Learning from fans

Editor's note: Suresh Subbiah is the president of North American Operations for Oslo, Norway firm QuestBack. He is based in Bridgeport, Conn.

Gone are the days where a brand’s social media value lies in the number of fans or community members it possesses. True value comes from what insights can be revealed through social media and what a company does with them. It’s time for companies to ask themselves, “Who are our fans? What can they teach us about our brand?”

While many companies have a social media presence, this approach represents a dramatic shift in corporate interest around engaging communities effectively. Marketers everywhere agree there is a vast pool of customer data that can be culled from social networks but few have realized how to turn that data into action.

Traditional enterprise feedback management (EFM) enables organizations to centrally manage surveys and establish real-time dialogue with employees, partners and customers around key issues and concerns. Organizations then use this feedback and potentially make customer-specific interventions, as the event happens, that increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and lifetime value. With the rise of social media, many question whether it is a threat to EFM as we know it. I would argue it’s actually the opposite. Garnering feedback through social media can serve as a valuable add-on to traditional feedback systems. 

Push beyond monitoring

According to Gartner, 2012 spending on social applications for sales, marketing and customer service processes will surpass $1 billion worldwide. If you search the term “social CRM,” a whole host of definitions will pop up but one central theme is clear: customer engagement. While there is no doubt that social CRM is a key growth area for the future, for businesses to truly capitalize on its benefits they need to push beyond monitoring for relevant mentions of their product and brand to pick up on feedback and reactions. Social CRM also includes dialogue and customer communities managed by organizations.

By integrating feedback platforms directly into the social networks where customers already gather and interact, brands can listen, connect and engage through many methods.

Customer advisory boards

Enabling enthusiastic and influential fans to share positive feedback can play a major role in product testing, concept testing and shaping new product innovation. The first step in the process is to determine shared values between your company and its customers. Aligning the company vision with an idea your customers can relate to will increase the likelihood they connect with the brand and encourage brand evangelism. Creating customer advisory boards to harness this resource can lead to successful launches of new products.

Usage and attitude research

Once a company has identified its brand ambassadors, it can dig deeper and understand who its customers are and their interests. Using interactive forums and nontraditional surveys via social channels is an important part of providing a unique customer experience and can help give a clear picture of the customer. This tactic also provides an avenue to share feedback without ever leaving the site, increasing customer likelihood of participating in surveys or commenting in forums.  

Social CRM provides a new way to understand customers that allows organizations to take an active role in monitoring digital behavior and sentiment. It also enables organizations to analyze customer participation and inform future interactions, product development and brand strategy.

Viral marketing

As companies use social media to build customer relationships, they also gain a better understanding of what content and services will be most appealing. Giving customers content they love and can relate to increases loyalty and the chances they will share their brand experience with their community.

Ultimately, loyal customers want to connect with the brand or company. In today’s social world, there is a greater need for organizations to stop only pushing a predetermined message and start cultivating and engaging advocates who champion brands to others; provide real-time feedback and recommendations; and actively participate in the innovation process.

Create real value

With the advent of the social media revolution, customers are gaining a stronger share-of-voice and forever impacting how brands interact with consumers. With more than 901 million active monthly users on Facebook, it is clear that establishing an authentic and engaging voice in social media is critical for businesses. This begs the question: How can brands create real value from social networks?

I’d like to share an example from one of Europe’s leading professional power-tool providers. After market research findings showed that recommendations between colleagues was a big contributing factor to the company’s sales success, it decided to focus on cultivating its social networks and provide brand fans and brand ambassadors an environment to share recommendations and experiences with each other. 

A two-pronged approach

The company took a two-pronged approach to the project: 1) building an online professional community to target existing customers and 2) creating a Facebook fan page to engage potential customers who were familiar with the company but had yet to purchase tools.

As Facebook was unfamiliar territory for this company, the primary goal of the project was to measure its marketing impact. Specifically, the company wanted to answer the following questions: Are we reaching new target groups? How valuable are our Facebook fans compared to our online community? How much overlap is there between Facebook and the professional community?

To do this, the company deployed a software solution that integrated with Facebook and provided its marketing and research teams with a private channel to communicate with consumers directly within its fan page. Armed with the ability to go far beyond quick polls, the company used surveys and interactive forums to gain insight into the attributes, actions and attitudes of its fans. It combined quantitative and qualitative market research methods to gather knowledge for effective social media marketing. Additionally, it verified that it is reaching the correct target group on Facebook and also directly communicated with valuable customer segments to better understand their needs.

In the end, the company found that both the Facebook campaign and online community are necessary to reach its key audience. A surprising fan base was revealed through the Facebook fan page – woodworkers. This unexpected insight into its customers allowed the company to develop a strategic campaign targeting this group. The company also determined that only 11 percent of its social media users are active on both its online community and Facebook, validating that the project did reach new audiences. Leveraging social media tools that provide insight into its customer base and analyze their activity has allowed this company to design new initiatives for current and future customers.

Age of the customer

Pairing an excellent product or service with accessible customer service and a catchy marketing campaign is no longer enough to stand out from the competition. We are in the age of the customer and social media has fundamentally changed the way customers seek and share information. As a result, brands no longer have complete control over their image and need to start engaging with customers on the channels they feel most comfortable.

Monitoring the customer experience in real time can set organizations apart from the competition and build loyalty. Consistent organizational transparency both across traditional and social networks can ensure that customers feel valued every step of the way and guarantee positive feedback. To ensure this happens, organizations need real-time understanding and tools to capture feedback on a real-time basis. In the experience economy, organizations need actionable insights and feedback to stay competitive and become winners.