Social for Everything, and Everything in the Cloud: Lessons from e2.0

June 22, 2011

Or, What Bikers and Coach Bag Collectors Now Have in Common....

Visitors were out in force around Newbury Street yesterday, and although tourists enjoying the (rare) sunny weather were gathering at sidewalk tables, the Hynes Convention Center was filled with digital professionals of all stripes, there for Enterprise 2.0, the biggest social business conference around. We were there to see Acquia launch the new version of their social platform Commons at their Commons and Cocktails party.

Luckily, I also got to sit in on some of the workshops on the show floor. Though they came from companies of all sizes, and they were selling everything from enterprise CRM platforms to collaboration software, the speakers all highlighted the ways that social has stopped being an add-on to marketing, and become an integral part of operations throughout business:

  • Loni Kao of Adobe talked about the challenges of converting your loyal customers into brand advocates, and how many of these challenges boil down to infrastructure. Loni’s message really resonated with the marketers in the audience, since making it logistically simple for a loyal customer to become a true brand advocate can make all the difference. Customers may be enthusiastic about your product, but they don’t work for you, and they don’t have much time to help you out. Loni spelled out ways that building an infrastructure, from social media to your CRM, that includes ways for customers to interact and share ideas can make it easier, something that resonated over here with the announcement of BetaConnect. Though Adobe product centric, the talk was valuable.
  • Hutch Carpenter of Spigit probably had the most research-heavy of all the presentations, and it was well worth listening to. He outlined the theoretical foundations for crowdsourcing better than I’ve heard it presented in a while. His points were the exact opposite in many ways from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous assertion that the weak ties associated with social media mean that real change can’t come from social platforms. Carpenter’s assertion? The resistance to new ideas advocated by those distant connections can be strengthened by new “markers of trust” such as online reputation—and the benefits of calling on far-flung networks are too real to ignore. Distance from a problem is positively correlated with the ability to solve it, so it’s precisely those on the edge of a social network who probably bring the challenging ideas that will solve a company’s next big business problem.
  • Sandy Carter of IBM kept the crowd spellbound with some of the most glam case studies of the day, but her point couldn’t have been more substantive: social and crowsourcing make huge impacts on the bottom line for some major brands. She cited programs from Coach and Harley-Davidson, and the more humble Gatorade, that revealed some interesting insights: Gatorade found through listening to social media conversations about their brand that their best advocates are not the athletes they traditionally target, but gamers. Listening to what real customers are saying about them on Facebook & Twitter showed the way to new marketing programs, new branding—and as a result, higher sales. Harley-Davidson took the prestige of their brand and gave it a new twist in social media, making their online community exclusive to people who could provide VIN numbers for their Harleys. The result – people buying VIN numbers to join the community even before they buy their first bike, and more engagement with their brand, since the community structure emphasized a real community of users. Coach broke out of their traditional mold by crowdsourcing designs for their high-end bags online, reaching teens and college students. This novel social media approach helped them reach a demographic who seldom bought their products before, and the numbers tell the story: once a crowdsourced bag hits stores, it sells out, no small feat for accessories that range from $160 - $1,000+.

Also interesting was the almost-complete move to the cloud in this field: pretty much every application was offered primarily or exclusively as SaaS.
All told, the event is neatly encapsulating the changes going on in digital business, and providing great inspiration for change worldwide.

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