Community Members Buy 48% More!

A bold statement for sure if I wasn’t confident in the results and the exercise our team went through. Getting funding for social business initiatives is never easy and I learned this many years ago that until you can associate revenue to your initiative you will never see an incremental investment to further your programs. So, you need to link your social engagement activity to booked revenue in order to come up with a measurable ROI and justification.

My initial research was based on new community registrants over six months in the first half of 2012. Community members that had registered with the community were associated to their respective company where possible mainly by using their email domain however, you will have to clean up the data to exclude the gmail, Comcast, yahoo accounts. Once that list was compiled then we were able to compare the average purchase price of those companies who had members in the community to those companies who did not. This allowed us to conclude that customers with members in a community had an average purchase price 48% higher than those customers who were not engaged in the community. I have talked a little about the Amazon model before so think about it this way. How do we, as consumers buy?

We, as consumers, typically start with researching a solution to a particular challenge. So, we search the internet for items that we think we need to address that problem. Once we think we have identified a product that fits our needs, we want to validate that the purchasing decision and confirm this is indeed the right choice. So, we look to others or “Peers” who may have already purchased that product and have written a review. I may find out that the product I wanted might have bad support, isn’t reliable or maybe just wrong for my use case. However, other reviews within discussion forums might recommend another solution and advice on how to improve it. For example, if I am looking to buy a camera my research might lead me to selecting a digital SLR with a 50mm zoom lens. But I still may not know what brand is the most reliable so I engage peers for reviews and recommendations. Once I have confirmed my selection, I will likely want accessories to go along with that camera; say, a tripod, lens cleaners, case, batteries or larger memory card. Suddenly, my original camera purchase just became 48% more because community peers and reviews have made me more informed and educated about the particular solution. Because of this engagement  I have established a level of trust with that peer and take their recommendations into consideration.

So, While my research can’t establish exactly why community members purchase 48% more there is enough evidence to conclude that community members are more educated on your company’s products, are engaged with other peers that are collaborating to solve the same challenge and then share best practices on what is needed to help improve on the solution. I think this is typically referred to as “product drag”. Those who may buy one product will look to buy additional support, services, add-ons and accessories to further compliment the solution they have selected. And that they selected because a brand advocate (not a sales/marketing person) helped validate their decision and ultimately shorten the sales cycle. The next exercise I am going to measure is match the length of the buying cycle for those companies who have community members versus those companies who don’t. My assumption is there will be a correlation and enough data to demonstrate the buying cycles are shorter with those who engage with other community peers for solution validation.

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The Social Journey of Community, Web and Why?

What is the “Social Journey” and why is it important to integrate community and web together? I realized that some of you may be asking that question why would I put my team and community through this process and spend the level of effort to make it happen. Well, The answer is 48% and that is justification enough but I feel like I need to explain this concept of “The Social Journey” first before I get into the details of why 48% is the answer. The social journey came about as a discussion between myself and a few peers two years ago. The conversation kind of started around importance of social to the business and how we could better engage our customers, prospects, identify specific user behavior to provide some type of predictive analytics to improve their user experience. Help our users find the information being searched quicker and then suggest other related products or solutions that may be complimentary to the initial inquiry. Then measure, wash, rinse and repeat. This was the original concept of “The Social Journey” and our conversation soon turned to how Amazon provides the “more like this” function and how peer reviews help the buyer make a quicker decision.

This is the social journey. It is how you help guide your digital visitors through research, prospecting, defining and architecting a solution, validating that the solution will solve the problem and then assist with the buying process. This is the first step of the social journey, the journey of the prospect through customer. The second leg of the social journey is nurturing the customer through their implementation experience to ensure solution exceeds their expectations and help them become a loyal customer. The third part of the social journey is engaging the loyal customer to continue to build the personal relationship and uplift the customers stats to a brand advocate. The difference between to the two is: a loyal customer likes your product and will buy your product again. A Brand Advocate will defend and advocate for your brand as a respected peer in the industry.  I think I have to credit my good friend Nicolas for coming up with the title “Social Journey” as it make sense when explaining this process of digital engagement. Once one has reached the level of social brand advocate they then enter into a new phase of the social journey which essentially begins again. Only this time the brand advocates are the ones providing the peer reference to help validate ones research that they are selecting the right solution to solve their challenge.

Now, I bet you are asking “So, what does 48% have to do with this?” Welcome to the wonderful world of big data analytics. I am nothing if not a data and number geek but knowing my facts and having the information to back up my strategy has worked well to secure support and funding for my initiatives with executives. I’ll get into depth about the 48% in my next post as it worth taking the time to understand and leverage the exercise.

Categorize community structure for improved site navigation

So, as my team continued our accelerated community 3.0 plans our next obstacle was how to categorize our community structure in order to align with our .com architecture and keep the navigation consistent between the two sites.

We have several issues. One is we have many products that have multiple communities some focused around support, others are beta lab forums, developer forums, education/certification and subject matter expert exchanges. We didn’t have to start from scratch as many of the .com categories fit but we released that just organizing the communities into topics didn’t really solve another problem of silo’d information not being discovered in search results. In order to really do this right you need to tag your community content to ensure the meta data is available so content appears in the appropriate search results. There was talk of having a 10 day tag-a-thon and we still may do that but that won’t make the first release so I’ll follow up on that later.

My main concern was still organizing the communities into product/solution categories so the navigation alignment with the .com site would be effective. There were two main tasks we needed to complete before we could integrate the unified web navigation. Determine what the categories would be and then determine which category or categories would be associated with over 200 communities. One of the great things about a community is it is a community which means there are hundreds of others like yourself who want to support your effort to improve the usability of the community. So, the first step was to update our community list, post the spreadsheet to our admin corner and engage our 200 community managers to associate one or more of the 14 categories with their community. Warning, you will have some overachievers who will say their community belongs in all the categories so you will have to edit to keep each community list to at most 3 categories.

While the community managers were updating the categories we needed to create the category landing pages that would be utilized by the navigation. As an example, if a web visitor landing on the .com home page, clicked on the community menu it will open up all the categories available like, storage, security, virtualization, infrastructure or backup and recovery. Because many different communities belong to a single category there needed to be a landing page that would surface all communities that were related. In order to accommodate the tight release timeline we did this manually, but plan to make these pages more dynamic. However, that comes back the tagging discussion I mentioned earlier and something we thought we could deliver in a following release.

The one thing about this exercise was it made us realized the level of effort that would be needed to re-architect the taxonomy and folksonomy of the site. Unfortunately I don’t believe there is an easy way to do this other than roll your sleeves up and get to work tagging content and communities. I have wondered though with the improvement of machine learning in search engines will we come to a point when categories, descriptions, tags and meta data won’t matter because all of the content will be indexed and available based on context. I need to do some more research into that concept but wouldn’t that be nice.

Good Content is Still King!

So I didn’t write, post or tweet a blog post for over two months and I still have consistent visitors reading my blog every day. Why is that? Because there is something out there that is still relevant and of interest to those who are looking for it. Content doesn’t necessarily have to be streamed in real time but it does have to be beneficial and it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about SEO and how to associate some strategic keywords to your content as well.

The phrase “Content is King” is completely over used and makes me sick even writing it down but it is still true and more importantly relevant. When it comes down to it we all have short attention span living in an instant gratification world and really just want to find what we are looking for. If you can’t find it then it isn’t relevant. So, providing relevant content quickly is a real benefit to the users who are looking for that specific topic. So, do them and yourself a favor and make it available.

Keys to social marketing: Standing out and getting lucky in the era of information overload

[tweetmeme source= “brennels” only_single=false]So about a month ago Morgan and I connected via one of my blog posts about using webinars to generate leads. He commented and referred me to a link that I found interesting which led to a follow up post, using blog comments to drive business. Since that time I have been speaking with BrightTALK and evaluating their product for our next webcast… Morgan wrote a great article describing the other side of the story below which is interesting….

Keys to social marketing: Standing out and getting lucky in the era of information overload

There’s a reason people filter their news. With the daily onslaught of posts, emails, commercials, texts, calls, check-ins, and status updates, it’s increasingly important to filter your sources and learn to tune out what’s useless. Facebook has news stream filters, Twitter has lists, but there is still too much information.

Online marketers often add to the noise trying to get past these filters, but those who understand social engagement use social tools to cultivate one-to-one or one-to-few relationships that provide value to both parties. Here is a recent example from my own experience that reminded me of the importance of connecting with the right person at the right time.

Read the rest of the story here on the BrightTALK blog