NAA welcomes several of social media’s best minds to discuss how this marketing trend applies to customer service and retention at a Thought Leaders session at the 2009 NAA Education Conference & Exposition on June 27 in Las Vegas.
By Eric Wu
All the current talk is about social media – how Twitter is taking over e-mail, how Facebook has more users than most countries have citizens, and how engineered virality can replace a marketing budget. With all the chatter, one might think that social media should be a substitute for advertising, a reason to eliminate a company’s marketing staff, and even cure cancer.
All too often, abstract concepts in social media marketing and communication are not concretely defined or measured. The result is the perception of a far-fetched land of geeks getting together and somehow magically altering business operations, marketing strategies and branding.
On June 27, 2009, at the NAA Education Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas, the “Thought Leaders in Social Media” panel aims to provide some experiences and relevant insight into how to use the social web. As a precursor, let’s introduce the panel and take a look at how these individuals have applied social media strategies to increase brand recognition, retention and revenue.
Panelist #1 – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com
Tony Hsieh has grown Zappos.com from $1.6 million in 2000 to $840 million in 2007, a measly 525,000 percent increase.
How was Tony able to change a company from a little over $1 million in revenue to almost $1 billion in revenue?
If you ask Tony, he’ll say, “customer support.” For most people, these words act as reminders to answer phone calls and please the customer. And, granted, Zappos does both of those brilliantly. However, Zappos has consistently adopted social media as part of its customer support strategy to engage and listen to customers.
“We actually take a lot of the money that we normally would have spent on paid advertising and put it back into customer experience,” says Tony. “We’ve always stuck with customer service, even when it was not a sexy thing to do.”
Zappos shortens the engagement loop with the entire organization by being very active on Twitter. Tony has more than 350,000 followers, and more than 400 of his employees are using Twitter.
For Tony, growing the business has not just been about answering phone calls, but about building a brand around the principles of engagement, creativity and a laser focus on fulfilling customer needs. These initiatives have resulted in 7.4 million total customers, 75 percent of purchases coming from returning customers and repeat customers ordering more than 2.5 times every 12 months. Talk about retention.
Panelist #2 – Jeremiah Owyang, Sr. Analyst at Forrester Research
Jeremiah Owyang is a senior analyst at Forrest Research and a leading expert on social computing, social media and interactive marketing. Jeremiah’s blog was ranked 19th by Advertising Age, he has consulted for large brands such as Hitachi Data Systems, and he is a speaker and educator at many conferences such as Web 2.0 Expo, SXSW and CES.
In a recent study titled, Social Media Playtime Is Over, Jeremiah writes:
The recession has put more pressure on interactive marketers to deliver measurable results. While many marketing budgets are being cinched, more than 50 percent of interactive marketers say they will increase their spending on social marketing. Why? These inexpensive tools can quickly get marketing messages out through interactive discussion and rapid word of mouth and, properly managed, can deliver measurable results. But in this downturn, interactive marketers must move beyond experimentation by making social applications a permanent part of marketing, measuring and demonstrating their value, and integrating them into marketing efforts.
As a part of the study, Jeremiah found that 53 percent of marketers are determined to increase their social media budgets and 42 percent will keep budgets the same, a total of 95 percent of marketers bullish on social media marketing. Even though these budgets are small (three-quarters are less than $100,000), Jeremiah recommends that marketers do not approach social media marketing as an experiment. “Remember, the most expensive cost isn’t the tools, it is the soft costs–strategy, education, process, roles and measurement,” he says.
Jeremiah continues to provide empirical data and demonstrate why social media outlets can be an integral part of marketing and distribution. His message is spot-on; it is not just about being there, but it is about having a strategy and goals for the engagement.
Panelist #3 – Pete Flint, Founder of Trulia.com
Flint founded Trulia.com in 2005 and it now is one of largest and fastest growing real estate Web sites in the United States. Trulia.com has over 5 million unique visitors a month and has raised more than $33 million in funding.
Trulia has been able to bridge the gap between buyers and real estate professionals by building a community called Trulia Voices. Some stats include:
- Visits to Trulia Voices increased 146 percent year over year
- The volume of question and answer activity in Trulia Voices Q&A increased 114 percent year over year
- Real estate professionals’ answer volume increased 96 percent year over year
- Consumer questions increased 181 percent year over year
How has Trulia engaged both millions of home buyers and hundreds of thousands real estate agents?
Again, the answer seems to be centered on the engagement of the customer. Heather Fernandez, Vice President of Marketing of Trulia, says, “Consumers are looking for guidance and education and are relying on our pool of more than 200,000 real estate professionals for advice and insight.”
With multifamily housing traditionally closely tied to the real estate sector, Trulia is a relevant example of how user-generated content can change the flow of communication to consumers.
Moderator – Eric Wu, Co-Founder of RentWiki.com
I’m a 26-year-old entrepreneur and co-founder of RentWiki.com, a socially-driven rental search that connects renters with peer advice. I’ve spoken at conferences such as NMHC Technology, AIM Conference and the Harvard Business School Entrepreneurship Conference. In 2006, I was named one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25.
Having a Twitter account, a Facebook fan page and a viral YouTube video will not cure cancer, but they can and will affect your bottom line. The underlying message is not about usage or presence. It is about having a consistent strategy to engage consumers, listen to customers and focus on their needs. As Jeremiah puts it, “Fish where the fish are.”
Eric Wu is Co-Founder of Rentwiki.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415/640-4970. The “Thought Leaders on Social Media” session will be presented 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 27 in the Mandalay Bay’s Lagoon Ballroom as part of the 2009 NAA Education Conference & Exposition.