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7 Lessons From Social Business Leaders

Companies can learn from these leaders in the use of social networking technology for business.

2. Use Metrics To Measure Progress

McKesson sees specific gains as a result of making purposeful use of social networking technologies and measuring the impact. The pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information technology company is using social business technology to unify support for its software products in the electronic medical record and practice management markets. McKesson's Physicians Practice Solutions had acquired several products in recent years and needed to consolidate support, services, documentation, account management, product development, and product management.

McKesson is using SocialText's social intranet platform to enable communication among employees in its various channels, including those dealing directly with customers or with value-added resellers and those providing policy and product content. McKesson measures the success of its social initiatives using key performance indicators. For example, since implementing social products and practices, the average speed to answer customer calls has decreased 66% and same-day resolution of customer concerns has improved by 12%, says Timothy Kelly, executive director of customer support.

Measuring the performance of social initiatives against quantifiable metrics lets companies see what's working and what needs to be fixed. Hard numbers can also be useful in terms of getting people--internally and externally--to buy into the use of social tools. It's one thing to say that employees should use social technology because it will improve collaboration; it's more powerful to tell, say, customer support representatives that the technology has been proven to reduce the amount of time they will spend on each call.

3. Identify New Opportunities

While companies that have had success with social media started with specific uses in mind, they stayed open minded to new areas to apply social technology and the social model itself.

Men's online fashion retailer Bonobos found that using Twitter and Facebook has led to interaction with customers with whom it has never had an email exchange or call. Once they engage on social media, however, they'll not only interact but also bring friends into product discussions. "Turns out there are a lot of people for whom the bar to engagement is pretty low for social media," says John Rote, VP of customer service for Bonobos. "They're really happy to become excited brand advocates. You just have to meet them on their own terms--which, for a lot of people, are Twitter and Facebook."

People who interact with customer service using Facebook and Twitter also are more open to social promotions and marketing, Bonobos finds.

"The more engagement we had from a service point of view, the more participation we had from a promotions and marketing point of view, and it was just this reinforcing kind of cycle where we have people come in and do referrals over social media," Rote says.

The company is now looking for new product insights from social networks. Bonobos representatives, for example, are active on the retailer's Facebook page, inviting voting on Bonobos' signature commemorative clothing and comment on preferred fabrics.

Bonobos uses online software from Desk.com (which is owned by Salesforce.com) to route service inquiries and customer cases to make sure they get addressed by the right people at the company, says Rote. Bonobos also created a Twitter handle for service inquiries: @bonobosninjas.

Cemex is blending new social communication with existing tools. Cemex plans to extend its IBM Connections social platform by integrating email with it, so that employees can get Web-based email through the same portal they use for social communication. Cemex innovation director Gilberto Garcia says email is "less important now internally, but more important externally," and the company will leverage the new integration capabilities of Connections to make it easier to use the two together (see "Social Business Leader Cemex Keeps Ideas Flowing").

Wendy Arnott, TD Bank
"We realized that social was going to be a game changer for the organization, especially after a number of large acquisitions with many employees spanning vast geographies." -- Wendy Arnott, TD Bank

TD Bank did an early experiment to gauge employee interest in social interaction. It used simple tools to let employees comment on internal newsletter articles, and the results showed people would take the time to share their ideas about improving the business. For example, an article asking about bank workers' biggest frustrations prompted one teller to suggest that a paper-based enrollment process could be handled much more efficiently online. Hundreds of other employees quickly voiced agreement and added ideas about how it should be done.

"The idea had come up before, but until social [networking] amplified it, it was not a priority," says Wendy Arnott, TD Bank's VP of social media and digital communications. The company also had done a number of acquisitions, and realized internal social networks were going to be a "game changer" for spanning these geographies, she says, and TD Bank subsequently implemented IBM Connections. For example, TD Bank provides wikis on which branch managers share ideas for better customer service.

TD Bank also now has 20 social customer service representatives divided equally between Toronto and New Jersey who use Radian6 (part of Salesforce's marketing cloud suite) to monitor social media and respond. Its TD Money Lounge Facebook page for Canada has about 150,000 fans. On LinkedIn, TD has a Canadian Business Community group that lets it host conversations about small business. And, the bank recently introduced TD Helps, a community section of its website where customers can ask questions and get answers. TD Helps launched in June, and as of October the staff had answered more than 14,000 questions.

The bottom line is that social technology's multifaceted nature--from monitoring social networks for product comments, to interacting with customers, to internal networks for employee collaboration--can present a challenge in terms of nailing down what you actually do with it, but it's also an opportunity because it can be applied so many ways.

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