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    The Connected Web

    Phil Wainewright

    Helping Brands Engage with Social Media

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    Listen to my interview with David Vap, VP of products at RightNow Technologies, one of the most established SaaS vendors in the CRM field.

    In this podcast, learn how automated filtering technology helps organizations monitor social media streams to rapidly identify both complaints and praise, and find out how sharing best practices can help businesses understand how best to engage with online communities.

    Listen to or download the 8:01 minute podcast below:

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    PW: Now David, RightNow is well known as a stalwart of the SaaS vendor community and has been one of the pioneers of the software-as-a-service model — and has really always specialized in the enterprise customer service arena. But looking at your latest product announcement — that we're going to be talking about today — it struck me that you cover quite a broad range of capabilities. And I just wondered — it must be quite difficult to keep innovating against everything that's happening in the various fields that you deal with. How do you manage that across such a broad product set?

    DV: Well Phil, that is a great question. And really it boils down to the culture that we've driven here at RightNow. So our CEO, every month or so, actually sends out an e-mail to the entire company — and they're titled 'Innovation 1', 'Innovation 2', 'Innovation 3', 'Innovation 4'. And really what he does is, he is asking everyone in the company to continually look at their jobs — whether their job is doing products, like my team, or whether it's accounting — to look at their jobs and ask what is the most innovative and effective and clever way to solve the problems at hand.

    And so when we look at our suite — and we do have a broad suite that covers — we're focused on customer support, but it covers marketing and sales automation, and we've introduced some new capabilities around monitoring the cloud. When we look at each of those areas, we don't just try to crank out features but we really, really examine what we're doing and say, 'Is this the actual best way to bring this capability to market?'. And so, it comes from the top down, and then it comes from the ground up, because it is part of our culture.

    Right. And one of themes that I'm following here at the moment on the Connected Web on ebizQ is this whole notion of the connected enterprise — of the need to be connected with customers, be connected with partners, to have IT infrastructure that is mashing up so that you're using outside resources as well as internal resources.

    And I think one of the areas that we're seeing a lot of innovation in particular is this arena of using the web to interact with customers — and to stay in touch with and build relationships with customers, which of course you do in the customer support arena but also in the, what they call, multichannel marketing arena.

    And I thought that the challenge for businesses now is, because of the rise of social media — with platforms like Facebook and Twitter and all the other platforms that are coming out into the market — where people are interacting with each other and starting to talk about the products that they're using, not always in a complimentary way. That is one of the challenges that your customers rely on you to provide the infrastructure for, isn't it?

    Absolutely. The challenge here is that organizations need to do two things. They not only need to participate in and contribute to these different venues that you listed — so Facebook and Twitter, and MySpace — but they also need to actually monitor and hear what's being said about their companies or their brands or their products or services in these different social media communities. And it's not a simple task to accomplish, right? It's diverse technologies — there are some large players but there's also many small players. And so for the average organization to be able to handle that, they do need to rely on their vendors to provide technology to help them solve those problems.

    And how do you filter out? Because a lot of the companies you deal with are very well known brands. And I can imagine that the Twitter stream for a company — I think Nikon is one of your customers. I mean, how do you filter out, as a customer service agent, when someone is actually talking about a problem that they've got, rather than just saying [or] talking to someone about making a recommendation or something which is less relevant to the customer support function.

    Right. And so back to that concept of listening to the cloud, we've introduced our 'Cloud Monitor' capability in our May release here. And what we've done in that release is, we've essentially allowed the capability to listen to the Twitter stream — as you've noted that can be extremely large for a company like Nikon — and we've applied some of our other technologies on top of that.

    So we have a technology called SmartSense, which will take a text feed or a text block and analyze it. And it will rank it on a scale from 1 to 10, from a positive to a negative comment. And it's not a perfect technology, but it is a patented technology that can help you start to slice and dice this enormous amount of information. So you can imagine an agent essentially sorting this tweet stream by the SmartSense ranking and having all the negative ones at the top and all the positive ones at the bottom, and then the customer support agents can respond to the negative feedbacks.

    And then maybe the flipside can occur. The marketing agent can reach out and thank the people who have said positive things about the Nikon product line — send them a coupon or provide them some recognition of their contribution or compliment in the community to [the vendor's] organization, to [its] brand.

    Well, I think a lot of us could probably use that kind of filter technology on our Twitter streams. It sounds very useful.

    Now David, one final point, because — I saw some research recently that said a lot of people in marketing believe that they're experts in social media, even though they've never even used any. And I think one of the other capabilities that you're introducing now is the ability to actually start to engage in communities as a marketing exercise. And I'm just wondering, isn't there a danger, David, that you're going to have marketing people going out into these communities and perhaps making elementary errors of engaging with communities, because they haven't got the expertise and the skills to do that.

    You know Phil, that's a very good point. So — this is uncharted water and I think there's some lessons in the past that we can look to help guide some of the best practices that we use going forward. The blog community I think is a great example.

    At this point, I think there's been some loss of faith in bloggers because many of them have been essentially bought by vendors — given free products or services behind the scenes — and they give positive reviews based on that. And with our new capability in the product, we also introduced something called 'Cloud Links', which allows you to participate in the community, apply links that can be tracked, that point people to your tweet stream or point people to your Facebook fan page. But in addition to that, we actually also introduced a best-practices document that is a starting point for marketers to look at what can be done.

    We've also started a working group here at RightNow Technologies with some of our largest customers that are discussing with each other exactly what these best practices need to be. Because it is a community for a reason and the last thing a vendor wants to do is to come in and sort of orthogonally derail or invalidate that community environment.

    Right. Yes, well it's good to hear that you're doing some handholding there with your customers to make sure that they're on the right tracks in the way that they learn to engage with and actually reap the benefits of tapping into the social media. So thank you very much.

    Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

    Phil Wainewright

    Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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