Matt Rhodes recently posted on socialmediatoday that for American adults, online reviews are only second to word of mouth in terms of influencing purchase decisions. The report was published by Rubicon Consulting, and it also goes into detail about how a consumer-to-consumer message is much stronger than a brand-to-consumer message.
That means that consumers are turning to blogs, social communities, peer reviews, forums, and other forms of social media to help them make an informed decision before they go out and spend money on a product or service. Some of the areas in which the web has a greater influence on purchase decisions is consumer electronics. Companies like BestBuy and Circuit City have incorporated customer reviews next to each product in order to aid potential customers in making the right decision.
Is your business using social media to help your customers make a more informed decision?
I came across Kari Rippetoe’s latest post from The Caffeinated Blog in which she discusses a couple of social media sites where marketers can conduct their own market research for free. Even though traditional market research can not be completely wiped out, take a look at how monitoring conversations in real-time can improve your market research process. Kari lists 5 ways social media and social networking sites can be used for market research:
- StumbleUpon: This site not only presents a list of relevant sites about a topic, it also compiles a list of users who are interested as well. By clicking on their profile you can find demographics, location, ages, genders, and other interests.
- LinkedIn: This professional social networking site is primarily used as B2B research tool. You can look for people in LinkedIn by searching for company, job title, industry, and keywords.
- Twitter: This micro-blogging service initiates conversations, and this provides a great opportunity to hear what is being said about a particular service, product, or market space.
- Forums: Before web 2.0 was popular, forums were the ideal conversation tool used by people. Forums are still thriving in almost every niche.
- Niche Social Networking Sites: If there is a topic, the chances are very high that there is some sort of social networking site designed just for it. Research the web for a variety of niche subjects; you will gain some knowledgeable insight about your target audience.
The age of bloggers venting online and getting nothing in return has ended. I came across this article in the NY Times in which blogger Brandon Dilbeck received an email message in response to a blog post he wrote complaining about ads Comcast posted on its programming guide. What’s interesting here is that Comcast has switched its focus from being reactive and are now proactively attempting to communicate with consumers through social media.
In an attempt to revamp its online outreach, Comcast has even created a new position, Digital Care Manager, headed by Frank Eliason alongside a team of 10 other staff members who regularly monitors public comments on blogs, message boards and social networks for any mention of Comcast. Comcast though, is not the only company who has begun to utilize social communities to reach out to its customers. Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods Markets, Zappos, and Chipotle are among some of the businesses who have started to reinvent traditional online community communication.
Even though having someone always ‘watching’ is considered creepy by some, the benefits seem to make up for it. Frank Eliason mentions how he can only remember seven instances in which a customer had called him creepy.
What’s your company doing in terms of searching through blogs, forums, discussion groups, social networks, and twitter for customer conversations regarding your business? It’s important that organizations begin to look at social media as a means of communication to consumers since the trend is moving away from call centers and becoming more online social media centric.
So your company has decided to launch a blog to communicate with its customers, so the rest should be a piece of cake right? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Blogging on controversial topics can very often stir up emotions and comments. Looking through my reader this afternoon I came across this post from Marshall Kirkpatrick in which he explains how simply understanding where people are coming from can help make you a more effective communicator.
This idea doesn’t just stop with blogging though. Communities, social networks, forums, discussion boards, and any other forms of social media that render conversations should be treated the same way. Let’s face it. Different viewpoints exist in the world, and so companies must learn to treat responses fairly in order to communicate more effectively online.
In the new world of Web 2.0, the fine line between marketing and customer service is often blurred. Since 70% of the US and Canadian population use the internet, the internet has become a medium for learning about products as well as letting everyone know their faults. As stated in this post at CMS Wire, companies are having to adjust the way they view social media on the web as a way to provide value and a creative outlet to allow current and future customers a platform for discussion. One bad experience can be posted in a blog, and the world can find out about it through a search on the company. Other forms that customers can hear about experiences: wikis, forums, Digg, Reddit, Technorati, and del.icio.us to name a few. But given the right outlet, customers can empower a brand in a positive light. This can promote the value of the brand in the eye of the customer, as stated by Brian Solis, blogger and founder of FutureWorks: Companies that apply resources to help steer and bolster their brand across the social web create relationships that ultimately pay dividends in the form of customer loyalty and referrals. Relationships are the currency of social media. It’s important to see this new form of customer service. Many companies are overlooking the power of social media as a customer service tool. What’s the best company you’ve seen use Web 2.0 as a way to empower their customers?