It's becoming increasingly obvious that few, if any, companies will be able to opt out of Twitter by assuming it'll be a short-lived trend. Twitter enjoys the kind of explosive popularity not generated by many technological tools -- perhaps Google's search engine, Facebook, the BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone. Some people practically live their lives on Twitter. (Seriously, John Mayer, get a life.)
Not surprisingly, in a society where consumerism drives the economy, people love to talk about products and services on Twitter. If your company commands any kind of brand recognition (as in more than a handful of people have ever heard of it), chances are someone, somewhere has Tweeted about it.
This comes out clearly in a series of recent interviews by IT Business Edge's Susan Hall. In her interview with Mark Evans, director of communications for social media metrics company Sysomos, he discusses the importance of Twitter (and other social media) for gauging activity around your brand. He said:
How many conversations are happening? How many blog posts are being written about your company or its products? How often are you being mentioned on Twitter? How many people are joining your Facebook group? In general, are people talking more positively about your products than they did before because you're engaging with consumers directly in a new way? Those are ways to look at whether you're being successful with social media that have nothing to do with sales.
Considering the often viral nature of conversations on social channels, it's especially important to monitor them. An increasing number of companies are doing so, and vendors like Salesforce.com have rolled out tools that make it easier for companies to track social activity -- and respond to it, when necessary.
Now Radian6 (which already works with Salesforce) is partnering with collaboration software company Jive. The goal, writes Oliver Marks on ZDNet, is to help companies "quickly form social media strategy from key observations of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other online social sources to enable faster movement in the moment of pain -- or the moment of marketing opportunity -- to leverage real time events."
As Marks explains it, Jive's Market Engagement Solution creates "Market Spaces" where users can bring in observations from individual tweets, blogs or other social media and share it instantly with relevant decision-makers, in theory providing the context for rapid tactical decisions. The observations can also be consolidated into market summary reports, which Jive calls "Viewpoints." The product also offers the ability to analyze and measure the effectiveness of company responses.
This sounds great in a warm-and-fuzzy, value-the-customer way, but could cause problems for enterprise IT departments, writes Ray Wang on his A Software Insider's Point of View blog. While products like Jive's beat the "mish-mash of manual efforts using scraped together RSS feeds, Google alerts and Twitter clients" currently being used by many companies to monitor social media, they can also create yet another silo of customer data. Companies that employ such tools on a standalone basis rather than as part of an overriding information strategy will create lots of frustrating work for IT.
You get greater speed, but more complexity. Ultimately, you may even increase your risk of hacking off customers. As Wang writes: "In the end, fragmenting customer data will result in disjointed user experiences for customers as separate departments will have disparate data for each customer." And of course, it makes CRM the application most likely to be deployed under IT's radar.
As Wang and colleague Jeremiah Owyang note, these tools will force a closer relationship between IT and marketing, two business units that have often been at odds in the past. Both Wang and Owyang offer some key pieces of advice. Wang encourages companies to find tools to aggregate all these new channels and data sources, and figure out how to get the data integrated into data warehouses and other important enterprise repositories. Owyang says companies should make sure information gets to customer-facing personnel and consider using new tools to aggregate brand conversations on their own Web sites.
My suggestion? Companies that don't have them should consider appointing senior executives who are responsible for customer experience across all channels, social and otherwise. I spoke with Forrester Research's Bruce Temkin about this topic last summer. He told me a "chief customer officer" (or whatever a company chooses to call the role) would differ from a sales/marketing VP because he or she wouldn't have a set of deliverables. Rather, he said, "The CCO role is responsible for helping the rest of the organization improve customer service. It has no value in and of itself; it creates value through other organizations."
The most important qualities for a CCO? Said Temkin:
They need to possess very savvy political skills, because it's a role that's about creating change through influence rather than a mandate. They need to be process-focused and to understand how a company's processes work. Perhaps most important, they must be passionate-not just about what they do, but about serving customers. It's a high burnout role, because the work is really hard. At the end of the day, large organizations just don't change that fast.