and this was the only place I was really able to find detailed information about my neighborhood.  In fact, this fire blog from SignOnSanDiego, which is an online newspaper, has been fabulous!  Local people from my area were able to report in, and those of us moved out of the area, as well as those with loved ones in the area, were able to get much needed information.  Nearly 200 comments in the last day helped ease the lack of information from the news networks.  Here is a quote from one of the readers responding to another commenter who had (anonymously) plugged traditional media:

Nice plug for cbs news, anonymous. tell your employers that they don’t hold a candle to the people on this website who are armed with nothing more than an automobile and a laptop yet seem to know much more of what’s happening than your paid reporters.Also, you might want to tell your producers to put maps with highlighted areas on the screen when showing the fires raging so that the viewers knows what the hell they are looking at.

Of course, the reporters have been doing the job they were told to do, but it really didn’t help us local folk.  What I needed to have answered were these questions:

  • Where is the fire line now?
  • Where exactly are the evacuation areas?
  • When can I come home?

I received much more information from a mix of radio and social media.  KPBS.org is a great source, with links to Google fire maps with great overlays, as well as real-time updates which are actually Twitter updates!  Well done, KPBS!  What a great idea, as Twitter is a quick way to get the word out.  Another great radio station has been AM 600 KOGO in San Diego, where citizens have been calling in to share information about flames, roads, and evacuation centers.  Thanks, KOGO!  Another local citizen started a Facebook group, but I think it came a little late in the day so wasn’t really used.  Thanks, Heather.

Finally, the county’s 211 service was great.  This is a number for locals to call for non-emergency information about the fires.  Although close to 500,000 people were evacuated over the last two days, when I called 211, I was only on hold for about 3 minutes!  There were always estimated wait times given, and the person I spoke with was very friendly and ready to answer any questions I had (mine were about evacuation areas).    I felt like I had a personal assistant ready to look at fire information on my behalf.  The county was continuing to staff up this line and had added more volunteer personnel to take calls.  Great customer service!  Thanks, guys!

There are also lots of pictures on flickr, with a San Diego Fire Pool started.  They have mapped many of the photos so people know what is happening in their neighborhood.  Thanks to Vince for helping with this.

Overall, this fire is still not over.  There are many areas that are continuing to burn, and my sympathies go out to those still out of their homes. Hopefully, some of you can try the above resources.  The volunteer efforts here in San Diego county have been incredible.  What a fabulous group of people who have been generous with their time and donations!  Thank you mostly goes out to the many brave firefighters, military personnel, and other people who have been fighting this fire and trying to save our homes.  You are amazing.

New media is changing the way communication takes place, and it is especially effective in an emergency.  Traditional media, listen up.  Get with the program.  There is a better way!