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We all have to eat, however food consumption is far more socially significant than mere survival. Going out to eat is social, dining is an experience, and whether you’re grabbing a quick lunch or a 5-course meal, individual tastes and preferences are diverse. Those specific tastes have amassed a collection of people to whom blogging, pinning, posting, tweeting, checking in and reviewing cuisine in their cities is debatably more significant than the actual act of eating. It’s a part of who they are, a very public expression of their foodie tribe, and to some extent most of us participate.

Today’s food and beverage climate is much transformed, similar to big business, experiencing its own changes as strategy, culture and conduct are all vastly more transparent in the court of public opinion. This increasing demand for authenticity has become an expectation in most (if not all) industries.

Only a few years ago Zagat was known as the “burgundy bible” in New York. Gastronomic enthusiasts would pour over its reviews of restaurants and traditionally trained chefs. The Zagat of the recent past wasn’t the interactive website it is now.

The significance is more important than the transition from paper to computer screen for a number of reasons.

1. Platforms like Yelp and Foursquare put opinions shared by any motivated diner at the hungry masses’ fingertips.

Everyday foodies are the new experts and restaurants have taken note. In cities like Seattle, in 2009 only about 5% of local restaurants were listed in the Seattle Times.  Cut to 2012 and right around 70% of them were listed on Yelp. These channels aren’t just limited to dining either. Just two years ago Yelp’s biggest category was shopping. Friends check-in on Foursquare everywhere from hiking trails to their offices.

2. Organic social is trusted messaging and it’s becoming significant in business communications and reputation management.

Last year, Yelp.com was averaging 78 million visitors a month, with 40% accessing it from their mobile devices. Foursquare has a community of over 30 million users worldwide with over 3 billion check-ins. Over a million businesses use its merchant platform. A resentful employee, an ignored blogger or a disgruntled client now share power over your brand value with more traditional media. The numbers tell the story with Nielson reporting that 92% of consumers trust WOM (word of mouth) and 70% trust unsponsored organic online messaging.

3. The social landscape is changing influencers, but the ultimate goal is real-world action.

The shift in consumption of media has made diners savvier, utilizing user-curated reviews as resources that often impact their dining decisions.  Influence is transitioning from only traditional media food reviews to shared spaces with legitimized blogs like Eater or the New York Times’ Grub Street. Bloggers, traditional reviewers and diners alike have become trusted resources. If that isn’t enough reason for business owners to care about online review sites like Yelp, a recent Harvard Business study shows that a single star improvement in an independent restaurant’s ratings on Yelp translates into a 5-9% increase in revenue.

4. Influencers are democratizing food.

Foodie is a term that can be applied to culinary explorers in a much larger inclusion of ages, budgets and lifestyles. Only a short while ago, it was an elite term reserved for those who could afford fine cuisine. Now, food trucks serve up delicious morsels. Respect in the industry is now shared alike between Michelin Star restaurants and mobile eatery enterprises done well, both receiving equal attention.

What does it all mean for big business?

Big business can acknowledge the changes and adapt, or be sidelined by younger, more innovative companies that understand the new landscape and how to utilize it to their advantage. There are real, bottom-line results in identifying and measuring the activity of influencers who are just at the conception of utilizing WOM online. Businesses across industries need to assess their online presence to determine authenticity and real-world value. Reputation is now shaped, in large part, by shared and earned media and public perception effects revenue.  Cultural communities such as foodies demonstrate trends and evolutions that provide valuable insight. Big business should be asking how it can create its own tribe, and whether it’s fully leveraging WOM across channels, online and offline.

Jessie Frank was having a horrible day. Frank, who was trying to get home to pick up her daughter from a special camp for type 1 diabetic children, had been waylaid by weather, mechanical issues, rerouting and other delays, as a two-hour flight had turned into an all-day slog. Listed as eighth on standby for a flight with no extra seats, a glimmer of hope appeared when a Delta flight attendant waved her down the jetway, only to be stopped at the door. That’s when a mysterious passenger gave up his seat for her. That person turned out to be Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO, who sat in the jump seat for the trip. Frank was so thankful to see her daughter on the last day of camp, she wrote a letter on Facebook about her experience.

“Thank you, Richard Anderson. As a result of your leadership and the actions of yourself and your employees, I had my special day with my special child,” Frank wrote. “You and your employees gave us both one more day of happiness, and for that, we are both very grateful. I have always been a loyal Delta customer, but Thursday solidified that loyalty for life!”

Her posting was shared thousands of times, and more than 100 news outlets covered the story, including CNN, UPI, Daily Mail and The Huffington Post. Why is this relevant? Because it shows how valuable social media can be in earning traditional media – a fact many companies don’t recognize. If Delta had pitched me a story as a journalist about how its CEO gave up his seat for a passenger, I would have shrugged my shoulders. “So what – it would only be interesting if he didn’t give up his seat,” I would have thought. Yet once the customer has told her version of things, and it started popping up on blogs, twitter and on Facebook pages, then it becomes interesting to the media.

If you hadn’t already noticed, customers are turning to social media to praise good service and air their grievances. They also expect an answer – within an hour. Many companies aren’t sure how to approach these comments – if at all. One study found 70 percent of corporations ignore customer complaints online. This is a huge mistake. There are plenty of examples where turning a blind eye to swelling online gripes can lead to ousters of executives, falling stock prices and unwanted changes in business plans, not to mention bad press.

Here’s a good example – when The Gap changed their logo a few years ago, it drew outrage online from some customers. Now at time, I personally didn’t see what the big deal was – yeah, sure, it looked like a 1990s clip art project, but it didn’t affect my life in some profound way like it seemed to have others. Either way I didn’t see a story in it – logo changes aren’t big business news. Until, that is, the complaints got more traction, more attention and eventually, reporters couldn’t ignore it anymore. I ended up writing two articles about it, along with NPR, CNN and other major outlets around the globe.

Imagine if Coca-Cola Co. could have listened to customers’ thoughts on New Coke in real time, instead of waiting for passionate people to write letters and mail them to the company (hard to fathom nowadays when you can just tweet your thoughts in seconds with no significant time or effort).

What’s even more unfathomable is ignoring those complaints now. Think of the blowback Netflix received for it’s suddenly announced plan to split its DVD and streaming business into two separate entities and charge customers 60 percent more. More than 12,000 people complained on its website, and the move, along with other decisions in 2011 sent shares down from nearly $300 a day before the announcement in July to $65 in November. A year later the Huffington Post was calling the incident “One Of The Great Tech Blunders.”

Not every complaint is at this level or requires drastic action. Many times, people complain about bad customer service or issues not controlled by the company, such as weather or traffic. Sometimes complaints aren’t even about real issues – like when people thought Instagram’s change of service notification meant the company was going to sell everyone’s photos.

Companies should have a plan in place to how they will react to such online situations before they happen. Being paralyzed for hours as lawyers, executives and communications people debate a response will only make matters worse. Journalists waiting for a statement will definitely hear from detractors happy to give interviews, and the longer the lag time, the greater the perception becomes that the company was caught off guard or isn’t competent enough to figure out what they’re doing. Of course, just reacting quickly isn’t enough if the message is bad — see what happened with Geeklist as a prime example.

Small efforts to help or alleviate the problem can turn out positive. An easy response to complaints can simply state: “Sorry to hear about this – let me look into it for you,” and leave an email where the person can contact you directly – and privately. People who receive this type of help often turn into positive commentators online. More than 80 percent of customers who received a response from a company “liked or loved” the fact they were paid attention to, according to a study. Knowing who the main influencers are in the online communities that discuss your company and its products and services can also help quell online storms, if you can reach them quickly and offer them your view.

And sometimes, knowing when to laugh at yourself can be the best reaction. Bodyform’s reply to a guy posting on Facebook that periods aren’t as fun as the company’s ad depicted is hilarious – and won a lot of positive media.

So companies – listen up – don’t ignore what’s being said about you online, because journalists certainly aren’t.

I’m excited.  Earlier this week, it was announced that Twitter bought Bluefin Labs and plans to integrate it into their offering for quantifying the value of the millions who use their “second screen” devices when their favorite television shows / movies are being shown.

For quite some time, the stats have been staggering.  According to Nielsen, 88% of tablet owners and 86% of smart phone owners are using their devices while watching TV.  The growing popularity of apps such as GetGlue (which claims 3 million users) and Dijit (which recently acquired Miso) shows that people are talking about the programs regularly, and these companies believe it contributes to either increased viewership and/or attention to the ads within the app themselves.

In our work with analytics in the entertainment industry, I’ve seen first-hand how conversations happening online have correlated to sales and ratings increases.   And, I’m a firm believer that Social TV has been largely responsible for bringing back “appointment television.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my DVR, but for many shows it’s just more fun to watch with a crowd and feels like a modern day version of the 50s when everyone gathered around the television set for a unified viewing experience.   When that happens, I want to be watching live.

So the news that Twitter bought BlueFin Labs, along with their existing partnership with Neilsen is yet another positive step forward in validating what many of us marketers already know to be true, but have a hard time justifying – that social TV positively contributes to ratings’ success.  Take for example Bravo which saw that last year, nearly a quarter of their audience base followed ousted “Top Chef” contestants onto “Last Chance Kitchen” and the episode where the winner was revealed became the show’s highest rated episode of the year.

Widespread adoption of these standards within the entertainment industry is the next hurdle, but it’s on the way.  According to Forbes, this should start rolling out in this fall’s ratings.  And hopefully, finally, the value of social media will be articulated and quantified for all marketers to gauge moving forward.  Amen to that.

Last week, my colleague Chuck Hemann called for 2011 to be the “Year of Data” in public relations. Chuck is alarmed by the huge and growing gap between the amount of data available on social media use and the (relatively) small proportion of companies that are tapping into that data. In a world where 10 billion tweets are being pushed out every year on Twitter and 30 billion pieces of content are shared every month on Facebook, ignoring the PR value of that information is perilous.

I’m sympathetic to Chuck’s declaration of 2011 as the “Year of Data,” but I have even grander aspirations for 2011. I want this to be the “Year of the Conversation*.” We need to be taking what we’re learning, online and off, and turning that data into some sort of useful action. And that conversion isn’t happening enough.

My thoughts on this stem not only from my role as a PR pro, but also my side project: a parenting blogger. For more than 8 years, I have posted on fatherhood, always on a personal blog and, for a period of time, for the Washington Post. I’ve been quoted everywhere from AdAge to the New York Times. This means that I am on the radar screen of more than a few companies that, no doubt, pride themselves on their data savvy.

And yet, there has been almost no effort by any brand to have a conversation with me. Yes, I receive press releases and pitch e-mails. But engage me in a productive dialogue? No. This isn’t because it’s not doable: I’ve had a handful of authors and academics start deep, thoughtful discussions with me. But brands have seemed a lot less  able to do that.

Living on the PR side, I can see why it’s difficult for corporations to jump into the fray. Finding the right people in a growing social media landscape that includes more than 500 million takes expertise. Conversations are timing-consuming and intellectually demanding in a way that “pitching” is not. They increase the sting of rejection. They don’t follow a straight line. And they aren’t always fruitful. Real dialogue doesn’t scale, and that can make it expensive. But our industry doesn’t have a choice anymore. Shotgunning the same tired press release to an ever-growing list of people is a dead end.

So while I want to join Chuck in pushing for more data, there’s no question that the next step is more engagement. If we get our way, 2011 is going to be one heck of a year.

* The word “Conversation” wasn’t selected by accident. The word is central to the 10-year-old Cluetrain Manifesto, the online engagement Bible. Cluetrain, amazingly, grows more relevant every year, and it’s going to be a big part of my 2011.

listenplanengageOne of the things I hear a great deal of when in conversation with businesses about communication is how important it is to listen to what people are saying.

I couldn’t agree more – you need to listen before you can engage in a conversation.  ‘Engage’ is the operative word here because if you’re really interested in connecting with your customers, your employees, anyone else with whom you wish to, well, engage, you do need to have a good idea of what’s important to them, what’s on their minds. Only by listening to what they have to say can you gain enough information in order to start a conversation.

That’s what two organizations have most definitely recognized, according to AdAge.com, which showcases the stellar examples of Kodak and Dell, both of which have Chief Listening Officers. More on that in a minute.

The advent of social media has brought the topic of listening to the forefront of organizations’ communication planning, internally and externally. During the past decade, especially in the past couple of years, we’ve seen social media become a significant element in the strategic approach to communication in many organizations. Some best practices are emerging, too.

We’ve also seen the emergence of new roles to bring individuals with wisdom and insight to the communication mix where everyone has an opinion and ideas that often require significant structure for them to be viable in an organization setting.

Enter the Chief Social Media Officer, a job title that sprang up in the US a year or so ago. The case for a CSMO role was well argued by Jennifer Leggio last year.

It’s not a function that seems to have captured imaginations on this side of the Atlantic, though. I know of no one in the UK with that title (although I do know a handful with the responsibilities). I know of only one person in the whole of Europe who has it – Philippe Borremans, the Chief Social Media Officer at Van Marcke Group in Belgium (who I interviewed for a recent WCG ThoughtLeader podcast).

So I wonder how a Chief Listening Officer will do.

In my view, such a role implied by the title is surely and exactly what organizations need today, especially large organizations. It’s not enough just to listen to conversations, analyze what’s going on and interpret the metrics: you need to know exactly, with precision, what the huge amount of interpreted data means to your organization specifically and what the people in their different roles can and must do as a result of the knowledge and insight you’ve gleaned from that listening, from that interpretation of the data.

Above all, you must know who in your organization needs what information, and be able to get that info to those people, on demand, when they need it.

Such a role isn’t necessarily one for someone with a communication background. That’s the case at Dell and Chief Listener Susan Beebe who told AdAge that her job is “complex.”

[…] “There is a data-analysis research role to this job, and I have a very technical background,” Ms. Beebe said. Dell has thousands of new mentions per day and the CLO’s job is one of “broad listening” – as Dell has such a deep penetration globally in so many different markets.

Unlike many social-media jobs, this position is very inward-facing. She’s listening to Dell customers and consumers and giving all the intel to her Dell colleagues internally.

“Our chief listener is critical to making sure the right people in the organization are aware of what the conversations on the web are saying about us, so that relevant people in the business can connect with customers,” said Richard Binhammer, communications executive at Dell. Mr. Binhammer points out that “Dell has been listening for four years and created a position called ‘Listening Czar’ two years ago. We are a leader in the listening space.”

Another leader is Kodak who has Chief Listening Officer Beth LaPierre who says data mining and figuring out who needs the information is her “big task.”

[…] “We get about 300,000 new mentions of Kodak every month and we don’t censor the comments or videos people create about our company”[…] “I’ve spent the past five months defining how we handle those data via technology and tools.”

[…] “What kind of information does our marketing team need vs. our product team?” Ms. LaPierre said. “How do we classify the data? What is the process for handling ‘ABC’ information vs. ‘XYZ’ information?” For example, she sends commentary about features and product requests to a product development team and so forth.

These are great insights, ones to give careful attention to as you consider what you need to do in your organization as part of your engagement planning and understanding the real value of listening as a strategic business tool.

Let’s see how the CLO captures imaginations.

(First published at NevilleHobson.com)

Social Media is fairly well established as the headliner of the online world.  Even its predecessor, the search engine, has ceded to social media by positioning sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs and user forums at the top of search results, and building in preferential treatment for websites that are updated often.

A quick look at the list of Alexa’s top websites in the U.S (full list below) confirms that 11 of the top 20 websites are hardcore social media sites.  Click through the rest and you will find social media functionality on all of them.

This realization, coupled with the announcement earlier this year that if Facebook was a country, it would be fourth largest country in the world, and similar stats from other top social media sites (the average online video viewer watches over 6 hours of online video per month), confirms that social media is indeed the mothership of your customer’s online experience.

So why do companies insist on giving the social media team their own lunch table?  We’re nice people – really.  In fact, our shining personalities are critical success factors in representing your brand in social media.  So why can’t we play with others?  Your .com team, e-commerce folks, CRM manager, search and digital agencies, there are plenty of people who would find our jokes funny.

And why stop there?  Successful social media campaigns do not exist in a vacuum.  They are integrated to the Nth degree.  They are cross-linked from your homepage, integrated into the email design of your loyalty program, noted in the boiler plate on your press releases, displayed as hyperlinks on your TV spots, painted on the side of your trucks, incorporated into your executives’ speeches, printed on your print collateral or packaging, and more.  Social media is now the most ubiquitous and most volatile element of your brand.

In social media, your customers are shaping what your brand means every single day.  Often times, you can help shape that conversation by giving them assets and direction.  So why is your social media team playing with their own set of blocks while the rest of your organization marches to the same beat?  In few other places is consistency and coordination so important.

Below are the three reasons why most companies keep their social media team in a vacuum and what you should do about them:

1. We don’t understand social media so we don’t think it’s related to anything else we do.

a.    Get educated. Lean on your social media team to teach the rest of your organization and make the learning hands-on and mandatory.

2. Social media is the wild west and our social media team is a bunch of renegade cowboys.

a.    Fire them.  Social media is an important and serious marketing discipline.  If you wouldn’t hire the professionals managing your social media as Communications professionals, don’t hire them for social media.

3. Social media is too hot right now. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and I don’t want to step on any toes.

a.    Man up.  It’s time to decide who is going to be in charge of social media. Is it PR? Marketing? Digital agency?  E-Commerce?  A Social Media Expert? (please don’t).  Decide who is running the show and then force all the other players into the same room and make the decision clear.  Now we can all move forward with less jockeying for dollars and more discussions about how to make things a success.

Social media is too important to your brand and your customers to allow it to be derailed by any of these things.  Your social media work needs to be integrated into everything else you do.  Just as brand guidelines penetrate every level of your organization, so too should social media.  Inconsistency here is often worse than not showing up at all.

Paul Dyer

Alexa.com Top 20 Sites in the U.S.

  1. Google
  2. Yahoo!
  3. Facebook
  4. YouTube
  5. Myspace
  6. Wikipedia
  7. Windows Live
  8. Blogger.com
  9. Craigslist.org
  10. eBay
  11. Microsoft Network (MSN)
  12. Amazon.com
  13. Twitter
  14. AOL
  15. Go
  16. ESPN Sportszone
  17. CNN – Cable News Network
  18. Bing
  19. WordPress.com
  20. Flickr

As published in the O’Dwyer’s PR Report September, 2009 issue

It’s called social media for a good reason.  Never have we had a better opportunity to listen, learn and speak directly with our customers, and what this new phenomenon really represents is an amazing opportunity to build a more valuable relationship with the people we serve.

As a result, the communications profession is going through its most intense transformation in decades.  In the period that follows, the followers will remain “communicators” and the leaders will become “conversation architects”.  Here’s why.

The sheer size of this change is mind-boggling.  Approximately 500,000 people go online everyday for the first time in their lives.  Moreover, the location and habits of our audiences are changing, particularly in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.  China is now the leading online country by a wide margin over the United States.

Facebook is the community of choice and is now equal in size to Indonesia, which has the fourth largest population in the world.  YouTube is now the third largest search engine.

Consumers are in the driver’s seat.  Using social media, customers decide how they will  receive information and where and when they will review a product before buying it.  Before making key purchasing decisions, three out of four customers ask their peers for advice.  The age of self-sufficiency is emerging.

Smart communicators already see this change and the opportunity it represents.  This is where I draw the line between a conversation architect and a communicator.

Communicators often share content they have expertly prepared in the hope that coverage will somehow lead to good things.  It might; but increasingly, it might not.

Conversation architects understand how to enter the conversation with their customer and become a valuable partner to share ideas, product knowledge and solutions, and empower that customer to share the story.

The conversation architect realizes that the following trends are important.

Customers are actually co-shaping the reputation of our brands without us.   As a result, companies need to become part of the discussion to influence the reputation of those brands.  In other words, we have to actually participate or we are unwittingly outsourcing the reputation of our brand.  Companies such as Radian6 and Visible Technologies are helping communicators identify, with precision, who is talking about their company.

It’s possible to identify issues before they become highly public via strong online monitoring.  Communicators are trained to deal with an issue once it hits the press.  Conversation architects, on the other hand, realize they can see trends earlier and plan, sometimes weeks in advance, for the same issue.

Customers are part of their own “liquid network”. This means that they are loyal to the content they want and they will morph their habits to find what they need.  It’s subtle.   The shifts are like an ocean’s currents.  Communicators believe they can plan for the year against a set list of influencers.  Conversation architects know that influencers shift with time and they watch it happen in real time.   This is why being part of the community is so important.  Intuit is a perfect example of a company that participates with its customers in their communities of choice.  Microsoft does a terrific job of reaching developers via www.channel9.msdn.com.

Customers spend less than one percent of their lifetime purchasing products online.  The real influence occurs during browsing and socialization.  Conversation architects know where their customers go to learn before purchase.  Communicators try to drive traffic to a transactional site.  Conversation architects introduce themselves to their customers in social environments, ensure their reviews and related product content are ready for browsing and do a great job in the transactional space.  They see the big picture.  Here is an easy test for you  Think of your web site traffic and then remember that 1.6 billion people are online.  How many visit your site each day?

Customers like to do three thing as long as it helps their peers: share ideas, share product knowledge and share solutions.  Customers don’t care about your company, they care about their community.  Communicators try to convince them to take actions they want them to take.  Conversation architects empower customers to share their expertise with their peers.

How we are consuming content is changing.  YouTube, for example, is becoming a key location for learning.  Communicators create slick videos to tell their story.  Conversation architects provide a combination of their story, customer’s insights and how to’s geared to what people want to learn about online.

The media world isn’t changing, it has already fundamentally changed.  Bloggers often drive as much or more share of conversation online as reporters.  Communicators resist this change.  Conversation architects focus on who drives their share of conversation, regardless of the outlet.  Two great examples of this are Pfizer’s presence on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfizer_news and GE’s approach to sharing its news via GE Reports at www.gereports.com. Note: Pfizer is a WeissComm client.

Finally, we know that ethical behavior is key to maintaining trust.  Nothing has changed.  There are no short cuts to success in social media.  Flogs, splogs or sponsored conversations are not the answer.  Real conversations with real customers provide value.  That is what works.

  1. It’s a great time to be in the communications profession – a time when we can all participate in reshaping the importance of our jobs to build value for our clients and their brands.

Bob Pearson, Chief Technology & Media Officer, WeissComm Group and President, Social Media Business Council

No matter how many times we all say it, we can’t help ourselves in applying old measurement models to measure new ways of doing business. It’s human nature. It makes us feel comfortable. And it justifies our investments in platforms. The only problem is that it is often wrong, particularly in new areas, such as social media.

Think about your company. I will bet you have a lot of data and research. You have dashboards. But you don’t receive “actionable insights” every day or week that can improve your business. You’re stuck looking at old data about stuff that happened weeks or months ago to justify whether you should continue a project or activity. The old way is to look at data and then contemplate what is next, rather than the new way, which can lead to immediate action, maybe even during your meeting. You are not satisfied with the old way of doing business. You know it in your gut.

So change.

What’s really required is a more intense focus on “Return on Information”, which is directly related to “Return on Investment”. Here is a way to look at why this is important.

Social media and the online experience are not the only areas that are immensely quantitative. Yes, in social media we can see views, visitors, downloads, posts, comments, registrations and much more. But, in baseball, my favorite sport, we can see hits, runs, strikeouts, walks, ERA and an endless number of ratios and percentages. There are many other examples, of course, but they are just random data points until they fall into the hands of a leader.

The key is how people use data to get a return on information. If you are a baseball player, you study a pitcher and catcher so you know when to steal second base. If you are a pitcher, you’ve studied a hitter’s habits so you know where they are weak and how to get them out.

It is essentially an amazing capability to take statistics, create a great “cumulative gut feel” and then utilize it to be successful, often at a time when the data is not right next to you.

Leaders in social media are like the best baseball players. They have every stat at their disposal, they know the habits of their marketplace and they are ready to meet the needs of their customers due to their fluency in what matters and their gut feel on what is needed. The rest of the world is just getting up to the plate and swinging at whatever pitch is thrown to them. Guess who wins.

Here are four examples of how you can get a better return on information and avoid common traps today.

#1 – Share of Conversation Matters, Not Blog Traffic – if you measure blog traffic, then you are in the wrong place. Your best customers are subscribing to your blog in some manner, so they will never actually visit your site. So what matters is to measure share of voice on key topics that you are addressing and to understand your share of the conversation. Once you do, you know which influencers you need to keep in contact with. You’re getting a return on information that is valuable.

#2 – Customers Appreciate Relevant Next Steps — think of Twitter. Which matters more – that you have a lot of followers or that the followers you have get real value from your content and conversations? When you think about it, it’s obvious. What matters is that we can take a relevant action, if we want to, as a result of receiving your content. Twitter has these examples, ranging from OneKingsLane to Zappos to Dell to Kogi BBQ. Imagine if we took this one step further and really helped society, for example, by making it easier for people with a form of cancer to find the right clinical trial or for homeowners to get the tips they need to improve their carbon footprint and did it in a way that didn’t require you to understand how to navigate a maze of websites. If your conversion rate goes up due to highly targeted and useful information, I would say that is valuable…and cost-effective…and customer-driven….anything not to like about it?

#3 – Community Alerts Are Needed, Databases are Just Big Closets — so many people like to build databases and “capture” people’s info in them and then brag about how many people are in it. Hello out there….does anyone know where this has worked really well? If you do, please share. There seem to be more databases than people sometimes, but they sure aren’t what customers want. I know I don’t brag about how many databases I’m in to my friends. Customers want us to know their preferences, so they can get information or alerts they want when they want them that are actionable. So, if I want to know when a 2 terabyte Western Digital portable hard drive is available at <$300, for goodness sake, don’t tell me about every 500 gigabyte or 1 terabyte drive you have ever created. Just find me when you are ready and tell me and I will buy it that day. I like my Western Digital 500 gigabyte drive, by the way, but do need to upgrade. Return on Information, when done well, will enable us to eliminate costly ways to communicate today. Imagine junking your email lists someday…..

#4 – Integrate Ideas to Build New Products & Services, Don’t Just Collect Them — if you receive ideas from your customers, the key is to “gather, integrate and report”, ala Starbucks or Dell. If ideas impact your future products and services because your engineers and designers are learning together with customers, you are receiving a tremendous return on information. If you simply gather ideas and call this a victory, you have actually made it worse, since you’re only pretending to care. The value of partnering with your customers goes way beyond any short-term economic value. It’s the way of the future.

There are many ways to look at Return on Information. The key is that you know how to utilize your statistics to figure out actionable next steps every day to improve your value to your customers.

Customers are hoping you do this, I’m quite sure.

All the best, Bob Pearson