Lithium CMO Klout is a Game Changer for Brands

Since Lithium acquired Klout in late March, there's been considerable speculation about just what it would do with it. Now we know.

The San Francisco-based social customer experience platform announced two new products at its LiNC conference — Pop-up Communities and Klout for Products.

Whether the products will have the "disruptive" impact predicted by CEO Rob Tarkoff remains to be seen. Perhaps more important is how they reflect a maturing role of social networks in building relationships between companies, products and customers.

CMSWire interviewed Lithium CMO Katy Keim on the third and final day of the conference to get her perspective on the new products and other topics.

Social is Rapidly Evolving

She said the pop-up advocacy communities would debut in the third quarter, helping brands with rollouts or other campaigns for 60 to 90 days. The communities will give companies a chance to gather feedback, generate media and reward early adopters.

Klout for Products is intended to be a sort of Yelp! for products, building a connection between customers, products and brands, said Keim, who appeared to believe Klout would give Lithium actual clout.

"We now sit on 600 million consumers' behaviors, we track 10,000 interest areas, we're getting 15 billion social signals," she said. "We now have a platform to say we know what we're talking about when we talk to brands."

We also spoke with her about some of the broader issues she's seeing as the enterprise social world continues its rapid evolution.

Murphy: Social is something every company seems to want to adopt right now, but inside some companies, it's hard to get employees to adopt it. What's your take on that?

Keim: We aren't seeing that because what we really focus on is the customer. If you see action happening with your customers, there's an immediate sense of responsiveness or urgency around that, perhaps like you don't see inside the company. We've seen a really rapid uptick in brands trying to figure out how to best serve, how to best respond, how to engage with customers out on the platforms.

Murphy: That said, you're seeing them trying to learn how to do that. What's the key to success there? What are people doing wrong in some cases?

Keim: I think the best brands are figuring out that they need to staff it appropriately. This isn't an intern. It's not one person in a back cubicle. We're using our products to enable a broader group of people that have the answers to the question that customers have.

For example, if you have a specific product question, how do you bring the product marketers closer? If you have a service question, how do you bring a care agent in at the right time? If you have a question about a promotion or something related to a product, how do you make sure the marketing team is engaged properly? What our products do with Lithium Social Web is to route and prioritize to the right people with the right answers. That's what I think brands have been struggling with.

Murphy: What most surprises you in terms of the business you're in and how it is growing?

Keim: I think the thing that delights us the most is the quality of brands we get to work with. The conference is top of mind: we have Univision and Skype and Telstra and Google Glass and Sephora and HSN and they're all sitting in conversations. You see them all coming together and trying to use each other to get to the answer. That to me feels like the biggest success in our business because we've become almost a host in that conversation, which is exactly what we tell people to do with their own customers.

Murphy: The conference is sort of a real-life social network for these people?

Keim: It is. We talk about it as a shared value network. How do you make it good for the participants and good for the brands? We want the conference to live up to that. We want it to be good for us, of course. We're there to do business, we're there to get insights, we're there to grow our relationships. But it has to be incredibly useful, entertaining and productive for our attendees. That's why we have a mix of things that are fun -- that are designed to build relationships -- but are also just incredibly detailed in how to better use our products.

Murphy: There are disappointments and challenges for every CMO. What are some of yours?

Keim: I think every CMO knows now the digital reality is here. Their customers are there. They know the customer has changed. I think the biggest challenge, not just for me but for others, is how do you adjust the investment portfolio to reflect that? How do you move money away from things of historically how they've been done in enterprise software, whether that's been sales qualification or programs that have maybe not performed according to plan and literally move those buckets of dollars to things that are the new way of doing business.

I think when the budget moves, that's when you really know you've had the courage of your convictions to meet expectations in this new digital age. But that's always a challenge. I find myself literally re-evaluating 'well, why are we really doing that?' and "instead of reducing my spend on that, should I just move it wholesale to an influencer program or an investment in my own community?'

Murphy: What technologies do you use as CMO at Lithium?

Keim: We run on Salesforce infrastructure in terms of our CRM. We're a Marketo customer, so we're very advance in how we think about doing our nurturing, lead scoring and tracking. We use some other providers in terms of appending our data. That's the newest investment area for us, appending our data, using our contact data more intelligently. We work with companies like Command Base, LeanData and others we're evaluating on how to completely, I wouldn't say automate, but be more complete with the people we're engaging. Also at the core of our suite -- no surprise -- is the Lithium community. We use our community very aggressively to interact with our customers, to use it for SEO with new prospects and to get the social glow from what we're doing with our content.

Murphy: What are a couple of your take-aways from this conference, perhaps things you didn't know you'd be hearing here?

Keim: One of the things we wanted to convey and, I feel, created the most enthusiasm, is this notion that it can't be one-sided anymore. I think we really hammered that home and it is well understood and it's inspiring to our attendees that it's like, 'I don't want to just broadcast to my customers. I want to build this two-sided network or this shared-value platform.' So I think that was important.

Also, the notion of trust. I think we're really at a trust deficit in our relationships with our customers. Edelman spoke about this. Consumers are inherently more skeptical and more demanding. We're in this age of extreme expectations. I think building trust has got to be at the core of what people are doing. You do that by being responsive and being authentic and all those things.

Also, with Jonah [Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed] speaking about it this morning, and a thing that is an inspiring pillar of what we do, is this notion of connectedness, of really humanizing business. It's not being B2B or B2C, but being a business to a person, B2P. I think that's something that when you see Harrison Barnes, who spoke here yesterday, or Jonah Peretti, what makes them so compelling is that they're just humans. They're strong, they're motivated, but they're flawed inherently.

We all have our own challenges, and I think the sooner brands can embrace that, the better off they are. To say, 'We're not perfect, but we're doing the absolute best we can.'