Social Butterflies: Q&A with Kira Wampler and Chelsea Marti

March 1, 2010

By tapping into the power of social media, Intuit has built an even more dynamic relationship with customers

By Tricia Despres

The growing popularity of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter has forced many companies to rethink the way they communicate with customers and consumers online. According to a recent study by the ANA , 66 percent of marketers now use social media to reach their customers, a 46 percent increase from just two years ago.

Why the dramatic change? For one, no other channel can reach the sheer number of consumers that social media can. Other proven benefits include increased brand awareness, stronger customer engagement, improved brand reputation, and increased communication with key influencers, according to the 2010 Social Media and Online PR Report. From customer service to the marketing team to the PR department to the CEO, everyone in a company can play a vital role in spreading the word about the brand via the social Web.

Intuit, the accounting software giant based in Mountain View, Calif., has long embraced new customer communication channels. Fittingly, it was one of the first companies to successfully integrate social marketing with traditional media. In an exclusive interview with ANA Magazine, Kira Wampler, social media marketing leader in Intuit's Small Business Group and Chelsea Marti, public relations and social media manager for the company's TurboTax brand, discussed the impact of the social Web as an online marketing tool.

Intuit has been a leader in the social media space. How did you know it would be a key to your company's success?

Wampler: Intuit's goal has always been getting close and staying close to our customers. It's a key to our DNA . Social media is a natural place to stay close to our customers. Listening to what our customers are saying via the unfiltered conversations we witness [on social networking sites] is vital to our success. Two years ago, our CEO Brad Smith talked about the importance of focusing on the key trends in global, social, and mobile media and how all these different forms of media can collaborate with one another. So, in essence, this company began to think deeply about how we could implement all of these media platforms years ago.

How important is the Intuit customer to your social media efforts?

Marti : Intuit's live communities are a wonderful example of how important our customer is to our social media efforts. Each and every day, we witness our customers helping other customers. There is nothing better than witnessing someone in rural Ohio help another customer somewhere else in the country.

Wampler: We don't intend to have our customers come up with all the answers. Instead, we are looking for the best possible outcomes to their questions, with Intuit part of the discussion when needed.

What have you learned about the Intuit customer via the social Web?

Marti : We are constantly on Twitter and various other social media platforms finding out what people are saying about our brand. Basically, we are the gatekeepers looking around for conversations. A few years back we established our Inner Circle, where we came together with roughly 20,000 customers that we observed talking about us via social media. We knew it was important to bring them into our fold. They began to suggest that there needed to be some sort of flags put in place in our TurboTax program where people could go back to where they stopped working. So we went back, beta tested it, and made it a part of TurboTax.

What aspect of your social media plan are you most proud of?

Wampler: When we launched this year's version of QuickBooks, some of our users were feeling frustrated by some parts of the software. Based on the sort of feedback we started receiving in November via social media, we were able to make some changes and turn it around by mid-December. We were just thrilled that we could engage in the social Web in this way and transform a customer's experience so quickly.

Marti : The relationship we have with our Inner Circle is so powerful. We recently invited 80 members of our Inner Circle to our San Diego campus for food and drinks. It was wonderful to witness their passion for our product. In fact, I couldn't help but notice our founder, Scott Cook, having an in-depth conversation with some of the attendees. It makes them realize how much they mean to our company's vision.

How does Intuit measure success in the social media space?

Wampler: We look first at the business objective we're trying to achieve and then match the measures to the goal. For example, with our Love a Local Business integrated marketing campaign [], we're measuring direct revenue, quantity of talk online, and sentiment of talk. All of our social media efforts do have a revenue connection - this is critical for us.

Marti : How we're measuring each effort at TurboTax really depends on the end goal we're trying to accomplish. For example, if we're trying to get more folks engaging with us on our blog, measures for success might be the number of comments, unique visitors, and RSS subscribers. Overall, we look to two overarching measures to [determine the] success of our efforts and steer us in the right direction: share of voice online and the sentiment/tone of social chatter about our brand.

What are some of the pitfalls of social media?

Wampler: First, engaging in social media is not "free." There is a big, ongoing time commitment to listening, responding, and participating in the social Web. That's why connecting it to clear, measurable business objectives is so important, because there is a big cost to doing this well. Another pitfall is always aiming for perfection. The social Web changes constantly, and ongoing participation, iteration, and learning from mistakes is key. This is very different from the months of planning that go into packaging or television ad creation. It doesn't make one better than the other, but the mindset and day-to-day activities are different.

Marti : Something to avoid is the misconception that you can address every customer problem using social media. The reality is that sometimes you might not be able to solve the problem that a customer has [regarding a product, a company decision, etc.]. It's important to not shy away from addressing customers head-on about how you can get better or help your company or product improve.

Moving forward, what are your business objectives for social media?

Wampler: It's amazing how the world has changed. Word of mouth can spread faster than at any other time in our history. There was a time where talk around the watercooler stayed around the watercooler. Now, that same talk can be "tweeted" to countless people simultaneously. Companies have to be so much more nimble now and always have to be willing to be a part of the conversation. Sitting behind a glass observing a focus group isn't enough anymore. You now must synthesize what you are learning - and you'd better do it fast. Intuit's business objective for engagement in social media is to increase the number of prospects and customers that engage with our business. Engagement takes several forms, from community participation to product adoption. We look forward to all that lies ahead.


"Social Butterflies: Q&A with Kira Wampler and Chelsea Marti." Tricia Despres. ANA Magazine, March 2010.

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