Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: 5 Essential Technologies to Ignite and Manage Conversations

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

In my first blog I talked a lot about how you can overcome the fear of social media and embrace the medium so it can become an integral part of your overall marketing mix. My next post shined the spotlight on understanding your customers in order to build ongoing and successful conversations. My most recent effort demonstrated how B-to-B companies, like B-to-C companies, have much to gain by embracing social media. I highlighted specific examples of several social media programs that are making a measureable impact. All of which leads us to this month’s blog.

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

1. Email. Perhaps the most obvious one of the bunch. While email’s promise of facilitating one-to-one dialogs never really panned out, the effective use of dynamically-generated email communications based on subscribers’ profiles and/or behaviors help build timely and relevant conversations. While automated or triggered communications have been in practice for some time now, they are, in my opinion, not used often enough and are typically isolated to individual programs within the lifecycle communication strategy.

Therefore, although effective, triggered emails can rarely sustain the dialog over long periods of time and across different stages of the lifecycle. But the impact email has on conversations is hardly over. More recently, the emergence of social tools within email is on the rise. These tools encourage individuals to share content with their social networks, which then enables the conversation to be continued with a larger group across the social internet.

Look for email to remain a force for years to come as brands use targeted emails and Twitter to ignite discussions that are then continued and discussed in-depth on Facebook.

Top providers with both capabilities: ExactTarget, StrongMail (full disclosure: I sit on the board of directors at StongMail) and Yesmail.

2. Inbound reply handling. Who among us hasn’t used email to contact customer service? Who among us has been delighted by the experience? Truth be told, few, if any, of us have been delighted. Lackluster email response times continue to plague many brands, and often contribute to decreased customer satisfaction ratings.

While real-time social tools such as Twitter and CoTweet have emerged as critical tools for handling customer service inquires, sophisticated inbound reply handling for incoming inquiries via email is still essential to building and maintaining great conversations and satisfaction with customers.

Top providers: KANA, eGain.

3. Listening/monitoring tools. I’m a huge fan of listening tools. For many brands, it’s a natural starting point as they continue to search for the content that will best resonate with their customers and prospects. Listening to what consumers are saying about your brand and/or products often yields important insights. It may even provide you the context you need to spark a conversation around a shared passion or related topic that’s of great interest to the community. Listen carefully and use learnings from this listening to build conversations with critical customer segments and prospects.

Top providers: BuzzMetrics, Cymfony and Radian6.

4. Social media platforms.
The emergence of social media networks such as Facebook and microblogging networks such as Twitter opens up a whole new opportunity to connect and communicate with customers and prospects. According to a report from Nielsen, the average Facebook user now spends more than seven hours a month on the social network, which is more than three times the average time spent on Yahoo.

As social networks become more popular, so will the use of social media platforms. Like email, social media platforms enable brands to create, execute and manage real-time interactions and communications with fans and followers. In many respects, the emergence of social media platforms picks up where email left off — enabling communications with both individuals and groups who like your brand.

Top providers: Hootsuite, Objective Marketer, Spredfast and StrongMail.

5. Social communities and networks. Aside from the emergence of leading social networks like Facebook, brands are increasingly recognizing the power and benefit of building their own communities. These collaborative environments help brands capture customer ideas and feedback, allowing them to glean critical information from conversations between customers. Often the wisdom from these conversations results in new products and a culture of innovation. Look to see the continued growth of these proprietary communities as social and software combine to help build critical conversations that drive business success.

Top providers: Communispace, Jive Software.

There you have it: five essential technologies to help every brand create, execute and manage real-time, relevant conversations.

‘Til next time!

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: What Marketers Can Learn From Divorce Attorneys

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

The main reason divorce attorneys use social networks is to track any possible contradictions to previously made statements and promises by estranged spouses. Apparently, it’s relatively easy for lawyers to gather this information, at least according to a June 1 article on CNN.com.

“It’s becoming all but impossible to protect your information, unless you spend hours and hours figuring it out,” said Lee Rosen, a divorce attorney in North Carolina, in the CNN.com article.

To be fair, Facebook has acknowldedgd that it’s gradually relaxed privacy settings over the last year, enabling some members’ personal details to be leaked without users realizing it. And, as a result, last month it announced new tools that make it easier for users to tighten privacy settings and block outside parties from seeing personal information.

Still, lawyers are relying on the sites and other social tools for gathering evidence. According to the CNN article, for example, they’re accessing sites such as Flowtown.com, which allows them to enter a peron’s email address into the site, and the site returns various social media profiles on that person.

I thought this sounded interesting, so I investigated. It seems that Flowtown was co-founded in January 2009 by Ethan Bloch, a serial entrepreneur who founded his first business at the tender age of 13.

Flowtown, according to its website, is a “platform that businesses use to connect with their customers everywhere in the social web. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace have made it standard practice, for all of us, to publicly share information about ourselves. Flowtown helps make sense of all this data and turns it into meaningful output in the form of stronger business relationships.”

I thought I’d give it a whirl. I registered on the site (it took all of 60 seconds), added a few of my personal email addresses, and bam, within seconds my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles appeared. While it took me aback, it made me realize what a powerful tool this could be for marketers.

Imagine importing entire email lists into your system and getting access to thousands of customers’ social networking profiles. This information could be used to track which customers are key influencers talking about your brand (or your competition), as well as what your customers’ interests are.

What do you think? Have you ever used Flowtown.com? Let me know by posting a comment below.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Business Schools Offering Social Media Courses

To meet the demand from companies for skills around social media strategies, tony business schools — including Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as H.E.C., in Paris — are incorporating courses on social media into their M.B.A. curriculums. Social media strategy courses, according to the article, “aim to build on existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.”

I read a March 30 New York Times article that said that many national and international business schools are incorporating social media strategy courses into their curriculums.

Take that, all of you social media marketing naysayers!

To meet the demand from companies for skills around social media strategies, tony business schools — including Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as HEC, in Paris — are incorporating courses on social media into their M.B.A. curriculums.

Social media strategy courses, according to the article, “aim to build on existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.”

While most of the students entering these programs may be adept at using social networking tools in their personal lives, that’s not enough, says the article. Companies want executives that “can transfer this experience into the commercial world.”

Textbooks aren’t required in many of the courses; instead, students are asked to follow industry-specific blogs to keep up with developments. They’re instructed to communicate with people involved in the social media industry, listening to the issues they deal with on a strategic level.

Schools are teaching social media marketing in a variety of ways. In an upcoming course at Insead, students will work on a project for the luxury brand Hermès, generating detailed social media marketing strategy ideas for the brand. A course at London Business School required students to participate in the 2009 Google Online Marketing Challenge, where teams were given $200 of free online advertising with Google AdWords to work with companies to devise effective online marketing campaigns. Meanwhile at Harvard Business School, a second-year elective course on “competing with social networks” is being offered as part of that school’s M.B.A. program.

The article made the argument that the high level of engagement of top digital media professionals with these courses has reciprocal benefits. Students get to learn from the skills and experience of the executives, while the companies get to make contact with potential future hires with the skills needed to exploit social media channels for commercial gain.

Sounds like a win-win to me. But what do you think? Do you think social media strategy or social networking skills can be taught, or can they only be mastered by folks after they’ve gotten their hands dirty with them?

And should elite business schools — elite, expensive business schools, that is — bother with social media strategy or social networking courses? Should they be instead focusing on more lofty subjects?

Let me know by posting a comment below!

How Moms Shop Online

In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, I thought I’d take a look at what moms are doing online today.

To do this, I turned to Digital Mom, a two-part report published earlier this year by Razorfish  and CafeMom.

In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, I thought I’d take a look at what moms are doing online today.

To do this, I turned to Digital Mom, a two-part report published earlier this year by Razorfish and CafeMom.

Razorfish surveyed 1,500 digital moms — or moms who used at least two Web 2.0 technologies and actively researched or purchased online in the three months before the survey was conducted in October 2008.

Razorfish and CafeMom’s goal was to learn more about the digital mom. How does she use digital technology? Do her habits differ by age? What are her motivations for engaging in social media and other emerging channels? How should marketers engage her?

The report was chock-full of interesting and surprising information.

One key finding from the report is that more digital moms today interact with social networks (65 percent) and SMS (56 percent) than with news sites (51 percent). And just as many can be found gaming online or via a gaming console (52 percent).

Which technologies digital moms use, however, depends on factors such as the mom’s age, the age of her children and motivation.

Moms less than 35, for example, are more likely to use newer communication platforms like social networks, SMS and mobile browsing. Moms 45 and older are more likely to use online news, consumer reviews and podcasting.

What’s more, online video consumption is highest among moms with children 12 and older — the group that’s also more likely to be online monitoring their children.

Online purchasing habits
Compared to nondigital media such as magazines, newspaper and radio, digital channels continue to influence digital moms in their purchasing decisions, according to the survey.

Answers to questions for digital moms who researched or purchased products online in the three months prior to being surveyed revealed the following information:

• the gap between TV and digital channels in creating initial awareness of a product is closing;
• Web sites, search engines and friends/family, along with social influence channels and magazines, are more used and trusted for research and learning than any other sources;
• social activities play an important role in influencing digital moms; and
• emerging channels like mobile and podcasting also influence different stages in the purchase funnel, although it varies by vertical, and penetration is still relatively low.

What does this all mean? If you’re an online marketer targeting moms, understand that this group is pretty Web-savvy. In many cases, digital moms are using some of the newest Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with friends and family and help make purchasing decisions. So go ahead, test a variety of these Web 2.0 tools when marketing products or services to moms. You may be surprised by the results.