Yugos and Cadillacs – Social is about solving problems

Suppose you answered your telephone and a fast-talking salesperson said this:

“I’ve got a product for you! It’s used by millions of people. It has tons more features than what you have today – frankly, it’s the Cadillac to your Yugo. And the cost is nothing compared to the benefits. So how much do you want to buy?”

Why doesn’t this sales tactic work? I think the biggest reason is that you have no idea what the product really is or why you need it.

I’ve had people tell me that Social Sites is the “Cadillac” of social solutions. While I’m happy to hear praise for our product, what I really like to hear about is how customers get value from it. Getting value from software is not about features, it’s about solving problems.

Here are a few of the kinds of problems that social is really good at solving:

  • Answering Questions – we have great stories from our customers about how a person (often geographically separated and unknown) is able to help solve a problem – sometimes worth
    hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Getting Good Ideas – we drive our own product development based on customers and partners adding feature ideas and voting on them right at the start of a release cycle.
  • Staying Aware – with the pace of information exchange, social can help to surface the things that matter most.
  • Uncovering Experts – our customers often share stories about finding people with specific skills in places they didn’t expect.

Social technologies can solve many problems, but it’s key to have a view on what you’re really trying to achieve. Once you know your goals, you can start looking at what you need from a product to be successful at those goals.

Let’s take getting answers to questions as an example:

  1. Right away, you know you need to have an easy way for people to ask questions. This includes being able to ask questions from different locations (e.g. inside your email client, a mobile client, through your web browser, etc).
  2. The next step is getting the question to someone who can answer it. Sometimes the person asking the question knows some people or groups that might be able to answer it. In many cases, you need to rely on the software to route questions to other people. Even with explicit targeting of people and software finding experts to automatically receive a question, it’s still important for users to be able to directly target a question to other people and groups. One of the key values of social technology is that people can serve as routers and filters to get information to the right place.
  3. The next step is to make it as easy as possible for a person to answer a question once they get it. Again, the ability to answer from lots of different places is critical for success. Being able to include files and links allows for richer and better answers.

It may seem like that’s the whole story for questions and answers, but it’s quite likely you need a couple more elements to truly succeed. Namely, it’s very helpful to be able to mark the good answers. Many times, other people will have similar questions and being able to see the best answers makes a difference. You may even want to take the most valuable questions and answers and add them to a knowledge base. Lastly, if this is an important business goal, you’ll want to be able to reinforce the importance with users (often done via badging), and you’ll want to track and analyze user behaviors.

Quite a few more features could be included in Q&A functionality. For example, auto-suggesting similar questions or letting users vote on answers as good answers are features in some consumer products. The key thing is that you understand your business goals and how your company works to be able to decide which ones are truly critical. In every company that I’ve seen, if you can’t easily ask the question from a convenient place, intelligently get the question to the right people, and let those people easily respond, you just won’t succeed.

In the end, picking the right social tool can be like choosing the right car. You need to know what you want to get out of it. The key thing is to understand the “must have” features for success. When you look at it that way, the decision isn’t really about Yugos and Cadillacs, the decision is about buying a car with an engine that works.

What problems is social technology solving for your organization?

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