Saturday, 28 May 2011

Even "boring" companies can do great things with social media!

When you hear the words social media, what companies come to mind? Coca cola? Skittles? Ben & Jerry's? If so, it's not a surprise. These companies have been well publicized for their use of Facebook and Twitter to create innovative campaigns. But other companies are using social medias too. Even "boring" companies! 

The following best practice analysis is of Intuit inc. (an American software company) that develops financial and tax preparation software and related services for small businesses, accountants and individuals. The company is a great example of how any company (not just the obvious, fun ones, like Skittles or Ben & Jerry’s) can utilize social medias and communities in their business models.  

The online presence of the company is quite impressive, especially considering the field of work Intuit’s in. Their online activities cover everything form blogging, crowdsourcing, YouTube channels, social networks to aTaxAlmanac, which is a free tax research resource modeled after Wikipedia.

Intuit’s online presence covers the following:

- TurboTax team blog (General topics about to taxation and accounting)
- Bob Meighan’s blog (Vice President of Intuit, company and industry topics)

            - Intuit Labs (Site for product testing and customer feedback)

            - @Intuitinc
            - @intuitcommunity
            - @IntuitUK
            - @IntuitPayroll
            - @turbotax
            - @IntuitHealth
            - @TeamTurboTax
            - @IntuitCareers
            - @IntuitAR
            - @Intuit
            - @Intuitlabs
            - @Quickbooks
            - @IntuitDeals
            - @IntuitTownHall
            - Numerous employee accounts to answer product questions
            - Intuit QuickBooks – channel (Guides about the product)
            - TurboTax – channel (General news and help for individuals)

Ratings and Reviews
            - TurboTax reviews (reviews of their personal and business software’s)

Social Networks
            - Facebook
            - LinkedIn
            - TurboTax Support Community (targeted for individuals)
            - QuickBooks Community (targeted for businesses)
            - JumpUp Community (targeted for small businesses and start-ups)

            - TaxAlmanac (“Wikipedia” of taxation and accounting)

SWOT analysis of Intuit’s use of social medias

Intuit’s greatest strength is in its massive number of communities. Just one of their communities has more to offer than many other companies’ entire online presence.

Besides the official company blog (TurboTax team blog), which covers topics from industry specific topics to topics relevant to individuals, and the blog written by the Vice President Bob Meighan’s blog, each community has a blog of their own. Each community also has an expert locator map, calendar of upcoming Intuit and other relevant events, forums, podcasts, videocasts, webinars, whitepapers and user generated content. The communities are built around the different Intuit products, which have their own specific user segments. Having all this information and content made available for each product makes sense, since there is little risk of cannibalizing their own communities.

Example of just one of Intuit’s communities is JumpUp, which is a free social networking and resource site for small businesses and start-ups. The site offers numerous free tools and services, like an interactive business planner, different cost and profit calculators, free templates and sample business plans.

Intuit is also involving their customers into the development of new software and applications. On Intuit Intuit’s development teams share their ideas and products with users to have them tested and to get feedback from them. All this is freely available for customers and the featured applications cover everything from small businesses apps, to apps related to personal finance and various mobile devices.

Finally, as a testament to their commitment to providing people with all the possible information they might need related to finance and taxation, in 2005 intuit launched the TaxAlmanac. The site is modeled after Wikipedia and is written by US tax professionals and combines legislative information with practical examples and case studies.

Weaknesses and threats
Intuit’s massive online presence can also be seen as a weakness. The massive amount of personnel and operating costs required to maintain this kind of system can easily cripple a company if circumstances were to change. Because Intuit has established itself as the number one software company for personal finance, accounting and tax return software in the US and has created these huge communities around each of its products, consumers will expect the same for every new product they will launch. Every product will have to have its own site, with its own designated experts and content, which means ever-higher operating expenses.

Even if Intuit eventually does discontinue old products, people will still be using them and will not take it lightly if Intuit will also close the communities of these products. So the choice is between saving operating costs or pissing of and possibly alienating their customers.

Intuit’s inability to expand to other geographical markets is also a weakness. In most of Europe and around the world, taxation is far more simple and automated than in the US. Average citizens in these countries don’t need the type of software Intuit offers and that means that the market the company is competing in is limited mostly to the US. Spending in online marketing is the highest in the US market and if Intuit wishes to stay as the market leader in their field, they need to invest significantly time, resources and money to marketing and research.

Even though the company is somewhat limited to the US market for now, they could still expand to other geographical markets with their small business and start-up software’s. Providing European markets for example with information on the international legislation related to finance and taxation, with software optimized for the European and UK accounting standards could be a way to enter the market.

Intuit’s online presence is a combination of high-level professionalism, mixed with a dash of fun and lightheartedness, which can be seen on their Facebook page and on their TurboTax – channel. Intuit has invested heavily on building communities around each of their products. Each of these niche communities has a very active level of engagement by the company’s specialists and the users. The company has understood that just by providing people and companies with software to help with their taxation and accounting problems isn’t enough, the support by Intuit has to be top quality and can’t be limited to just product support but has to encompass the entire process of accounting and taxation. By making all this information and content free, re-enforces the company’s image as a reliable source of information, and the customer engagement through the several communities, social networks and crowdsourcing guarantees high-level 

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