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.