Star Bellied Sneeches: Social Media Badges Can Save Companies Billions

If you have never read Dr. Seuss’ book, The Sneeches, it is definitely worth your time. In this kids book we get adult insight into human behavior. The Sneeches with stars on their bellies are special you see. They were better than the plain belly sort and had parties and picnics the others were left out. A simple thing such as a star can make such a difference, which brings me to support forums and idea communities. What will people do for a star?

Li & Bernoff’s Groundswell tells us that the average call to a company’s call center costs $6-$7. Technical support calls are $10-$20. Way back in the early 2000’s TiVo noticed a consumer run TiVo Community Forum on the web. With no help from the company over 130,000 TiVo owners were solving each other’s problems. One user named “jsmeeker” had posted 44,000 times in 6 years.

Other company’s like Dell have started their own community support forums. Dell has been more intentional and is reaping the rewards. One user named “Predator” had posted 20,000 times answering tech support questions that were viewed over 2 million times. Considering the cost of call centers, this one customer saved Dell over a billion dollars in support costs. Dell wants to encourage more customers like this and has implemented a reward system so the most active members can earn their stars.

Dell Community Rockstars are nominated for their exceptional technical skills and willingness to help others. They also show leadership in the Dell community. What do they get? A star of course. The fancy star badge below. To be fair they also get some additional privileges and benefits including online and offline events and get to evaluate new products and services before others.

What else will someone do for a star? Help with new product development. Dell has also launched IdeaStorm to leverage the wisdom of the crowd to improve their products and services. IdeaStorm simply collects customer ideas in multiple categories from products to advertising and then the same customers vote on the ideas to help Dell identify the most promising. Since 2006, people have freely submitted over 20,000 ideas and nearly 550 have been implemented. What do they get in return? Points, votes and you guessed it, a star. Dell Rockstar badges also appear in IdeaStorm.

This is all well and good, but you may be saying to yourself, “Dell is a huge, well liked company. Of course, people want to contribute to them.” Don’t forget that Dell has not always been a well liked company. In fact, it used to be referred to as “Dell Hell” and is known for not listening to its customers as called out by Jeff Jarvis in his now famous “Dell sucks” blog post. The support forum and idea community are actually what helped Dell regain its customers.

As customer support moves further away from the phone lines, it’s become easier for frustrated customers to express that frustration publicly on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. As a result, more and more brand customer support forums are popping up. In fact, Forrester research has found a 25% increase in customer service community usage in the past three years. For the brands that embrace this change, customer service can move from cost center to a differentiator.

What can you do? Fire Pole Marketing says launch a brand community and give them something to display. They say, “Provide them with a plaque, certificate or similar item. Simple things like online badges or a certificate work wonders.” I agree and I suggest you use a star.

Can customer support and idea communities be a star in your company?

Cause Marketing’s Future Is Engagement Through Social Media

In the last 25 years cause marketing has created greater awareness of brands, nonprofits and the marketing method itself. Cause marketing has proved itself and future generations appear to be even more supportive of cause efforts. After hearing about a corporate-charitable partnership 88% of Millennials would be likely to switch from one brand to another brand if the other brand is associated with a good cause (compared to an average of 79% for all adults). They also are more likely to donate their money, participate in an event and volunteer compared to all adults. So the future looks bright, but sometimes too much success can cause backlash.

On the other hand, cause campaigns have flooded the market creating terms like “pinkwashing” referring to seemingly unrelated products like floating beer pong tables using pink simply to sell. Skepticism over pink products has grown into an entire organization and website called “Think Before you Pink.” Simply being pink or red will not be enough in the future. To stand out and get buy-in, successful cause campaigns will need to demonstrate genuine commitment to the cause by providing new ways for consumers to get involved.

That future involvement lies in social media. The interactivity, engagement and transparency that social media allows enables consumers not only to support cause marketing campaigns but to help shape them. Funny videos are one way to create guerilla marketing, but giving people a cause that they care about increases the pass along factor greatly. Cause marketing combined with social media turns word-of-mouth into crowd sourcing – a more powerful medium. Crowdsourcing taps members of the general public to perform important business tasks like research, product development, and marketing. Cause marketing has access to this powerful tool.

Moving beyond traditional media to engagement is something Pepsi Refresh did in the 2010 Super Bowl. They ditched their expensive traditional Super Bowl ads for a cause marketing plan built on a social media. Instead of spending millions on commercials, Pepsi created the online cause marketing campaign that asked consumers how the company should give away its grant money. People all over the web began spreading the word about the campaign encouraging others to vote for their cause via the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Social media also provides opportunity for research, recruitment and service. Companies like Comcast and AT&T use sites like Twitter as a customer service tool turning negative comments into positive customer service experiences. Why wouldn’t cause marketing be able to benefit from the same? Everyone was impressed with the money the Red Cross raised for Haiti with their texting donation campaign, but how sustainable is that support after the news coverage has died down? Monitoring Twitter for talk about issues your cause campaign helps provides opportunities to engage and recruit new supporters already interested in your cause. TV, magazines and direct mail can’t deliver that kind of targeted audience.

What does the future hold? Many are aware of cause marketing. Now it is time to engage them through the Croudsourcing power if social media.