Independence Day: Proving On-Domain Success

I was rereading a book that a colleague had given me almost 10 years ago: as I was reading I was struck by just how applicable one of the central themes was to the adoption of social technology in business. The book, “Hip Hop Matters” by Craig Watkins, detailed the evolution of the contemporary hip hop and rap genres. How is this related to social technology? Simply, the connection is measurement.

In the early days of hip hop, as with any new commercial artistic genre – or, say, a new commercial technology for business marketing – there are two fundamental challenges: the development of the art form or technology itself, and the establishment of commercial basis of its value that drives spread and adoption. Without development of the core content there is nothing to sell, so to speak, and without a provable commercial basis there is no point in selling it.

In popular music, the commercial basis is established through measured air play and unit sales. Coincidentally, as hip hop and rap were on the rise, so was digital music. One of the attributes of digital music was that it could be circulated easily outside of the established sales and exposure channels, opening the possibility that something could become popular long before it registered in established sales channels.

But the real success factor in popular music is “the charts,” and the problem for hip hop and rap – as well as country – was the measurement itself. Early on, radio exposure and record sales were “measured” by asking stores and stations what they thought they were selling and playing. This kind of system, inaccurate from the outset, was further corrupted by direct manipulation through gifts, favors, selective memory, and the like. The result? Entrenched forms of popular music tended to be reported as selling the most, and hence were played the most, and hence sold the most…etc. Is this starting to sound familiar?

In a blink, a new measurement technology changed this: introduced in 1991, SoundScan, now owned by Nielsen, measured sales directly, at the cash register. Adopted by Billboard on May 25, 1991, the shift in reported sales was immediate and significant. Suddenly “independent” sales were recognized as commercial more important than previously reported. Within five years an unlikely combination of genres – hip hop, rap, and country, all previously thought to hold only limited commercial appeal – were firmly and decidedly on top, all three driven by accurate measurement.

The key to the rise of the hip hop and rap genres, along with country, as pop music mainstays was rooted in the combination of underlying interest in the music itself – the ranks of both performers (talent) and consumers (the audience) swelled – and in the establishment of an unbiased, robust measurement methodology that made clear what was really happening.

So now it’s 2013 and social technology continues its rise. In one corner is marketing, building brand outposts on social networks around the globe. In the other corner is the emerging discipline of social customer support: run by operations and focused on transforming the economics and customer satisfaction scores associated with service functions. The challenge – and in fact the new front – is recognizing that both marketing and operations are working toward the same end: satisfied customers who readily recommend the brand. And, in the underlying role of accurate measurement of both.

So, what’s the path to alignment and business success? Rigorous measurement. Get beyond the “likes” and soft metrics that collectively represent little more than passing popularity, metrics that can be easily gamed by mixing promoted scores – likes and follows and plusses that result from promotion rather than spontaneous member/consumer votes – and instead focus on actual recommendations and resultant sales.

Look instead at the measured linkages between customers with questions, the channels through which answers are provided, and the direct impact this has on sales and customer satisfaction scores. In other words, focus first-hand on what drives brand success. Sure, your presence on the big networks is part of this, but unless all of your sales are happening there it is only a small part. The larger component is what happens “on-domain” – on your site, in your stores, and in the presales, support, and innovation communities that you maintain as part of your total online presence.

Operate and measure your online presence, beginning with your on-domain components built around your website. Develop your management and business information reports to show the value flow that links inbound traffic to your sales results, which captures customer satisfaction as a result of direct interaction with your customer care, presales, and similar resources. Then look outward to the brand outposts, social networks, and traditional media that drive inbound traffic. In particular, look at the interface layer between the two: the questions relating to product or service issues, pricing, availability, etc. that are being asked off-domain and the resulting provision of answers via your on-domain resources. This interconnection – and your ability to measure it – is absolutely critical.

It’s Independence Day: celebrate this year by declaring your on-domain strategy and then following through with the measurement and hard proof to make it stick.

Related reading