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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Tapping Social Networks for Viral Marketing

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Listen to my interview with Ryan Nichols, VP of product management and marketing at Appirio, which specializes in professional services and products that help enterprises deploy on-demand applications such as Salesforce.com and Google Apps.

In this podcast, hear about Appirio's latest product, which ties the Facebook social network into Salesforce.com to help manage word-of-mouth referrals, and learn how enterprises can automate and manage viral marketing by tapping into the social networks of employees, associates and other contacts.

Listen to or download the 7:05 minute podcast below:

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PW: I'm really pleased to have you with us today, Ryan, because here on The Connected Web we focus on a number of topics, including cloud, software-as-a-service, social computing and using the web to do business. Today, we're actually going to be talking about a product that covers all those topics in one fell swoop, so that's great.

But just before we get into that, just a little bit of background for our listeners. Appirio is a company that specializes in helping enterprises implement on-demand applications like Google Apps and Salesforce.com. So you're a systems integrator, basically, except that you specialize in the cloud. Maybe you could call that a cloud integrator. And I think you're seeing quite a lot of demand for that kind of expertise at the moment.

RN: That's right, Phil. In this economy, we're actually seeing increased demand for cloud-related products and services. I mean every IT department we talk to is being asked to do more with less. Software-as-a-service, and platform-as-a-service, is a great way to do that, and that's what Appirio does. We help companies do more with on-demand platforms like Force.com, Google Apps and Facebook.

Okay. But unlike a traditional systems integrator you also have a product angle.

That's right. We think that the hybrid model of being able to offer both professional services as well as packaged products is a unique benefit of building on-demand platforms. We can help companies make the most of their on-demand solutions in multiple ways.

Right, okay. And therefore, you can also monetize — or productize — your intellectual property or expertise, which is something systems integrators have always traditionally been looking to do, I guess, in this industry.

But anyway, today you've announced a new product that connects social networks like Facebook into Salesforce.com, so that enterprises can harness the word-of-mouth marketing, or viral marketing, which is obviously quite a new thing to be able to automate and manage that. So how does that work?

Well, today, marketing departments as well are being asked to do more with less. And referrals from employees, partners, customers — these are the highest quality and the lowest-cost source of new business for any company. But companies have always struggled with, how do I encourage these word-of-mouth referrals?

Social networks are a great and very natural way of doing that, but companies have lacked a way to manage that activity. They may have a presence on Facebook, but no good tools to make the most of the power of a social network. So that's what our Referral Management Solution does. It helps companies encourage, and manage, and measure the result of, word-of-mouth referrals.

Right. Okay. So actually you're putting — being able to gather metrics and start to understand what you're doing, which I think — in the huge black holes of social marketing and social networking — many companies are probably going to glad of. How does that work? I mean have you got practical examples of how companies have used this tool?

A great example is a customer of ours called Fitness Anywhere. So, Fitness Anywhere is a manufacturer of fitness equipment. They have a network of personal trainers who are trained in the use of this gear and they need to get the word out to these personal trainers about new offerings, new videos, new training courses and so forth. Facebook is a great way to do that.

Our application allows Fitness Anywhere to manage these marketing campaigns and promotions in Salesforce, publish them out to this network — this community of personal trainers — and the application helps the personal trainers make matches between these offers that are coming from Fitness Anywhere and their clients. So they can use Facebook to make referrals to these customers about offers from Fitness Anywhere that they'll find particularly interesting. And that power of making a relevant referral is really what makes a word-of-mouth referral so beneficial. That's the power of relevancy that our application brings.

Okay. So you're actually using those personal trainers' personal networks, or their connections to their clients, and their personal knowledge of those individuals, to actually match the offers to the individuals that the company itself has no direct contact with?

That's right, Phil. And this is happening anyways through traditional channels — I mean, this is how business is done. But the ability to scale that through a social network and through automated tools that connect a company to its ecosystem — to its end customers — is very powerful; that's what we're doing with our Referral Management Solution.

Yes, and of course, the other thing we've never been able to do in the past with viral marketing is measure it in the way that you can presumably, if you've got this connection into what's going on in the social network?

That's the power of connecting Facebook back to a great backend system like Salesforce.com, because all of the activities and the referrals — you have the reporting and the dashboards and everything you expect from an enterprise system like Salesforce.

Okay. So that sounds great but isn't there a downside — aren't I exposing myself to security risks or phishing attacks by having the great unwashed of Facebook plugging into my Salesforce application, which might be plugged into other backend enterprise applications?

Well, it's very important to do this in a responsible and careful way and that's something that we've spent a lot of time on here at Appirio. I mean Salesforce and Facebook have both done a great job of ensuring that their platforms are both secure in and of themselves, as well as operate with each other in a very secure way.

We think at the end of the day that one of the best ways to ensure that sort of security is to put the control in the hands of the users. I mean we don't do anything around automated referrals or sending things out in a mass way. We very much rely on making suggestions to end users, who then choose whether or not it's an appropriate referral to make it to their network. And we think that element of user control is part of what maintains the value of the word-of-mouth referral and also just keeps the entire system in human hands. It's not an automated referral service; it's a way of making highly relevant and high-value suggestions out to an ecosystem. So I think it's a legitimate concern. I think that's what makes it so important to connect these two systems together carefully.

Well, yes, and I think the great thing about it also is that we're using computing at last to actually connect better to people, and putting people back into the picture in a way that has often been missed out in the past when we've tried to automate things. So I think that's very positive.

1 Comment

The expectation of getting commissions paid on a monthly viral format in a paid member social networking website has arrived on the Internet with social networking for online marketers. The possibility that, for individuals who are not overly experienced with making money online, not to mention people who are more experienced at it, to earn the dineros is attracting people from both groups, the former probably being the larger number of members. This is totally new and quite exciting. However, it still demands a lot of work, and those with more online marketing experience will continue to do better than people hoping for a quick and easy buck.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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