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 first in a three-part series.

Chris: Lyle, why did Lithium part­ner with Omni­ture? What kind of value can mar­keters gain from this partnership?

Lyle: This inte­gra­tion answers some of the “holy grail ques­tions” for online mar­keters: who are my com­mu­nity mem­bers? How are they influ­enc­ing pur­chase behav­ior and lead­ing to my call to action? Are they help­ing drive sales? Are our efforts in social media actu­ally dri­ving con­ver­sion? Actu­ally being able to mea­sure engage­ment in a quan­ti­ta­tive way is really pow­er­ful. Our part­ner­ship with Omni­ture is rel­a­tively new, but many of our cus­tomers and prospects are excited about it. In fact, we have a great case study with Omni­ture at Sprint for their Buz​z​AboutWire​less​.com social media initiative.

Chris: It appears that Lithium is posi­tion­ing itself more as a plat­form ser­vice rather than a point solu­tion. What is your strat­egy behind cre­at­ing this platform?

Lyle: In the past, com­pa­nies were inter­ested in deploy­ing “siloed” com­mu­ni­ties such as forums, blogs, or chat solu­tions. Over the years, they have real­ized that these have tremen­dous value. As they added new solu­tions, they real­ized that they weren’t pro­vid­ing a uni­fied cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. They also real­ized that as they added these new ways to inter­act, the whole con­cept of a cor­po­rate web site is changed. It went from being “brochure site” where you are push­ing out con­tent to vis­i­tors, to a site where you are engag­ing cus­tomers at almost every touch point. Whether it’s user rat­ings and reviews on your prod­uct pages or allow­ing cus­tomers to edit doc­u­ments on your sup­port site, com­mu­nity ele­ments become a part of the entire site. In doing so, com­pa­nies want to have one uni­fied platform.

Chris: What advice do you give as com­pa­nies as they con­sider embark­ing on this social net­work­ing journey?

Lyle: A lot of com­pa­nies that con­sider embrac­ing social media fear the unknown. What if we open up and let peo­ple say what­ever they want on our web site and they say some­thing we don’t want to see? We have seen that almost any com­pany that goes down this road will go through a learn­ing curve. They may make mistakes.

We have learned that if com­pa­nies are trans­par­ent, they will find that their cus­tomers are very tol­er­ant. Dell is a great exam­ple of this. They were cer­tainly on the fore­front of the social media move­ment, but along way they made some mis­takes. When­ever they made a mis­take they acknowl­edged it and peo­ple com­mended them for it.

There is no best time to start with social media. Our advice to all com­pa­nies is at least lis­ten to what your cus­tomers are say­ing. Whether you like it or not they are talk­ing about your brand on Face­book, Msy­Space, Twit­ter and the other com­mu­ni­ties out there. Once you start hear­ing this, you’ll want to cre­ate a place that is sanc­tioned by the com­pany to engage with the customer.

Chris: So like it or not, peo­ple are out there talk­ing about you. Isn’t bet­ter to know what is being stated about your brands than using a “head in the sand” approach?” Even if you aren’t 100% pre­pared, you need to at least be lis­ten­ing to what they have to say.

Lyle: Exactly. To take it one step fur­ther, many com­pa­nies don’t real­ize that by cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity, the con­ver­sa­tions are gen­er­ally 30–40% more pos­i­tive than if they were to take place on a third-party site. What is hap­pen­ing is that due to brand affin­ity, peo­ple who love your prod­ucts will come and flock to the site. The peo­ple who don’t like your com­pany prob­a­bly wouldn’t bother to come to your site. If any­thing, to coun­ter­act what is out there, you should cre­ate a com­mu­nity where your best cus­tomers can hang out.

Chris: Which indus­tries are doing a great job with social media? Are there par­tic­u­lar indus­tries that are behind in using social media well?

Lyle: The high-tech indus­try has a lot of early adopters. But we are start­ing to see deploy­ments across the board, from the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try to com­pa­nies in the media space such as MTV, Uni­vi­sion, to even some of the big retail­ers such as Barnes and Noble and Best Buy.

Each of these com­pa­nies is out there every day learn­ing more about what the mar­ket thinks of them and gain­ing a large advan­tage over those not doing this.
I would say that those that are lag­ging behind with regard to social media are some of the large brands. There is def­i­nitely a clear oppor­tu­nity for some of the biggest com­pa­nies out there to gain insight over their com­peti­tors by employ­ing some of these tactics.

Mar­ket­ing at these large com­pa­nies has always been thought of as cam­paigns. It is dif­fi­cult for some of these com­pa­nies to embrace social media because it is not a cam­paign. Build­ing a com­mu­nity should be a long-term effort. It is not a one-shot cam­paign. It is more about fos­ter­ing rela­tion­ships over a period of years, not months.

Chris: Lyle, are there any take­aways from our dis­cus­sion that you’d like to emphasize?

Lyle: Instead of look­ing at cus­tomers as a lia­bil­ity that requires sup­port, you can actu­ally turn them into an asset. By employ­ing social media, you can actu­ally turn your best cus­tomers into a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage that oth­ers can’t reach.

Chris: Through CRM we aren’t pro­vid­ing a trans­ac­tion track­ing plat­form, but a rela­tion­ship track­ing plat­form. Through Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst, mar­ried with Lithium’s tech­nol­ogy, a mar­keter can now under­stand the rela­tion­ship value of the company’s best cus­tomers. It is a com­plete new par­a­digm: the promise of CRM actu­ally being fulfilled.

Lyle: Tra­di­tional CRM is about a one to one rela­tion­ship. Before, a com­pany only really under­stood what a cus­tomer is talk­ing about when they called you to either buy some­thing or to com­plain. In between that, a com­pany had no idea what their cus­tomer expe­ri­ence was.

Now in com­mu­ni­ties paired with web ana­lyt­ics, you can hear what cus­tomers are say­ing to you en masse, as well as what they are say­ing to each other.

Tomor­row: Top-and-bottom line ben­e­fits of enter­prise social networking….