As you kick off plans for 2011, it’s smart to look back at the past year’s advancements. Three big themes stood out for me. And with the arrival of the new year, it seemed fitting to suggest one item for your “to-do” list that builds on those themes.
Social Technology Gets Down to Business
Social technology – and not just social media – has become a part of business. The social Web – the 2.0 incarnation of the World Wide Web of the late ’90s – is now as much a factor inside business as it is outside. Inside, collaborative technology like Socialtext, Yammer, Socialcast‘s SharePoint tools, and many others have found purpose. I’m not just talking about Dell and Starbucks either, though both are world-class pioneers and examples as to just how powerful the adoption of a “customer-takes-the-wheel” mindset can be. I’m talking about businesses such as steakhouses, parts suppliers, airlines, and high-end niche brands that have made smart use of Web 2.0.
In the column “Connecting the Social Web and Your Business“, I talked about Levi’s and its Friend’s Store, a really nice combination of some basic social marketing and Facebook’s “like” technology.
The result is an e-commerce implementation that adds a social element to the shopping experience, encouraging people like me (who have worn exactly one type of jean, Levi’s 501s, for over 40 years) to look at some other Levi’s jeans makes based on what my friends are buying. And guess what: it works: I now own a brown pair of 501s in addition to blue and black!
Because of the adoption of collaborative technology, another big theme is the emergence of social customer relationship management (CRM). What’s key is social CRM’s role in connecting not just sales-cycle information into the marketing processes, but the entire awareness-trial-advocacy feedback loop into those deeper processes commonly under the purview of operations and customer service. In the column “Social CRM: Do Your Homework” I highlighted Jive Software and Lithium Technologies platforms, and the importance of active, business-oriented social media listening programs. Take a look at the Wet Seal’s integration of customer data and shopping preferences into its commerce processes. Not only do the business results (documented enhanced sales for the Wet Seal) speak for themselves, the brand is defined by the ways in which its well-built social commerce applications and CRM tools enable the direct inclusion of customer’s fashion ideas and preferences.
Small Businesses, Big Results
Nowhere did the technologies powering the innovative applications of social technology have a bigger impact than small business. In the column, “Small Business Gets Social,” I featured businesses most people have never heard of – except, of course, the customers who love them and actively promote them. The Raue Center for the Performing Arts in Crystal Lake, IL, Wakesites and Slingshot Sports and their use of Friend2Friend’s Facebook applications (Disclosure: I ride a Slingshot wakeboard and am on the advisory boards of Wakesites and Friend2Friend) are examples of how important social technology can be when running a local business, a small business, or a niche business. Instead of “sounds great, but we have the neither time the nor the budget to do what _________ (fill in the blank with a big brand’s name) did…” these folks dug in and sorted out social, then used it to power their business.
Semantic Tools: Social Gets Smarter
Finally, the continuing and relentless press of technology is bringing meaning to the social Web – the emerging role of semantic tools is on tap for 2011. Whether through a listening platform or built into the core rules that drive applications like Google’s adding “sentiment” to its ranking algorithms, the inclusion of meaning alongside static artifacts of implied importance (links) and indicators of relevance (expressed through activities such as likes, recommendations, and retweets) adds a badly needed dimension to those charged with making sense of the social Web.
In “The Semantic Web: Not a Moment Too Soon,” I took off on the case of a fashion reseller who had figured out that negative reviews were just as effective as positive reviews in promoting his business, given that most of his customers searched by brand name (only) and then shopped based on price after that. Negative reviews – just like positive ones – were resulting in elevated search ranking and actually helping drive new customer acquisitions.
Enter meaning: Once aware of this fringe case, Google re-tooled its algorithms to account for the sentiment of ratings in addition to the raw count and authority of all linked references. “Being bad” shouldn’t be “good” for business. And it’s less likely now that it will be in the future.
In the column, “The Semantic Web,” I mentioned ReputationDefender, a tool set and service aimed at helping business – including smaller businesses and individual professionals – to understand what is being said about them. It’s a tool worth taking a look at. To be sure, ReputationDefender cannot and will not create “fake” content or attempt to change legitimately negative content. If you and your products and services have issues to work out, there is no getting around the need to address and resolve those issues. But suppose instead that your industry is less than popular, or that one or more detractors have targeted you – on the social Web there is precious little recourse. One of the more effective techniques – and to the core of ReputationDefender’s approach – is to ensure that genuine positive content enjoys the same visibility as any negative content. That way, search results reflect a balanced view and individual consumers are able to sort out for themselves what to do next.
Three big themes: collaboration and the emergence of social technology across business; the adoption of social CRM as a discipline comprised of information technology, operations, and marketing; and broad applicability of social technology to businesses of all sizes. As you prepare for 2011, add “meaning” and the semantic Web to your list of research topics.
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