I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Lyle Fong, the CEO of Lithium. Lithium recently partnered with Omniture to provide a holistic view of user behavior on social networks. This post is the third in a three-part series.

Advantages of Catering to Super-Users:

One great example of a super-user comes from the Dell community. There is a user named “Predator” that was written about in Forrester’s Groundswell book. Predator spent over half a million minutes on the community helping users. He registered in 1999 and basically spent all of his free time helping people. He has now answered 22,000 questions and helped over 2 million people. Forrester found that if only one in twenty of the people Predator helped online didn’t need to call Dell directly for support, he alone has helped Dell save at least 1 million dollars.

There are hundreds of people like Predator on the Dell community or on the AT&T community.

We help companies build up that base. These users actually become a buffer to the brand. If a detractor writes something negative about the brand, these “super-users” are the first to step up and defend the company from attacks and competitive misinformation.

Chris: Since these “super-users” are answering large numbers of questions, they must be obviating the need to directly call a costly channel such as customer service.

Lyle: That’s right. Much of what we focus on with online communities are the marketing implications. But on the support side alone, the ROI data is staggering. The community of one of our customers, Fair Isaac, answered over 2 million support inquiries from the end of 2006 through the beginning of 2008. You can imagine how much they are saving on support costs.

The impressive part on the support side is that not only are the community members answering questions, they are answering complex questions better than companies can. For example, some of the questions deal with multi-vendor issues. If you want your iPhone and your music collection from Napster to work on your Dell computer, who should you call? If you call Apple, they’ll tell you to call Dell. If you call Dell, they’ll tell you to call Apple. But now you can tap into the “super-users” on the Dell community, who are using products in ways that they may not have even been designed for. It is incredibly difficult to train technical support reps to answer these types of questions. Now, all of these complex answers are available to the public. Each response builds up a knowledge base. Dell’s knowledge base now has over 1 million answers. Imagine how much it would cost to build this type of a knowledge base!

Chris: How are smart companies sifting through all of that information for the most useful nuggets? How do they use it to drive value?

Lyle: There are 3 areas where our customers are finding these “nuggets.”

First, on the Service side. We provide our customers reports about the hot topics of the week. This drives ROI since they are getting knowledge faster than if they had waited for issues to percolate through their support centers. For example, Sprint launched a new product. Community members began complaining that a feature wasn’t working properly. It turned out that the manual had a typo. Within a week they caught this through the error by listening to the community and immediately fixed the error. This type of real-time feedback is invaluable.

Second, on the Product innovation side. Ask customers “How would you change our products?” Then allow them to vote, in the same way that the site Digg does. Dell employed this technique with its Ideastorm site, where the asked customers “What do you want to see us build?” There was an overwhelming support by Dell’s customers to see Dell computer’s shipped with Linux. Although this was a monumental decision for Dell due to relationship issues with Microsoft, they actually delivered this product and received a great response from the industry.

Third, on the marketing side. With our integration with Omniture, you can now tell which user groups are driving the call to action. You can then answer the question “who are my influencers?” Companies can now see a dollar amount of how these “super-users” are actually influencing their bottom line. Now that companies know who these users are, they can market directly to them, thereby cutting down on marketing costs. This helps them spend their time more wisely building relationships that matter, rather than trying to blanket the world.

Jason Egan
Jason Egan

Great points on the fact that most companies have yet to engage their "hardcore" customers/visitors in open communication. In my own personal experience, Comcast and Adobe have both done excellent jobs in using Twitter (as one small example) to address the concerns and complaints of their hardcore customers. I can say right now, that I'd probably be with DirecTV if it weren't for the efforts of Comcast via Twitter (http://twitter.com/comcastcares). Most company's executives seem to understand that social media is going to shape the future. However, they are also the same "old school" executive that are still using the Web for traditional, push advertising and marketing. A failure to interact with your customers, when they are already engaged in online discussions, will only damage your brand. The brand has to become a part of the community.