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Article

Connecting Social Media and the Cloud

Driving deeper customer relationships

Social media remains the fastest-growing medium of communication, with Facebook and Twitter leading the charge at astonishing rates of growth. At over 500 million/100 million users, respectively, it is no longer plausible for businesses to ignore the influence of these powerful networks. After all, they are made up of the audiences business care about most - customers and prospective customers, and those who influence them. The convergence of two important technology trends - cloud computing and social media - hold the key to CRM success.

While many companies are still struggling with whether or how to use these technologies in their business, there are success stories - not to mention some very public failures - that we can all learn from. What's most important to understand is that social media has opened up an entirely new way for companies to influence and engage directly with their customers and prospects and build better businesses as a result. Companies not paying attention to the social media phenomenon risk being left behind.

The odds are good that conversations are already happening in social networks about your industry, your competition, your company, or even you personally. These conversations may be positive or negative in nature, but they are undeniably powerful. More and more, consumers trust their own social network over comparatively random search results from Google or Yahoo. Prevailing logic states that an opinion from a close friend is far more relevant to them than a nameless, faceless website.

Over the past couple of years there have been some fairly public examples of social media successes and vice versa. For instance, the @comcastcares Twitter account has very publicly improved the effectiveness and perception of Comcast's customer service just as the @BPGlobalPR Twitter account has pilloried the very public challenges that BP has faced.

In the case of Comcast, their often-maligned customer service division was given a makeover by a resourceful customer service manager named Frank Eliason. Frank took the initiative to create a new two-way channel for Comcast customers to interact with their cable service provider. He would scour the Twitter network for service complaints and reach out quickly and directly to that customer, resolving their issues quickly and with an unusual personal touch.

Since the interactions were often posted publicly, the news that Comcast service issues could be fixed on Twitter spread virally across the network. Comcast could monitor complaints or issues in real time, and customers even started helping each other based on solutions they saw from Frank's interactions. As a result of tapping into a new social channel, Comcast started receiving a lot of positive coverage in more mainstream media such a CNN, Bloomberg and others. Frank has since moved on from Comcast to become the SVP of Social Media at Citi, a position that likely didn't even exist three years ago.

In the case of BP, the exact opposite happened. In the midst of the worst environmental disaster in history and certainly the biggest public relations challenge BP has ever faced, the company stumbled in a very public forum with social media. Their responses to the crisis were widely derided as tone-deaf, and not long after they tried their hand and failed at Twitter, the @BPGlobalPR fake account was created and gained popularity for mocking BP's response and giving voice to the public backlash.

The overwhelmingly negative sentiment towards BP combined with the rising costs to address the oil spill resulted in a loss of over $73 billion [1] in market capitalization, an astonishing figure, and an unquantifiable loss in brand value and trust. Had BP quickly and correctly handled the situation through social media channels and with greater transparency, the impact likely could have been lessened.

Customer service and public relations aren't the only examples of social media's impact on business; sales can be affected as well. Dell Computers for instance has notably generated $6.5 million [2] in revenue attributed to its Twitter account. Granted that is a small percentage of their overall revenue, but it proves that merely having a presence in social media is a worthwhile venture.

Clearly social media's power extends beyond the ability to keep individuals connected with friends and family. Businesses face material challenges as well as legitimate opportunities to improve the perception of their brand and even improve revenue. So how do companies manage their presence, engage with their communities and track results over time?

Thankfully social media's rise has coincided with the equally meteoric ascent of cloud computing technologies available to manage it. Ideally, a business would be able to track all interactions across channels, with customers, prospects and the public at large in a central place so that anyone across the organization can engage intelligently and build stronger customer relationships. This "single view" concept of customer relationship management (CRM) is not a new one, but cloud-based CRM holds the ticket to social media success.

Companies that find ways to successfully connect the power of social media with cloud computing technologies specifically designed to leverage social networks will yield greater return on their CRM investments and, accordingly, deeper relationships with their customers. For example, the new generation of Salesforce.com's Sales and Service Cloud technologies have social media management integrated directly into the application. With connectivity to both Twitter and Facebook, Salesforce.com users can monitor conversations that are happening about their company or product in real time and respond to customers and prospects, while keeping track of all interactions in a central place.

Salesforce.com has also built a collaboration application directly onto its platform. The application is called Chatter and is designed to enable social media-like communication within an organization. Users of Chatter can "follow" other employees, as well as other types of records like Accounts, Leads and Contacts, and Deals, delivering a constant stream of information to a user's desktop based upon each employees preferences.

In addition, given the open nature of social media technologies, it is easy to create custom functionality with a little code work. For example, a company called Enrollment RX arms universities with their own unique version of CRM that they refer to as Student Relationship Management, or SRM, for tracking enrollment and recruitment. By connecting Salesforce.com with Facebook, Enrollment RX has been able to take university recruitment to a popular social channel, even showing Facebook users which of their friends have expressed interest in a university and speeding the application process itself.

For non-Salesforce users, there are also solutions like HootSuite and Gist, which enable companies to launch and manage marketing campaigns across social networks. HootSuite is a cloud-based platform that enables organizations to manage their social media presences on Facebook along with multiple Twitter accounts from one dashboard. It includes some powerful Twitter tools such as trackable link shortening, scheduled tweets, and multiple lists and feeds. Gist is another powerful social media aggregator that includes blog and RSS functionality.

Blogs are another social media avenue that enable organizations to present information in a timely and sometimes more informal fashion. Commonly seen with comment sections, they become social by building an interactive community atmosphere. Thankfully there are affordable cloud-based solutions to manage this as well, such as running the free (and open source) WordPress software on Amazon Web Services infrastructure.

These examples and others prove the power of social media and the cloud for business, and as more consumers and business users populate social networks, the possibilities are endless. Companies can take advantage of cloud computing to better leverage social media communications and interactions.

Some social media tools you might consider when building your social media program and connecting it to cloud technologies to enhance relationships with your customers:

  • Consider connecting Force.com with Facebook for highly targeted advertising campaigns or to augmenting CRM data with publicly exposed Facebook data. Consider your current Facebook initiatives and build a strategy to help your business become part of the largest social network in the world.
  • Salesforce for Twitter is an application that enables organizations to not only engage with their customers and prospects, but also to manage and track those interactions within salesforce.com.
  • Non-Salesforce users can manage social networks with cloud-based tools such as HootSuite
  • Open source blogging tools such as WordPress hosted on Amazon's S3 make building an interactive online community easy and affordable for anyone

Today, cultivating customer relationships is more important than ever and social media, when used effectively with cloud computing tools, provides a new way to engage, listen, communicate and influence.

References

  1. New York Stock Exchange, June 2010.
  2. Bloomberg, "Dell Rings Up $6.5 Million in Sales Using Twitter," December 8, 2009.

More Stories By John Barnes

John Barnes has earned a national reputation as an application development expert and a leading developer using cloud computing technologies from Amazon Web Services, salesforce.com, Google and Adobe. He has over 17 years of technology experience and runs the Mobile Platform Development and R& D teams for Model Metrics, a leading custom cloud computing consulting firm with customers including Abbott, Allergan, Aon, Honeywell, L’Oreal, MasterCard, Medtronic, NBC Universal, The Boeing Company and Walgreens.

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