Superstah! Neighborhood America - Customer Relationship Management

For the most part,I love Neighborhood America. I think they have a strong platform that can use some work when it comes to social media tools,but all in all,they are the best out there. I’ve thought this since 2006 and will probably continue to think so until someone else proves me wrong—which would take a lot.

Apparently,I’m not the only one who thinks highly of this Naples,Florida–based company. They won the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) Codie Award for best Enterprise Social Networking Platform in 2008 and 2009. The finalists are chosen by judges,but the winner is based on the SIIA members’ votes. This is the equivalent of the Academy Awards—the members of the industry voted them up.

What makes them stand out isn’t just their high caliber platform that’s been put to the test by NASCAR,HGTV,CNN,CBS,Fox,Adidas,and Kodak,among many others. It’s also their constant innovation,their CRM integration,and their interest in doing something more than providing a hosted enterprise social networking solution—a.k.a. doing some good in the public arena.

Kim Kobza,their CEO and a co-founder of the company,along with David Bankston,
their CTO,embrace the applicability of technology to satisfy their curiosity about how networks work,about how influence and persuasion affect public discourse,and how they might make a difference in business by solving those problems.
Personally, I’d call David Bankston a technological prodigy and Kim a fervent
evangelist when it comes to social software,how it gets used,and what
Neighborhood America sees as its ongoing mission in the 21st century.

Mission 21st Century
Here’s Kim Kobza,CEO,on Neighborhood America’s mission in the upcoming years:

Neighborhood America believes that every organization and every process within every organization in the world will benefit from the value that networks create—networks of customers,partners,employees,and in the case of government,citizens. Organizations that understand this disruptive transformation,what Yochai Benkler describes as the “networked information economy,”increasingly will embrace what we think of as “a network perspective.”

Having a network perspective means that by listening to customers, partners,
employees,and citizens,and making them a part of business process,organizations gain a competitive advantage. Neighborhood America believes that having a network perspective will be a strategic imperative to the competitive survival of virtually every organization.

Organizational ecosystems embody many forms of networked behaviors. Therefore they require technology models that support networked behaviors that solve many unique business problems. Neighborhood America’s technology model reflects this vision. It is built on a construct of “business services” that serve the many unique network requirements of virtually any business or government organization. As business and government move from the experimental stage of social media to a more advanced understanding of how to drive value from multiple networks,they will increasingly require that social media technologies be delivered with a platform that provides utility class benefits,security,and scalability. They also will require discrete analytics.

Reflecting today’s trends,the dominant technology model of the future will be in the cloud—a highly scalable “software as a service” offering—that enables every
business and government agency to share common learning and experience. These enterprise models also will clearly have to enable multiple integration points to existing technologies such as CRM,ERP,and BI applications.

Over the next three years,Neighborhood America will continue to build our catalogue of business services,engineering,and analytics engines. We will
especially focus on integration and distribution relationships that enable
organizations to leverage existing investment in networks of customers, partners,
employees,and citizens as well as the software and technology systems that support those relationships.

The Product
Neighborhood America’s products and services are based on the idea of platform as a service. They host their business services on an exceptionally robust SOA they call ELAvate,which stands for Engage-Listen-Act uh,vate. It is a highly flexible,
easily configurable architecture and,as of 2009,has added strong analytics functions and data warehousing.

Here’s CTO David Bankston’s informative statement on the value of analytics in a social networking environment:

It’s becoming clear that much of the true value of networks lies in the understanding of the “network behavior” inherent in patterns of use. These patterns unlock the key to understanding how to match the network purpose to the business needs.

Organizations demand a return from all investments,including social media. ROI comes from business intelligence,yet this has been a long-standing gap in our industry. Network data analytics provide customers with the intelligence they need to really understand their business,their customers,and the interaction taking place within their community. With these insights,they can then make changes that will drive ROI.

We’re also finding that as enterprises embrace social media,they discover multiple ways in which it can add value throughout their organization. They launch multiple communities—both internal and external

multiple communities
ELAvate three-tiered architecture (source:Neighborhood America)

networks—and need the ability to analyze and report results with enterprise-wide consistency. Our analytics provide this capability.

One more important point is that all of our data and analytics are served in a dedicated data warehouse environment,separate from the social network or CRM system that it may integrate with. Data in its raw form can be reported and analyzed in any way that adds value to the customer—or integrated into existing reporting systems.

Data can also be “anonymized” so that only the patterns across multiple
communities can be extracted and studied. This model also creates an entirely new business model. A proper data warehouse can now host key community
preference/behavioral data in aggregate,across all of its customer communities.

One thing Neighborhood America does very well and didn’t ignore like many of their counterparts in this category is integration with CRM. They currently integrate with salesforce.com,NetSuite,and Microsoft Dynamics CRM,and there are more
preconfigured CRM integrations in their future.

Their software solution,REVEAL,which sits on top of ELAvate,has a wide-ranging set of features. Some are what you would expect,such as threaded forums,ranking tools,a robust tagging system,channel creation,profile building,and idea generation programs. Others are just in the “too cool for school” category,such as video chats for up to six participants in a single channel.

REVEAL is completely customizable so an easily navigable user interface is not hard to develop with the provided tools. Take a look at Figure,which is the Grand-Am racing site they build,and you’ll see the clean and easy-to-understand interface.Grand-Am racing site
Grand-Am social network home page

If I have any problem with them,it’s that their social media tools (such as their blogging platform) are not that strong and need to be enhanced. However,this does not extend to their resources for integrating user-generated content like videos,audio,social tags,ratings,and comments.

REVEAL has nonpareil administrative functionality too,allowing you to own and control your social network. The administration is so robust that you can control several communities from a single dashboard without a whole of sweating. They don’t leave you twisting in the wind either. If you are a little unsure of how you want to set up your community management,no problem—Neighborhood America provides you with several templates for community management.
Grand-Am social network home page
REVEAL template for community management

Neighborhood America claims some pretty serious ROI too. For example,they built an Idea Center to supplement the Kodak Gallery,a photo-sharing site that reaches 55 million Kodak users. Registration was done through the Kodak Gallery. The purpose of the Idea Center was to share ideas on the use of Kodak products—such as creating photo albums,photography methods,and other resources. It was instantly popular. In six weeks,25 percent of the site members were buying products through the site,and the Idea Center was a trusted source for sharing and exchange among its community.

All in all,we are looking at a scalable,secure,manageable worldclass enterprise social networking solution that also gives customers the ability to manage their own experiences. Unlike many of their competitors,they see the value in not just harvesting the data that those customers provide,but also in analyzing it so that the most valuable data then populates your CRM system. That’s what I call complete.

What a great segue into the next section. We’ve completed the entire section on the social tools and strategies for their deployment. Now let’s see how all of this Social CRM talk affects the more recognized CRM pillars—sales,marketing,and customer service. Please remember,you’re taking your traditional CRM 1.0 outlook into your own hands.


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