All posts by Mukund Mohan

My discipline will beat your intellect

Are internal communities the new water cooler? And ROI for internal communities.

Michael Krieg from Web Crossing came over to give us a great demo of their WebCrossing Community and WebCrossing Neighbors (social networking) solutions. Web Crossing is a company with a long history, (founded in 1984 by Tim Lundeen) they have been working with communities for over 15 years. They have about 20 people in the company and are very global.

The one takeaway:
Internal communication ROI exists in reducing time to get key information and reducing email traffic, storage (not having store the same big PPT and Photos in 25 mailboxes), lower requirements for networking upgrades, and productivity savings from not having email clog the individual mailboxes.

The best part of the company is they “drink their own Merlot” by leveraging their community offering for internal collaboration and communication. Since they have employees at several locations, they use blogs, photos and wikis to share information – e.g. one of their employees attended a seminar in China and sent photos and posted his trip report on an internal blog.

Got us thinking: Are community capabilities the new watercooler for the globally spread out enterprise. With marketing in the SF bay area, support in Boulder CO, sales team nationally and development in India, even a small company such as ours needs to keep everyone in the loop and have meangingful conversations.

Email is not the most productive and we always get the 2 people CC on a list of 25 that believe that this type of information is “junk mail”. So then blogging about it and sharing photos in a community site gets the company “closer”.

With over 1000 customers, they have some good capability to fit the need. Blogs, Wikis, Forums, File Sharing, Chat and IM are all par for the course for any community / collaboration solution and they have all those capabilities. Their products are value priced starting at $65/month to about $2495 / month.

Best practices for community moderation with eModeration’s CEO and founder, Tamara Littleton

eModeration is a privately held company
(founded in 2002) by Tamara Littleton, who is their CEO. They have over 30 customers including GE, Nokia, Philips,
Infield Parking and Times Online.

They are about 20+ people and are based in London, UK
although the majority of their clients are in the US. One of the most interesting
parts of the conversation was the 3 best practices (see below) for community
moderation
.

eModeration Limited is an international,
specialist UGC (user generated content) moderation company.  They provide
twenty-four hour community management and moderation to clients in the
entertainment and digital publishing industry and major corporate clients
hosting online communities.

User Generated Content
is becoming an extremely important capability for communities. eModeration helps make communities safe for users, children and ensures that companies brands are protected. Their moderation services help make sure that the right environment, brand and tone are perceived by
customers.

Q) State your overall vision for your company
Tamara: We want eModeration to be the leading specialist moderation service for
communities and attract the best customers and employees towards helping customers get value from communities.

Q) What is your unique value proposition?
Tamara: Companies outsource their moderation to us, so they are entrusting their brand face to our capable hands. The thing that is unique about us is that we are a boutique organization that serves as an extension to their organization. We take their trust in our capability to moderate their community very seriously.  And we’re
incredibly flexible in our approach.

Q) What kinds of communities does your services power?
Tamara: Companies that cater to primarily consumer markets are our target. We help them ensure that there is a fine line between policing their discussions
and user generated content
and at the same time making sure there is participation
that is encouraged.

Q) What are 3 best practices that you would recommend for customers around moderation?

Tamara:


1. Recruit lead figures and users into the community right upfront to give it credibility.
This gets customers comfortable.


2. Be honest and show
candor. If you messed up (e.g. if your product recall notice was not shared before it actually should have been) admit to it and share a plan on how you intend to fix it.


3. Show transparency in moderation. If you have to remove someone’s content
because of unacceptable
behavior, tell them what they did that was unacceptable and give them a chance to right the wrong and people will
learn ‘good
behavior’.

Why are marketing organizations investing in online communities?

Support communities are relatively easier to justify and track ROI metrics on, but marketing organizations are increasingly being the first to spearhead online communities – both social networks and also customers communities. Here is what we have heard from prospects and customers on why they are investing in online communities:

1. Diminishing returns from existing “get the message out” methods. Press Relations (PR) and communications have dramatically changed in the last few years. Used to be that if you hired the right PR firm (with connections) and had a good story to tell, you could issue a good press release, get it pitched to the right writers and get decent coverage. With the advent of blogs, RSS feeds, etc. there is an overwhelming array of choices for these audiences and “no one reads a press release any more”. Marketing teams still need to get the word out, and they are leveraging customer and prospect communities to do this in a more open and honest manner.

2. Fine tune their lead management process. Marketing teams spend good money on generating leads. Some of these start as suspects, then get qualified, become prospects, opportunities, then customers. But the key part of that sentence is the word “some”. Most of these leads are “not ready” or “unqualified”. Keeping an ongoing conversation with these “not read yet” suspects is an immense challenge. Since the cost of the lead generation was large, it is in the best interests of the marketing team to have an dialog with these potential targets until a point they are ready. Marketing teams are using communities to keep the “dialog ongoing” with suspects.

3. Getting your customers to sell for you. In a community setting “suspects” are going to be exposed to customers (good and bad) They are also more likely to listen and be influenced by existing customers of the vendor than others (such as analysts or press). There are downsides to this no doubt that I will address in another posting, but if you have a good product, suppor your customers well, they will say good things about it to other customers is what’s worked for us at most companies in software. This lowers cost of customer acquisition and is another reason why marketing teams are investing in online communities.

4. Non linear growth expections cannot be fueled by non linear investment requirements. Simple way of saying this is every CEO and hence the CMO wants to invest $1 and get $10 in return from marketing and they want it quantifiable. Marketing organizations are looking at communities to provide insight and also start to develop the “network effect”. More customers join the network because “everyone else is there” and the benefits to the customer are clear.

5. Long tail effect. Addressing niche markets never serves the large vendor. E.g. If you make software the monitors servers and systems, there will always be thousands of little devices you dont support because the cost of supporting them does not justify the investment. But customers still need these devices monitored. So, customers create the monitor for you and are willing to share it via their community to others (sometimes for a monetary benefit). With this the new prospect benefits, the company benefits (new market addressed) and the customer benefits (potential revenue stream).

Best Practices: Setting the RIGHT objectives for your community.

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Objective setting is the most crucial part of your initial community development and management plan. I have been a part of a fair number of useless objectives and in a lot of cases confused them with “goals”. So here is what we have learned.

Here are the 3 steps we follow to help customers. See if it works for you an tell me if you would like to see some changes.

1. Decide on your objective (not goal which is more long term) for the community. Objectives have to be:

a. Specific – Objectives should specify what they want to achieve.
b. Measurable – You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.
c. Achievable – Are the objectives you set, achievable and attainable?
d. Realistic – Can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?
e. Time – When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

If you need more information on setting good objectives in general there are several resources.

Here are 3 examples:

I. We want to build a support community of 70% our users (2000 administrators) to achieve them to find service information quickly and reduce our support calls by 30% by Dec 2007.

II. We want to build a social network community of 900 influencers (with the title Architect) within our prospect and customer base by Dec 2007 to reduce our cost of lead management by 25% and increase prospect conversion rate by 20%.

III. Our intent is to build a internal sales support community of our 100 sales reps, engineers, marketing and sales support personnel to facilitate sharing of RFP, RFQ, Objection handling, Competitive Information sharing to increase our active opportunities by 30% by Q1 2008 and improve our win rate against competition by 15%, keeping our sales support staff the same.

2. Agree on the current baseline of 3-5 metrics that you want to track, measure and report on. They dont have to be ideal, they dont have to be available in an automated dashboard and they certainly dont have to be set in stone for the rest of your community development.
I have seen a lot of customers skip the baselining process only to pat themselves on the back after they see some uptick after 3-5 weeks not realizing that it was not any better than before the community was started.

Here are some metrics to track as an example:

a) Current # of support cases generated online
b) Current first hour closure of generated cases
c) # of cases handled online by support personnel
d) # of active knowledge base cases that have a rating over 3 in “usefulness” and their usage
e) # of opportunities where the source of lead was an existing customer referral

3. Automate the process of collecting the data that move the metrics you chose above. Even if the “automated” process is an individual in your team collecting logs, putting it in excel and graphing them – do it. The way this helps your objective setting is to ensure that these reports FORCE you to go back every so often to check if your objectives were right when you started or you have to modify them.

How to position communities to your CMO / VP Marketing so it resonates with their key initiatives?

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I had a phone conversation after CMO 2007 with a VP Marketing at a medium sized company based in Florida. His top of mind item (as a takeaway) from the conference was creating a series of dashboards for giving him “visibility into the next trends within his industry”. So in my attempt to try and discuss Online communities, I asked him why communities did not make it on his top 5 “strategic intents” list.

There is a very good summary of CMO 2007 by Foghound and the key point I took away was:

“CMOs Lauren Flaherty of Nortel and Dan Henson of GE stressed the need
for more predictive insights and analytics. “It’s about the headlights
not the taillights,” said Flaherty.
You’ve got to measure real time,
looking at the future not historical data. That’s why Tracking studies
don’t provide value.

I can understand if your CMO or Marketing head attended this show that they are looking forward to being “more aligned with sales and the business” and hence are not exactly willing to listen to the best ideas around building a customer community.

The one takeway: My suggestion to you is to position communities within the context of learning from your existing customers sooner, hence its a leading indicator which is better than focus groups, sales forums and other means to learn trends within your industry.

There is really no better source of good information about your customer base than fostering an ongoing with customers in an open, candid and open dialog about their issues, trends affecting them and challenges they face.

The next conversation you should have with your team is putting together a business case for how this will be justified and aligned to the CMO’s goals.

Best Practice: Should you build / buy /add social networking community to your brand?

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The key takeaway: If you are really going to build an online social (customer, user, partner) community take a look at some providers instead
of building one from scratch. Second, keep it focused. Third and most
important, make it easy for people to contribute, collect only as much
profile information as needed
and focus on keeping the community
aligned to a single or two goals max
. That’s the best recipe to success.

Since Om Malik called Social Networks a feature, there has been a lot of debate about whether companies and individuals want to be a part of many social networks. Clearly the average person has a ton of choices.

For instance if you look at my day (morning) in the life:
1. Wake up: There is a Toothpaste community and also one from P&G.
2. Go to my Gym: they have an online community.
3. Watch CNBC while running – community there too
4. Take a shower – Are you an Old Spice man?
5. My daughter and son both go to a private school that has online communities to interact with other parents, setup play dates, email the teachers.
6. Eating some breakfast. – community of cereal eaters!
7. Catch up with the morning new – CNN, MSNBC, Blogs – all have online communities
8. Listen to the radio while dropping the kids – KQED has a community.

All this just between 445 AM and 745 AM. After all how many communities do I actively participate in and feel a part of? Two – the kids (that’s because my wife forces me to) and my old school online community.

There is an interesting and very relevant post by Alan Patrick who has some observations:
1. “There is a limit to the number of social networks a person will
(willingly) join, and the bad news is that this obeys power laws”
2. “Registering with a social network, setting up the user profile etc adds
friction to a website, as much (if not more) as the old “Web 1.0″
approach of requiring a subscription.”
3. “A social net is not the answer to all services, and in fact may be outplayed by database oriented services.”

Build your Social Community: Providers

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Since Five Across got acquired by Cisco, there has been good interest in building social communities.

There are several vendors that will offer build your own community hosted services.  Here are a few providers.

1. Going On: “Organizations of all sizes can use GoingOn to build interactive
communities around their most important initiatives and benefit from
the open and compatible “network of networks” environment.”

2. iUpload: “iUpload is a leading content management and corporate blogging software
company whose solutions help organizations optimize the marketing
potential of their content. Whether you’re an individual, a corporation
or a community, iUpload provides a powerful one-stop solution for
creating, managing and distributing all of your content, while giving
you a new social marketing platform that extends your corporate voice
and strengthens your brand across multiple communities.”

3. Pluck: Pluck provides Social Media solutions for publishers, broadcasters and major brands.

4. CrowdFactory: To help companies leverage the new medium, we have developed a social
media platform and toolset to power white-label social network
communities.

5. KickApps: KickApps is a hosted platform that allows webmasters to quickly
and easily deploy user-generated content and social networking
functionality directly on their websites
.

6. People Aggregator: PeopleAggregator is a social network and blogging system in a box.
You can create a hosted network or download and run it yourself. You
can control who is in your network, what content it displays and what
its rules are.

How do you put an ROI on Customer Loyalty?

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I had a great discussion with a Fortune 50 Consumer products company Sr. Manager of Online Community. She is responsible for 17 of their 50+ communities. She is part of a “shared services” team, which supports 11 of their consumer brands.

Each of their brands has put a toe into online communities, (some more than just a toe) with some private communities, others visibile public ones. The brand managers of each of these communities are typically looking for customer feedback, brand innovation requirements, product specific data analysis, allowing customers to share information among each other etc.

The discussion was around justification of her online communities. I have heard this from many customers but in different formats:
1. How does one justify online communities to senior management?
2. Where is the ROI in customer loyalty?
3. How do you put a business case together for an online customer community?
4. What metrics can I point to to show that our online community is making us money or cutting costs?
5. What metrics should I be tracking to ensure that I can correctly report back the tangible benefits of communities?

Now when it comes to function specific communities – e.g. Customer Support communities; there are very relevant metrics – # of support calls, cost of phone based calls, # of calls handled in self service, reduction in support personnel even though there was an increase in # of customers etc.
Even when it comes to developer communities, there are similar metrics such as queries answered, new problems resolved, etc.

But when it comes to online social communities the ROI is a lot fuzzier. # of users, Most active users, Page views per user, Amount of time spent on community, are all good metrics; but useless for most part to address the main challenge – how to justify in real $ terms the value of the social network community.

We will start to address this in the future posts, but this is meant to be food for thought.

The First serious acquisition of a social community provider: Cisco acquires Five Across

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Venture Beat reports that Five Across a provider of social community software has been acquired by Cisco for an undisclosed sum.

“Based on conversations with three or four different Cisco executives in
recent months, it is clear Cisco sees social networking and the wider
Web 2.0 phenomenon as ways to drive Internet traffic, and thus traffic
over their routers and other networking gear — and, it follows, more
revenue for Cisco.”

“Five Across offers the features you expect in a social networking
company: Individual profiles, chat, video and photo uploading, RSS and
more.”

Five Across end user features closely parallel other Social Networking community sites like Onesite, Sparta Social Networks.

InfoWorld says Cisco doesn’t plan to set up its own
social-networking site to compete against News Corp.’s MySpace or
Facebook. Instead, it will use Five Across technology to create
software that will help enterprises better connect with their
customers. In addition, service providers may be able to build services
with the technology and sell them to their business customers, Cisco
said.”

The acquisition is the first by Cisco’s recently
formed Media Solutions Group and part of Cisco’s expansion into both
the consumer and media categories. One target market for the Five
Across technology will be entertainment and broadcasting companies such
as The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast.”

The really next wave in Online communities, Mobile Social Communities

I have a customer that sells primarily to retail clients ask me about Mobile Social communities. Now, this customer does not have an online (web) community) let alone going fancy with mobile communities, but she wanted to know if she should skip this whole “web community” thing to go direct to mobile, since most of her clients (influencers and buyers) were C level executives or on the road a lot and tended to access most information via blackberry and / or phone.

There was an ABI research article conducted about 2 months ago. “A new ABI Research Brief has found that “mobile social communities”
currently count nearly 50 million members worldwide, a number that is
expected to reach 174 million in 2011.”

Mobile Crunch also has a comment from the hoff… Very interesting.

“I’m curious not only to see what MySpace and FaceBook do in mobile
but what new innovations come from mobile-centric companies. There are
a number of startups launching social networks specifically designed
for handsets. These will provide the true breakthroughs in terms of
functionality and communication on the phone.

My recommendation to anyone considering mobile community networks: Its still not enough time for Business communities. It may be in Asia, some parts of Europe, but in the US the online communities for customers are still more web driven.