I like stories with good endings - even better with good endings that imply great futures. Back in 1996, there was a great story at the Olympics that led to all kinds of nice things (see story below.) More recently, and once again, at the Lithium LiNC 2015 user conference, where 850 people enjoyed life for a short while, some smart decisions made will not only leave a great impression but also lead to great things in the near future. Win-win.
Before we get into this short (for me that is) and sweet analysis, we start always the same way - the conference scorecard. Arguably, we are looking at the best of the year to date, though we'll see at the end of the year when I publish in a handbook, the much more detailed ratings than you see here (numbers will be present). Will Lithium prevail? We shall see what we shall see.
For now, though, the letter grade is the same as others: They have the highest weighted numerical score this year - and that is no small achievement. (If you want more details on what goes into the scorecard, please check out this post about Adobe Digital Marketing Summit.)
I now present to you, the Lithium's 2015 Conference Scorecard
Lithium LiNC 2015 Conference Scorecard
|Keynotes (Content)||A-||The keynotes hit just the right tone, had just the right message and just the right cadence. They were laid back, visionary and had a body of content to support the vision. The vision itself was grounded in the present with an eye to the future - but not so far ahead that it seemed unrealizable. In fact, it was an eminently realizable future. There was some continuity established as to the Lithium message evolving, though this wasn't that easy due to reasons outlined in the analysis below, but at least there was an attempt. Additionally, the Lithium keynotes - all of them - had humor interwoven with the content. All in all an excellent job.|
|Keynotes (Presentation)||A-||First and foremost, Katy Keim, Lithium's rock star CMO, did what rock stars do. She rocked. She is easily the best person to run a (tech) show from a stage that I've seen pretty much ever. The supporting keynotes - Nate Elliott of Forrester and Sal Khan from the Khan Academy were excellent - the former for good data and the latter for inspiration - and they substantiated the theme of the conference. The HD screens were gorgeous - three to cover each section of the main stage. The little things like making sure the name of the presenter, twitter handle and hashtag were up on screen the entire time were attended to. You'd be surprised how many of these events DON'T do that. All of them in fact, but Lithium. There were very well done videos of a minute in length give or take a few seconds. Day in the life - or more accurately "living a day" reflected the content of the videos - business outcomes drove the specific videos, so they weren't just the usual customer blather "we use them because they are great, blahdeeblahdeeblah". Additionally, the "entertainment" was clever and well done - a professional troupe called "Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon" who did a comic song about the execs and company; a comedian, Orny Adams, who clearly idolized Lewis Black, and was pretty funny; and when Michael Wu did his keynote on his customer experience framework, they gave out Michael's signature cap to everyone in the audience. The only slight downside was the number of demos were a bit sparse but they were otherwise well done.|
|Tracks/General Sessions||A||They killed it with content that was entirely appropriate to their messaging and their technology - and appealed to the audience - regardless of which segment. Tracks ranged from developing for Lithium to how to integrate content into a community for the community managers to more conceptual pieces. From the reports back to me, they were quite engaging and comprehensive enough for the attendees to get something out of them. They were spot on for the specific target audience they appealed to.|
|Analyst/Press Relations||B||The only reason that this wasn't higher - given the fantastic job done by Nicol Addison - is some of the basics weren't attended to. One big one - no power for the analysts/press and that means at a certain point they can't do their jobs as their laptops etc run out or very low. The other downside was the room that was available for analysts/press was just that - a room with dining tables. Meetings were held there but the several times I was there, no one but me was. Which goes to the one other reason why not a higher grade. There were VERY few industry analysts at the event - a handful, given the importance of the event per se and the announcements and messaging, that was a faux pas. However, on the bright side, Nicol Addison did a brilliant job of attending to those who were there and making sure that whatever needed to be done was done. This is why the grade was as high as a B. Next year, more and more and better will be the solution.|
|Food (VIP)||B||The food provided for customer dinners etc. was excellent - very good restaurants. The reason for the B here is that there were zero to very little provided internally in key rooms for analysts, customers in meetings etc. - SOP at most conferences.|
|Food (General Session)||B+||Arguably the best food for the larger crowds at any of the conferences this year. The only reason for the less than is that there was no specific attention paid to special diets that are typically rampant and necessary at these conferences - beyond vegan.|
|Exhibition Hall||B-||There were only 12 partners there and they were stationed outside the ballroom doors and spread out along the hallway walls. On the one hand that led to a lot of space for people to walk; on the other the non-booth traffic and the booth traffic got in each other's way - literally and figuratively. Lithium placed its own presence at the far end of the hall which again, kinda worked in that you walked all the way down and there it was and it was by far the biggest presence and on the other hand sometimes the crowd didn't make it all the way down the hall. This seemed to be an indifferent part of the conference, but one that has the potential to be a lot more powerful with not a lot more work. It was almost right but not quite.|
|Crowd Engagement||A-||This was the most engaged crowd (about 850) of any crowd at any conference so far this year. There was a sense of intimacy that led to a low key excitement (no heavy woot! woot! stuff - so glad). The customers, prospects and staff had an easy, friendly camaraderie, the crowd was involved with the speeches - they personally know the executive staff who co-mingled constantly with them. This is the way that engagement is done. The only downside? The crowd was smaller than the size of the company merited. Otherwise perfect interaction.|
|Ambiance||A-||The easy interaction led to a good flow throughout the conference. There was room to rest, room to meet, room to walk and nothing was unreachable in a timely way or unapproachable. There were Lithium staff throughout who directed those who needed direction. The venue provided long desk-like tables to work from or chat. Excellent flow.|
|OVERALL||B+||It's really hard to crack into the "A" side of an overall score. Even though Lithium was B+, they received the highest weighted score of any conference this year because the event was well managed, the crowd engaged, the keynotes handled the way that keynotes should be handed, the humor and enjoyment there. Bravissimo!|
Let's go on with the show...
Back in 1996, Olympic gymnast, pint sized Kerri Strug injured her foot and yet still decided to stay in the competition regardless, at the request of Coach Bela Karoyli. She limped to the end of the runway, started to move, leapt and stuck her landing. Right after that, she hopped away on one foot and collapsed - but did what she had to, to win the gold medal for the U.S Gymnastics team in the 1996 Olympics. She was carried to the podium.
Folks, this year, 2015, in the tradition of Kerri Strug, injuries and all, Lithium stuck the landing. They made the decision that they are going to be a community platform after all - and are no longer trying to find a new "other" identity - and they built all the supporting pieces they needed to continue being what they were all along - a leading community platform as a vital company in a vital growing market.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Lithium, a perennial CRM Watchlist winner:
"... they've undergone reinvention as many times as they've won the Watchlist. From a Social CRM platform, to a community platform to what they are now calling an "integrated social platform" or a "digital customer experience platform" or, more simply, "Lithium platform" - all of which, frankly, are understatements of what they provide and reflective of something a bit concerning..."
Reinvention didn't suit them because if you looked at their product portfolio and the way that they were recognized in the marketplace, it was clear that they were and have been a community platform. The uncertainties hurt them a little (see the Kerri Strug analogy playing out here?) and they lost a bit of mindshare - though to their credit, based on the quality of their offering in combination with the mindshare "capital" they had built up over time, they still were gaining market share, enough to vault them into another atmospheric revenue level.
A lot of the uncertainties they had been subject to were related to trying to figure out how to justify, message around, acculturate and integrate the acquisitions they had made -- Social Dynamix and Klout in particular. Unlike most companies, they had the "easiest" (since it is never easy) time with acculturation. The rest were harder.
But they've prevailed.
They focused on a theme at LiNC 2015 which took care of the rest of the uncertainties at hand. That was (and is) "Total Community" and it couldn't have been any more cogent. It solved their ongoing "who are we" problem, hopefully, once and for all. Total Community, in the eyes of Lithium, means branded communities (e.g. behind the firewall), external social networks, and third party websites - an all-encompassing definition of community that differs from some, but the right one for Lithium's purposes.
Within that framework, Lithium's numbers are significant. They have 400 communities that sustain 100 million visits to them per month. They have 700 million Klout profiles - though as of yet, this is still a bit murky on what the value of these profiles are - but nonetheless it is a huge database of information on a lot of people. They also have 36 languages they serve. Those numbers show scale that provides proof of concept for Lithium's offering.
These communities are focused for the most part on four verticals - high tech, telecommunications, financial services and retail - all of whom are among the most likely first choices for a company like Lithium. Each of them militates toward conversations that take place best in communities.
But there are other verticals out there that I think they have to start moving toward to expand their "core." That would be sports and healthcare. Sports is kind of obvious - fans love to talk about and to their teams - and technologically, sports teams pretty much all have CRM systems. Healthcare? There are already groups and communities that are devoted to healthcare specific issues or specific drug treatments - and wellness communities associated with exercise or specific devices (e.g. Fitbit). Lithium just needs to crack into these two broad areas that are already primed and ready. They have no particular presence there and they are ripe for that.
The total community model is interwoven with a "one conversation" concept which Lithium can enable with an integrated profile that looks at all activity across all communities/social channels/websites of individuals and captures and analyzes their conversations on those same channels. It uses the information it has to not only aggregate the conversations, but to find the subject matter experts and peer influencers, using Klout by focusing it on the higher scorers in a specific subject area.
Admittedly, I'm still not totally convinced, despite the refreshing move away from the focus on the broad Klout score, that the algorithms are much better than they were. So there is still some 'splaining to do when it comes to using Klout to determine either VIP treatment or subject matter expertise. But I'm open to hearing it. When Klout was independent, there came a time that I wasn't open to hearing it since it persisted on perpetuating an urban myth of its ability to measure influence. But Lithium, so far, with the work led by data scientists such as thought leader Dr. Michael Wu and the excellent CTO Sunil Rajasekar, seems to be making valuable use of Klout - something I didn't think possible when it was independent. It's a start.
What makes the total community messaging so powerful is that not only are the above products and the missions they support in line with the concept but so is the rest of the portfolio.
Their announcements at LiNC were in line with their messaging and vision. That's what makes this so right a turn for Lithium. Their releases were around aggregated activity (Monitor Wall); aggregated data of value (Shared Dashboard) and subject matter expertise (Lithium Social Web Experts), with a mobile twist (Lithium Mobile Agent).
But the icing on the cake and perhaps the most important releases were their dramatically improved APIs, including their new "listening API" and their now relabeled Lithium-Klout SDK - all designed for tying the Lithium portfolio into the customer engagement ecosystem. Much of this will be done with the APIs via CRM systems integration. They already have a Salesforce connector (V3 was announced), but there is more on the way. Lithium is fully cognizant of what they have too with their tag line for the APIs being "plug in everywhere for customer engagement." Spot on. I would have to presume others agree with me, yes? (For more discussion on all these products, see this press release)
So what do we have here? In 1996, Kerri Strug, wounded, sticks her landing, winning the U.S gymnastics gold. In 2015, Lithium, wounded with "who are we, really" uncertainty, sticks its landing - with certainty. The gold is in sight - if they stick to their current path.