MIAMI-Almost a year ago, USA Today found it was getting 29% of of its online traffic due to referrals from social networks, compared to 6% from Google searches. For CNN, it was 18% to 9%. For iTunes, 20% to 5%.

To Scott Klososky, this is evidence of the power of electronic word of mouth, fast becoming a serious force in either business-to-consumer or business-to-business marketing.

The use of Twitter, Facebook and other connective tissue sites multiplies exponentially the kind of word-of-mouth businesses used to enjoy offline, the Internet entrepreneur and head of Future Point of View, a consultancy and training firm in Carlsbad, Calif., told the National Investment Company Service Association at its 29th Annual Conference & Expo.

"We now have social technologies that are outpacing search engines as far as creating prospects and leads, and so, in other words, when you can tap into a conversation with consumers, it will drive more traffic than searching will and this has happened pretty quickly," he said.

In the old days, if you served a customer well, that person might tell three people. "Okay, that's completely gone now," he said. "In an e-word-of-mouth world, I'll tell my 8,000 connections, good or bad."

The result "will be permanent. It will be searchable. That's what we have now."

The challenge for mutual fund companies and financial firms, he said, is to create a mix of e-word of mouth, organizational voice, online reputation management and such tools as crowd-sourcing or clever viral videos. Anything but boring releases.

The object: Use interactive technologies to create a socially directed buying process.

Take the example of Complete Washroom Solutions, a United Kingdom firm that wanted to introduce a Swedish self-cleaning toilet to its 700 distributors. It didn't create any brochures. Instead, it sent out a video. The video showed a party-going blonde going into a washroom, setting up a line of cocaine on a toilet seat rim. Then, her scream of agony, when the self-cleaning toilet consigns what it considers dirt to oblivion.

The promotional video only got about 25,000 views, when released. But it's taken on its own life, now. As of Feb. 21, it had been played 2.8 million times on YouTube.

Financial services firms "say to me, 'Oh, come on, the financial space is so boring'" and that they couldn't possibly do anything that outlandish.

"Really?," he said. "I'm pretty sure (a) you have more money and (b) you could be just as clever with what you do."

Socially directed buying is not just committed by using Facebook and Twitter and You Tube, he said.

A financial services firm, he said, needs "to have an ability to discern three different subcategories of social technologies if you're going to write a strategy."

Social relevance. Learning how to become an industry expert.

Social media. Figuring out which document, slide-sharing, talk-sharing, video-sharing and other sites make a difference.

Social networking. Where you want to go to connect your "organizational voice" and talk to constituents.

But the power of all this becomes more obvious, he said, when you scrape the social networking world to boost your understanding of your customers - without them "telling" you anything.

Call this "social" customer relationship management. Bond your firm's CRM system to the social cybersphere "so that when you put in a new prospect's name your system automatically goes out and harvests everything it can off Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and brings it in," he said. "Instead of you just having name, e-mail, phone number, address off a business card, you've got 40 other fields of information that you've harvested off the social sites.''

His firm has been doing this with Volvo, the automaker, and it makes a "huge difference in selling when you've got 50 pieces of information instead of 10,'' he said.

Maintaing good e-word of mouth is a never-ending chore. And it has to be socially directed, as well. Or at least done in a socially aware way.

Take FTD, he said. Last year on Mother's Day, the sevice didn't deliver thousands of flowers to moms. The number one topic on Twitter quickly became #FTD. "It was everybody saying, 'My mom didn't get their flowers like the sample above,'" he said.

The firm's response, according to Klososky: "They came out with a press release a couple days later [that] says I don't know why everybody's mad at us; every year we don't deliver flowers!"

This year was no different than any other year, according to the firm. "Everybody orders too many flowers so we just deliver a bunch of them the next day," he said. "And if anybody is really upset with us you can call the 800 number and we will give you a coupon for next year."

A press release, he said, that showed "no idea how to handle their on line reputation."

 

 

Four Steps to Social Effectiveness

To take advantage of social technologies that allow you to reach two billion would-be customers worldwide at no distribution cost, here's the quick layout of what you need to worry about, according to Internet entreprenur Scott Klososky.

1. MAKE YOURSELF SOCIALLY RELEVANT.

You, individually, and your company, jointly, need to become experts in your expertises and lines of business, first. This is the starting point for any widespread use of social technologies. Blog, e-letters, dedicated sites, live messaging, in a concerted, long-standing effort.

2. GET ON THE RIGHT SOCIAL MEDIA.

This will differ by industry, to some degree. But good broad starting points-for any industry-are creating channels or continuing presences on YouTube, for video; Slideshare, for presentations; Scribd, for documents; and Flickr for photos. "Everyone should have a channel on every one of those things,'' he said.

3. BEGIN SOCIAL NETWORKING.

Here are the names to get started with or on: Ng, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. Most of the tools are free. Use the power.

4. PULL IN WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE ALREADY SAYING ABOUT THEMSELVES.

Bond your customer relationship system to the World Wide Web. So that, every time you enter a new name into your Customer Relationship Management system, you automatically harvest everything that is already known about or disclosed by the party, online. You can, should and must scour LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and what comes next, systematically.

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