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Clara Shih Suits Up Sales and Marketing for the Facebook Era

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Clara Shih

If you ask social CRM expert Clara Shih about reactions by most companies to the topic of social media, she would tell you "it's still very early." Shih founded faceforce (the business application on Facebook now known as Faceonnector) and wrote The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff.

By engaging in the forums where customers are, your company will acquire brand ambassadors as well as customers who will protect your name from detractors.

In this interview, Shih talks about the overwhelming demand for clarity and understanding of the implications of Facebook. There are new implications of social media for brands. It is critical for your marketing and sales teams to understand how social media will change the nature of their marketing and sales efforts. She believes people are missing the tools and the infrastructure to make these new concepts and possibilities a reality that will improve the bottom line. Shih also explains how companies can maximize social media channels while protecting themselves from potential threats.

In a recent talk I downloaded off Fora.TV I heard you describe an experience you had while in a noodle shop across the globe. Please describe this experience.

It was May 2007, and I was back in Hong Kong visiting my grandmother. We were having lunch at her favorite hole-in-the-wall noodle shop in Wanchai district, a locals' place filled with smoke and chatter, and all of the sudden, I heard two older gentlemen at a table near us start to talk in Cantonese about Facebook! Facebook was still relatively small then with fewer than 30 million users (10 percent of today's 300 million) and largely concentrated among American students, so it was quite a surprise—it seemed like an unlikely language, place in the world and demographic for that to happen. That's when it hit me that Facebook isn't just a fad. The social Web is a significant technology disruption that has resulted in new social norms, much like the Internet was the previous decade.

That experience in Hong Kong helped me realize that Facebook has become a sort of personal CRM (customer relationship management)—it's increasingly how we manage our personal and professional relationships. This gave me the idea to develop Faceconnector, which integrates Facebook with Salesforce CRM software and was the first business application on Facebook.

After Faceconnector was released, I was approached by Prentice Hall to write a book about Facebook and Twitter for business, which came out a few months ago. The Facebook Era seems to have struck a chord with business professionals seeking to understand what social networking means for their business. It is the inspiration behind my new company, Hearsay Labs, which develops fan and follower relationship management software, and it all started in that noodle shop!

Many companies don’t share customer information across departments including sales and marketing. What is the role of CRM integration in pursuit of making customer information accessible?

Having a reliable CRM system and centralized record of customer information are essential not only to save time by preventing redundancy from multiple departments asking for the same information, but also for customer satisfaction. Customer mindshare is at a premium these days, and wasting a customer's time by repeating information, asking for information already given, or offering a generic experience (which may not be relevant) versus one that's personalized can often result in annoying that customer and losing him/her forever. Acquiring a new customer can cost five-10 times more than keeping an existing one, so once you do the math the value of CRM is pretty much a no brainer.

CRM when done right can provide a comprehensive 360-degree view of each customer so that marketers, sales reps and customer service agents can quickly get up to speed on a deal or case and offer a timely and personalized solution. By letting customers participate on online forums, social media in particular makes CRM even more powerful because companies can also crowd source ideas and more easily encourage word-of-mouth referrals.

Do you think that it’s smart for companies to loosen the leash by allowing sales reps to engage with prospects online?

Successful companies go where the customers are. They communicate with customers and prospective customers through the channels preferred by those audiences. Increasingly, this is on Facebook, which has over 300 million people logging in over 6 billion minutes every day.

The reality with social media is that companies are no longer in control, and that's not necessarily such a bad thing. Information wants to be free, and if you have a good product and are responsive to honest feedback, the community will reward you by saying nice things and coming to your defense when an unfair negative review appears.

What does it mean to "hyper-target" customers?

Thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, we are all sharing more about ourselves online than ever before. There is a new social norm around sharing everything from our age, gender, and religion to where we work or go to school, what we like to do, and who are friends are. Facebook has made all of this information available to advertisers (in an aggregate, non-personally identifiable way). Hyper-targeting is specifying specific criteria for who you want to view your ad. For example, if you are a pet food manufacturer, it might be a waste of money to show ads to people who don't have pets. With the Facebook ad targeting system, you can specify ads to be shown only to people who have "dog" or "cat" explicitly on their profile.

How can social media help to qualify leads?

Sales reps are beginning to use Facebook and LinkedIn to glean more information about prospects' backgrounds and agenda, as well as to build better personal relationships with customers and prospects. Two examples—first, you can figure out a lot about an org chart and a particular individual's organizational power from what's on LinkedIn. For example, if you're talking to a "vice president" of a company and you see there are 50 other vice presidents out of a company with 51 employees, then perhaps your contact doesn't have real decision-making power. On the other hand, if he/she is the only vice president in the company, then it's safer to assume you are dealing with a serious decision-maker.

Second, it is sometimes possible to identify potential champions and roadblocks for your deal based on individuals' work history. If, say, you are selling into an IT department for a deal competing against Microsoft and you learn from the CIO's LinkedIn profile that he/she is Microsoft-certified, then logically this person may be a roadblock for your deal. Why? Going with your solution invalidates his/her certification. At the end of the day, we have to keep in mind that individuals not companies make the actual decisions, and in order to be successful you have to understand and appeal to both the corporate and individual agenda.

Measuring social media campaigns is a debated issue. In your experience what is the best way to approach measurement?

The answer is it depends. It's like asking what the best way is to measure the Internet. Well, it is highly contingent on what you're using it for, be it lead generation, brand awareness, customer loyalty, or some other business objective.

Generally speaking, we have not yet as an industry come up with the new metrics to fit this new era. With the Internet and search marketing, Overture and others pioneered the concept clickthrough rates and cost per click. The analogs to those for the current Facebook Era are still being developed—working with brands and agencies, we at Hearsay Labs have some ideas, but it will need to be an industry collective effort.

What is the most surprising reaction you’ve had to your new book The Facbook Era?

There is tremendous demand for knowledge and understanding of the implications of Facebook, but what's missing are good tools and infrastructure to make these new concepts and possibilities a reality that improves the bottom line. That perhaps is the primary reason I left to found Hearsay Labs—for me, writing about the Facebook Era was just the beginning. Now we are hoping to help usher in value for this new era.

For more information on Clara Shih's book please see The Facebook Era book review.