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Collaborating with Customers - B2C and B2B

Monday, February 15, 2010

Step 1 - Listen
Step 2 - Respond
Step 3 - Engage

I’m ready to write a post about the 4th step in the revised social media strategy development model. The old model called it CoCreate. This one uses the term Collaborate. Collaborate maybe sounds a little less formidable, a little easier to do. The more I’ve thought about that, the more I’ve realized it’s just not so. It’s really hard. Sometimes it seems impossible. I’m going to explain why by using recent data on Forrester’s Social Technographics data and add some insights I’ve derived, virtually all from mistakes I’ve made.

I’ve written about the Technographics ladder before, because it’s a real asset to understanding what’s going on in this space. With the 2009 data, they’ve added a new rung on the ladder. It’s called “Conversationalists” and it primarily reflects the influence of Twitter on the social media scene. Obviously these categories are not mutually exclusive; most of us fall into one category at some point, or in connection with some brand, and into another category in a different situation. That’s life. But what is key to understanding the difficulty of encouraging collaboration--of getting customers to create content-- is the size of the Spectators segment; 70% of consumers fall into that segment at least part of the time. Add to that the next step on the ladder. Joiners aren’t cocreators; they have a profile, but beyond that they are consumers, just like Spectators. In fact, it’s not until you get up to the Critics and the new Conversationalists that you get content creation, from ratings to status updates to Tweets. Those are fine and increasingly important to marketers. However, it’s only a small part of the online population that creates content that generally goes beyond 140 characters!

Looking at the total population is, of course, useful. But it’s not your target market. I found a good example in the B2B space. I used Forrester’s profile tool (which doesn’t yet have the Conversationalists), just set for the entire B2B market. I got a profile that’s not hugely different from the consumer population profile, which isn’t particularly surprising because these activities carry over from our private lives to our business lives—and vice versa.

Josh Berman fortunately published a more detailed example in early 09, also based on their survey of business buyers. I’m including the chart with his commentary, which just deals with the “overall” and “for business purposes” categories on the right. Virtually everyone in the B2B space falls into the Spectator category—that’s a critical insight. 69% of them are doing so for business purposes, and in the blue bars you’ll notice that is not really different for IT managers and managers in a line of business who make technology decisions. A few more of these business decision makers fall into the active categories of Critics and Creators. That gives them an opportunity to be influentials in their business discipline.

And that begins to get to my points. I would suggest that:
• It’s really hard for a brand to get people to contribute if they already do not. You can—and should work on it—invite people to write reviews, for example. In the consumer space, it’s relatively easy to reward people for doing it; loyalty points are an interesting consideration. Incentives are always useful, and you may be able to find useful incentives in B2B as well as B2C.
• Once you identify customers who are taking the “baby steps” of, say, writing reviews, can you encourage them to do more? Whether it’s a blog comment or a wiki contribution, it’s a good step. Business customers love to give their opinions and ideas as sites like Dell’s IdeaStorm demonstrate, so it may be easier to give them an opportunity and let them go to it.
• All the chicklets that are encouraging us to Tweet or Digg content items are trying to get people to be more active in the conversation arena, and it’s worth making it easy to do. I’m not sure how much it contributes to a feeling of collaboration, but it’s great additional visibility. It might even create a customer perception of supporting the brand over time.
• Can you encourage customers to become Creators? All the B2C video contests like “Help Flo” are an example that you can. And those will probably continue to work well in the B2C space as long as you have a creative campaign.
B2B seems to offer a lot of opportunities to help customers become thought leaders. It’s the standard “speak at the conference” appeal. Now that can be expanded to blogs and other content repositories. That clearly leads to a feeling of being valued and I don’t see how it can do anything but strengthen the relationship between brand and customer.

I see two key take-aways in this. First, you can’t easily get people to participate in activities they aren’t already familiar with. If you have a target audience that’s pretty much Spectator-only, don’t try to make them Creators overnight. It’s just not going to happen.

Second, the marketing practice of trying to locate the opinion leaders (influentials) has come into its own. Customers are self-identifying by their blogs and other online creations. Find them and reach out to them. The case of the Coke fan page has become the classic case of doing just that. Your outreach may not always have such spectacular results, but it will be worthwhile. It just takes the patience and persistence that’s mandatory in the social media space!
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