Friday, 10 June 2011

How to measure success in Digital Publishing?

Let’s start by debunking any notions that same metrics can be applied to different companies or even different campaigns and goals in one company. As Kristina Halvorson points out in her book Content Strategy for the Web, the first thing that should be assessed is what constitutes success?

Depending on the company’s goals, it can mean anything for generating sales, driving advocacy or improving lifetime value of existing customers. Once the general goal of the project or strategy is established we can get down to more specific figures. But even with the more specific numbers it’s hard to clearly measure what constitutes success. Benchmarking against previous campaigns run by the company is a good start; also comparing against what your competitors and the industry leaders are doing can help you estimate how successful you really are.

Conversion is of course the ultimate way to measure success but that can mean so many different things. Conversion of what? To start with, measure at least the ultimate goals set for the campaign or strategy. These can anything from making sales, getting people to sign up for a website / fan page or their lifetime value. When taken to the next step, publishers should measure how often newly acquired customers return to the site and how effective the company is in retaining them.

Measuring success is tricky and blindly staring at different KPIs isn’t going to make much difference if you don’t know what a chance something means. When in doubt whether you should spend time analyzing a certain KPI, try asking yourself “SO WHAT?” three times. If you can answer 3 times and see a benefit, you have something worth looking into in more detail. You can use this “analysis” to determine whether a KPI is actually worth measuring or if the change in a KPI is worth thinking about. Trust me, it works!

Cohesive content strategy

Digital agencies have long had content strategists on staff, but a variety of organizations are seeing the need to add someone to their team to be in charge of “the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content,” as Kristina Halvorson defines the job in Content Strategy for the Web,

In her book, Halvorson identifies multiple steps in the content strategy process; first audit the existing content, then analyze, strategize, categorize, structure, create, revise, approve, tag, format, publish, update, and archive.

Key concepts
A review of existing content, how much there is, how well it’s organized, and how accurate and how well it is produced?

Content is much more than text. Multimedia elements such as pictures, graphic elements, video and audio can help tell the story.

Content lifecycle
Content needs to be regularly evaluated. What needs to be refreshed, updated and taken out? A website is in a constant beta stage.

Message architecture
A hierarchy of the core messages that define an organization or brand, which helps content strategists figure out the story they are trying to tell and what content is not related to the brand and is unnecessary.

“Don’t outsource your voice?”
Halvorson has a love hate relationship with content strategies and explains that the decision whether to outsource it or not isn’t that simple.

“On the one hand, that’s a really great quotable line. On the other hand, refusing on principle to outsource content is just impossible for most organizations. If you can’t hire anyone internally to do the editorial stuff, you’re going to have to outsource because you can’t just publish Web content and leave it there. You have to take care of it over time”.

Social Commerce

Social commerce is definitely one of the buzzwords of 2011. Several fully functioning Facebook Stores and storefronts that link to an external site have been founded this year, and even predictions of Facebook surpassing Google in terms of advertising revenue have surfaced. With all this hype and new terms like f-commerce, m-commerce and the good old e-commerce popping up, one might think that social commerce is something completely new and revolutionizing.

The fact is however, that even though the technology and software are new, the social aspect of shopping isn’t. What is emerging as the new trend in online retailing has already been done for over 50 years. Only the medium of the social aspect is changing.

Facebook and social commerce
As an example where this is most evident, lets examine Facebook. Using it as medium for engaging, creating relationships with customers and building a better brand image, has become self-evident for most companies. So it makes only sense that the gradual adaptation of shopping online should be taken to the next level, by adding the social aspect.

In his article about the viability of Facebook as a commerce channel, Stefan Schmidt raises some valid points about the payment system, limitations in having a separated silo platform and moral questions about accessing consumer’s information. While I agree that these issues need to be addressed, I still see them as only temporary hiccups that are overcome by a growing consumer demand.

Social shopping
The reason why I believe this is because it simply makes commercial sense for a retailer to sell, where customers spend their time. Despite requiring time, effort and money to function properly, social media platforms offer a cost-effective way for any B2C retailer to reach a large audience. The added benefit to this is that it enables something called “thin-slicing” (Source 1). This concept from social psychology argues that people tend to ignore most “traditional ”information available when making a purchase decision and instead base their decision on “salient information cues” (Source 2). In layman’s terms this translates into behavior based on person’s social peers, which has been used in marketing for decades.

Just one example of this is the concept of “liking”. People tend to follow people they like and when applied commercially, it means that people are more likely to buy something if an influential person endorses it. Yesterday’s Tupperware parties are today’s “Like-button”.  Even though this is already done outside of Facebook, it can be taken further and have a greater impact if the purchase is made possible within Facebook. Allowing influential and liked people to influence purchase decisions can take different forms in social networks. News feeds of your friends’ latest purchases and group purchases are just some applications of how this could be done.

What are the company’s goals?
Different ways companies can approach Facebook will depend on their goals. The store can only consist of a fan store that is meant to drive advocacy instead of actually making commercially vital sales. Another way to go, is to set up a full equivalent of the company’s website to drive sales, much like ASOS and French Connection did earlier this year. The third way to approach the Facebook store is to set up a similar site like Starbucks and O2 have done.

These Facebook stores allow customers to top-up on the Facebook page and even though they generate sales for the companies, their main purpose is to improve customer service by providing a loyalty platform. This kind of approach might prove most successful for companies, especially if they decide to gradually rollout more features and items over time. It allows the customers to get used to the idea of shopping in Facebook while increasing their lifetime value. 

Fear not the change
Even though entering the social commerce era will present new challenges for retailers, the same time-tested concepts from past decades still apply. Separating commercial activities into different trendy silos will not be commercially viable for long. A more unified commercial approach will be the way to go, whatever tools and channels retailers decide to use. And like it or not, as a social media platform, Facebook is the trendsetter for practicing social commerce. As another generation of digital natives graduates this summer and moves out to the real world, this trend is only going to get stronger.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Voice of the customer (my ecommerce analysis continues)

Continuing on my analysis a few weeks ago where I analysed the multichannel experience with Argos, I've now set my sights on M&S's customer service. This time I examined the ease and effectiveness of their review mechanism and the customer service via different channels. 

M&S lets their customers’ voices be heard by making the writing of reviews for products easy and by filtering out offensive and discriminative reviews. By doing so, M&S is able to maintain a high level of quality within their reviews, provide actually useful reviews for customers in order to maximize sales and finally improve their SEO with extended product description pages.

M&S’s customer service is a mixed bag of traditional, mediocre customer service, and ninja-level interaction through social media. The overall quality of service is up to a level, which will increase M&S’s brand image, increase the lifetime value of their customers and improve their long-term profitability.

Review mechanism
The ease of using the M&S review function is made slightly inconvenient with a compulsory registration to the site. However, the process is compensated with cookie tracking, which takes the customer automatically back to the product page after the registration is complete.

Leaving reviews on the M&S site is made relatively simple with their 5-star overall rating and with four, more detailed, 5-dash ratings. The more detailed ratings change according to the type of product being reviewed, providing relevant review criteria.

The level of liquidity in the M&S review system is high. Most of the products have been reviewed, some over 20 times. There also doesn’t seem to be many products with only very old reviews, but all have recent reviews as well.
Quick calculation shows that the 1/9/90-rule applies to M&S reviews and this has not gone unnoticed by the company The most active contributors get a “Top 25 Contributor” statement under their username, which is a way of rewarding the contributors and at the same time giving others something to strive for.

Getting a review on to the site can take up to 48 hours, while it is being checked by M&S, but as far as can be told, they are not censoring out bad reviews. Maintaining a certain level of quality and keeping spamming away from the reviews increases their reliability, which means better customer satisfaction. Also, the high number of reviews improves their SEO, as users provide more keywords with their reviews and make the product pages’ details sections longer.

Customer service 
The M&S main website is missing a “contact us” section, which makes sending them an email or filling out a contact form difficult. Reason for this could be because M&S is well prepared for customer questions with their extensive Help section and virtual assistant Hannah, and try to drive traffic towards these services, instead of burdening call centers.

The Contact Us page on the M&S Money-page is well divided between different topics. This lowers the length of call times and the number of personnel required to re-direct calls, resulting into greater customer satisfaction and lowered costs.

Customer service to my question was a mixed result of good and bad. Calling the call center took less than 5 minutes thanks to a direct phone number provided in an email, which was sent to me immediately after sending the question via contact form. The customer service representative was able to provide me with a very detailed answer. It took M&S 4 days to finally answer my question via email but on day 2 they did sent an email, notifying me of a delay in response time. The final response was adequate but lacked in personal touch and detail.

Using Facebook and Twitter to contact M&S proved to be the best way to get their attention and a response. Within 12-hours after posting the question to the M&S Facebook page’s discussion forum, I had a complete answer and a phone number for more information. M&S also replied to my tweet, referring me to their answer on Facebook. This level of service was exceptionally good and seems to be the standard that M&S wants to maintain. Good service via email or on the phone should not be forgotten, but questions asked in “public” spaces like Facebook and Twitter will leave behind a digital footprint for everyone to see. The benefit of answering a single person in Facebook or Twitter isn’t limited down to just that one person, but it can spread beyond them and benefit the company much more.

Summa summarum
M&S review mechanism is well executed and this shows on their website. The number of reviewed products, the number of reviews per product and the activity of customers, are a testament to a mechanism, which really helps customers and is bound increase sales. The positive ripple effect created by the excellent service in Twitter and Facebook is and will be a competitive advantage for M&S.