Forrester report: how companies listen and engage with social media

Image from Flickr courtesy of sfllaw

Forrester Consulting recently surveyed 200 US marketers about their use of social media listening and engagement. (The report, commissioned by Dell-commissioned is available to read here.)

Some of the most interesting findings include:

  • Information sourced by social media is now being used by more than 70% of B2B decision-makers.
  • Interestingly, there is a significant uptake of companies adopting social media tactics (97%), but there is a plenty of opportunity for business returns to be improved.
  • However, strategic social media is not being used extensively. Only 8% of the surveyed marketers claimed that their listening and engagement work is tied to corporate objectives.

Forrester identified that there are clear and unique approaches to social media monitoring and listening that depend on the company’s industry:

  • Utilities, banking and services are least developed, using listening for customer service and to drive brand awareness. Security and privacy concerns pose challenges to these sectors.
  • Media, entertainment and leisure companies, who are further along the social media curve, focus their social media metrics on reach. Here the measurements are likely to be for the number of ‘fans’ or ‘likes’, which is
  • High-tech companies are geared towards lead-generation, which Forrester claim to place them as the most advanced on the social-media curve. By using real business metrics for measurement, these companies are also the ones facing the most challenges, as their efforts increase in complexity.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Programs which receive executive sponsorship are the most likely to succeed and deliver results.
  • Integration is essential to maximise ROI. Combining the information gathered from listening with existing customer data, systems and processes will allow companies to see the “big picture” of the effects on their business.
  • Employee empowerment is crucial, to maximise existing resources, training and education is needed to allow employees to listen and engage in their day-to-day work, in a consistent way.

Integration is definitely one aspect that will become more and more important. As companies gain confidence in the potential for social media to offer more than a marketing channel and embrace using it across the entire business (from customer support to internal communications), the volume of information available will certainly be a game-changer.

Getting started 4: Track and evaluate the success you are having

Curly measuring tape
Image by Marco D via Flickr

For any brand getting started in social media, the most important thing is to be able to show the impact you are having. To be able to evaluate and assess what is working and what isn’t having the results that you might expect. To show the return on investment that your efforts are having and how this compares to other methods.

There is a lot of talk about social media measurement and it is true that in isolation it is difficult to know where to start. But for businesses with a clear social media strategy, it is actually much easier than many people think. We stressed earlier in this guide to Getting Started in Social Media the importance of thinking about the reasons you are using social media before you jump in to use any tools or to engage people. We talked though a process to define clear and measurable business objectives and aims for your use of social media. It is important that you make these both clear and measurable. Typical objectives that a brand might consider include - acquisition of new customers, retention of existing ones, number of new insights or ideas into the business, or number of customer problems solved. These are just some of the objectives that brands may have for using online communities and social media, and all of them are measurable. At the simplest level they either save money for a brand or they generate revenue.

In the online communities that we manage at FreshNetworks a lot of time is spent defining the objectives and then working out first what metrics should be measured against these, and then monitoring and reporting on these to make sure we understand how the community is performing. It is important to establish a set of metrics that you can measure to assess how you are performing against your aims. In many cases you will want to measure a mix of things for each aim, but overall you should be able to show and prove what impact you are having.

Example: If you want to use social media as an efficient way of resolving customer queries, for example, you probably want to measure the number of unique customer problems you have on the site, the number of problems that are solved by other members of the community. You can then put an equivalent cost that it would have taken to service these queries through other channels and measure the actual reduction in, for example, call centre costs that you witness over time. This is what Dell did, and this is how Dell managed to work out that one member of its customer support community saved them $1m a year in support costs. That’s real ROI.

So the final stage to getting started in social media is to make sure you are ruthless about measuring what you are doing. It’s the only way you will know what works (and what doesn’t) and prove the impact you are having with social media. To do this you need to have clear objectives and these need to be measurable. Then you can measure the actual impact you are having on business aims. The actual benefit your social media strategy is bringing to your brand.

You can read the full guide here: Getting Started in Social Media

The challenges of Twitter’s plans for premium services for brands

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr

Reports today suggest that Twitter is planning to roll-out a range of new premium features that it hopes will appeal to a corporate market. We’ve written before about how brands can use Twitter, and there are many examples of brands who are seeing quantifiable benefits from their use of Twitter. Dell’s $3m in revenue from one Twitter account is just one example. Twitter is an integral part of brand social media strategies and businesses, organisations and even celebrity brands are benefiting from it. Among the chatter about how Twitter might monetise, one option has always stood out - to offer additional, premium services to corporate accounts. This week’s announcements are a step towards this.

In an interview reported in the LA Times, Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder, talked about future developments for the social media tool, specifically potential premium features. As the LA Times reports:

[Stone] said the company will introduce commercial accounts for businesses by year end that will “make them better Twitterers.” Stone emphasized that Twitter would remain free for all users, including businesses. But corporate users will have the option of paying for extra features such as analytics, which help businesses measure their online popularity and monitor traffic.

Any move to offer such premium services would obviously have to add real value to those businesses who are using Twitter. The real excitement of Twitter is that different people (and different businesses) are using it for different reasons. From a business and brand perspective, they might be using it for research, word-of-mouth, customer service, new customer acquisition, advertising. The list is endless. Twitter is in an experimental stage at the moment and the number of different uses and applications of the tool is probably as large as the number of businesses using the tool in total.

So any attempt to monetise the site by offering premium services will need to t dechink carefully about how people are currently using the service and, perhaps more importantly, how it will develop and brand use of it will develop.

A good analytics tool is certainly of interest, especially if it offers comprehensive buzz monitoring - helping brands to understand what people are saying about them on Twitter, then to identify these people and connect with them. Providing a tool that will enable brands to engage with people directly through an analytics and engagement tool. However, for any premium service to be of real use I suspect it would need to offer more than this. The clients that we work with at FreshNetworks, for example, would need more pay Twitter for additional services. Each of them would probably want different things, but one that would be common to all of them is access to users. A service that allowed them to identify and then contact Twitter users talking about their brand, market or organisation would have real value. Of course, any distribution of contact details like this would break Twitter’s own terms of service with its users and no doubt alienate them as well.

Premium services for brands on Twitter have the possibility of being of real value. But what these services could be needs some real thinking about…

Social media and customer service - some examples

Image by JMC Photos via Flickr

Earlier this week we wrote about Thomson Holidays and how a blogger can impact your brand reputation and how with social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Earlier this week I was running a ‘masterclass’ in social media and customer service at the Call Centre Focus & Customer Strategy Conference 2009. The session looked first at the different types of social media that businesses use and the reasons for and benefits of this. The ROI that businesses can get from online customer service communities. And we then moved into some examples from customer service: some good, some bad and one just ugly. The slides below probably lose something without being presented but the case studies are interesting, each for different reasons.

  • Zappos. A ‘Good’ example, Zappos is great at microinteractions. They show how you can grow a customer-service centred organisation and the real value you get from interacting with people in social media. Traditional customer service has been private and one-to-one (typically by phone or letter). With social media you can interact with people in a public place (one-to-one-to-many). These ‘microinteractions’ can have huge impact on word-of-mouth.
  • Virgin Trains. Another ‘Good’ example that shows how you can make effective use of Twitter. Richard Baker is General Manager for Virgin Trains in Wales and North-West England, and he has been showing how individuals in a business can make effective use of Twitter to engage customers. We analysed his activity to show the mix across the seven ways businesses can use Twitter: sending out information on offers, informing people about what’s going on, responding to people and taking action, listening to what people  are saying about Virgin Trains, correcting inaccuracies in things other people are staying, educating people an, finally showing that you are human.
  • Dell is an example of ‘bad turned good’ and has moved from its period of ‘Dell Hell’ to being perhaps one of the best example of businesses having an integrated approach to social media. We discussed in the workshop the case of how Dell make $3 million on Twitter, and how their forums are so well used that peers are solving others’ problems and saving Dell significant amounts of money on support costs.
  • United Airlines. Finally we looked at the ‘ugly’ example of United Airlines and what happened when Dave Carroll had his $3,500 guitar broken on his way to a gig with his band Sons of Maxwell. He started to produce music videos about United Airlines which have each now been viewed by up to six million people.

These are just a small number of examples that businesses can learn from. The main advice from the session was to identify core business objectives at the moment and then experiment with social media in a controlled fashion to see what impact it can have against these.

Social media and customer service - some examples
View more presentations from freshnetworks.

Using Twitter to harvest ideas:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

One powerful use of online communities is to help get new ideas into a business; taking advantage of the fact that many (if not most) of the best ideas for your business are likely to come from outside, from people who don’t work for you. There are some well know examples of businesses working with consumers on co-creation in this way: MyStarbucksIdea and Dell’s Ideastorm being among the most well known.

Most of these sites use a similar process: people can join the community and then suggest their own idea, comment on existing ideas or vote for the ideas that they think are best. The best, most commented on or most voted for ideas are then responded to by the brand. They are an effective way for businesses to get ideas into their business and, more importantly perhaps, of showing customers some of their internal decision making and letting people who buy the product understand more about, and even influence, the processes by which it is made.

Like any good online community, such ideas sites work best when they work with other social networks - interacting with people on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, in forums and blogs. Going to where relevant people are and harvesting their ideas, encouraging them to come to ideas site and add their thoughts. This hub-and-spoke model of social media engagement is a classic and successful way of engaging people online, and a recent ideas site has gone one step further and integrated this model into its functionality.

Last week, Californian Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced the launch of, an online community to harvest and evaluate ideas for the State of California. The site has much of the same functionality that we have seen elsewhere: the public can suggest, comment on and vote for an idea. The difference with this site is that the ideas are submitted in the first place not by signing up for the site, but by posting the idea on Twitter with the hashtag #myidea4ca. You can even sort your idea by adding an additional category hashtag; so if your idea is about education you use #myidea4ca #edu. The site then pulls in all of these tweets using search and allows you to sort, read, comment on and vote for them.

Using Twitter in this way is a great way to increase the number of initial ideas submitted to the site, lowering that initial barrier to engagement by using a place where people already are (Twitter) to bring them and their content to a new place ( If you want to comment on, or vote for, ideas you still need to do this on the main ideas site, but to submit an idea you do not.

This certainly will help California to get more initial ideas, removing that barrier and allowing people who want give an idea to use Twitter to do so. The danger, of course, is that people who are not on Twitter are excluded from taking part. Whilst the Twitter population continues to grow, it is still far from a mass market tool and so restricts, perhaps quite significantly, participation in this ideas forum.

Of course, that could be said of many online communities and other ways in which organisations engage customers, stakeholders and the public online. But by mandating that all ideas must be submitted via Twitter does exclude a large proportion of online users in California. Whilst the use of Twitter is a great and fantastic example of how and online community can work with social networks to maximise participation, it is better if there are multiple ways of allowing people to engage. Let some people submit ideas via Twitter but allow others to submit them on the site in other ways.

A cardinal rule when you are building and growing an online community is that technology should be invisible. You shouldn’t put technological barriers in the way of sharing ideas. Whilst the use of Twitter on is a fantastic example of how organisations can engage people through this site, as an online community it is missing out on the opportunity to engage more people in different ways.

  • How organisations can use Twitter - some ideas (
  • MyIdea4CA shows both the power and limitation of opening up to the crowd (
  • The Governator Live From Twitter HQ Today. Has His Twitter Service Already Gone To Pot? (
  • EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Schwarzenegger Launches Twitter Powered MyIdea4CA (
  • Crowdsourcing Ideas: Apparently Marijuana Is All California Needs (