It might be time to change the adage "the customer is always right" to, "the customer with the most followers is always right."
On Wednesday, Lithium, which provides services to help businesses navigate social media, held its annual conference in San Francisco and explained how it plans to make use of Klout, the "social influence" company it said it had acquired two months ago.
Part of that plan includes new products that will let big retailers such as Best Buy or Sony embed buttons, or widgets, into their websites through which customers can give feedback about their products.
That's where Klout comes in. If the person clicking on the widget has a high Klout score, the retailer might send that person a discount coupon for, say, a TV. After all, you want to keep your influential customers happy, and who knows what they might say about you if they enjoy your product.
Lithium CEO Robert Tarkoff said the company is building a "shared value network" in which both consumers and brands can benefit from Lithium's analytics.
To do that, "we had to increase our investment on the consumer side," he said, explaining why Lithium bought Klout. He announced several new products designed to give businesses better information about who they should connect with online.
For starters, a series of "action widgets" will begin appearing later this year on certain businesses' websites. The partner companies haven't been decided but they're likely to be in retail or entertainment, like many of Lithium's current clients.
In a demonstration, Lithium showed a Sony product page for an expensive television. Toward the top, where a Facebook "like" button might appear, was a button marked "Want." By clicking on it, a consumer could provide feedback such as, "I would buy this TV, if it were cheaper by $50." Or, "I would buy this, if it came in silver."
"It's a wish list on steroids," as Lithium Chief Product Officer Tapan Bhat put it.
If the consumer has an account on file, the retailer might send him an email for that exact discount -- especially if they had a high Klout score.
The same could play out for customers who take to social media, like Twitter, to complain about poor customer service. Customers' Klout scores could be integrated into businesses' Lithium dashboards, making it easier to identify complaints from influential people.
Lithium is also developing a type of Klout score for products that consumers see on the retailer's site. The number would incorporate customer ratings from a new ratings widget, as well as chatter related to the product across social media.
This use of Klout scores for marketing purposes may irk its longtime users. Lithium and Klout, however, maintain it's part of a larger effort to identify the most "trusted" consumers.
Lithium's expanded set of tools come as many other businesses try to adapt to an online world overrun with social media chatter. Jive Software is another company that helps businesses leverage social media, as is Salesforce.