Professor Andreas Kaplan, a noted authority on marketing, described social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.”
The key word in this definition is user-generated content. As social media becomes an increasingly important part of the web experience, consumers are increasingly creating and exchanging UGC. For business, this begs the question, “What can we do with it?”
Here’s how to integrate UGC into different aspects of your organization.
UGC in Marketing
The basic 4Ps of marketing – Product, Price, Promotion and Place – are collectively known as the “marketing mix.” There are many ways to integrate UGC into one or more of the Ps.
Enable UGC on your product pages using ratings and reviews. Pass this information, along with what your customers are saying on external social media sites about your products and prices, along to product managers to use in planning product mixes.
The use of customer voice in traditional marketing isn’t an entirely new idea. Weight loss and muscle building commercials on TV show “actual people” talking about their experiences with the “magic pill.” People believe other people more than companies. Recognizing this, encourage this kind of feedback. Open your site to UGC, and engage customers in other social media channels. NakedPizza, for example, engages their customers on Twitter, and promoted their Twitter handle using a billboard – connecting offline advertising with online conversations.
Not only will you help shoppers online, but you’ll gather tons of actual experiences to use in other advertising efforts. Just think how you could use UGC in emails campaigns, radio ads, magazines, etc. Whenever there is customer touch point, there is an opportunity to engage the customers in a conversation.
UGC in Innovation
You can also use UGC as a tool for innovating and improving products and processes. Include your customers as part of the innovation process and use their opinions to improve the capabilities of your products.
Dell’s IdeaStorm allowed the brand to talk to their customers directly, letting customers post their own ideas and rate others’. Over 400 new ideas begun in this forum have already been implemented in new Dell products. Starbucks started a similar discussion at mystarbucksidea.com to connect and share ideas with their customers. In the first year, customers submitted over 70,000 new ideas to this site.
Fidelity Labs also encourages co-development of applications on the internet, using fidelitylabs.com as a platform. Customers can also try out their latest applications, which are usually in the testing phase. This gives customers a chance to make suggestions to Fidelity before the product launches. Wells Fargo has a similar site called Wells Fargo Labs.
By adopting social media in ways that support innovation, you can ensure that not all online talk is chatter; it can be converted into ideas that drive business.
UGC in Customer Service
To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation. — Chinese Proverb
As my wife tells me, the key difference between listening and hearing is that when I listen, I take some action; otherwise I am just hearing her. When you listen to your customers, you have to take action and close the loop with them.
People love to talk, and social media tools have become their mouthpiece to reach a much wider audience. Gone are the days when there was no interaction between the seller and the customer, post purchase. Customers’ perspectives are changing as they become used to – and begin to expect – real-time response from companies. A successful customer service plan involves listening and acting on what your heard.
Comcast, Dell, Southwest Airlines, Ford, Starbucks, and many more have been successful in promoting a positive brand image and solving customer problems through social commerce. And the online channel can be much less costly than other traditional customer service channels.
Your customers are talking. You can participate in and facilitate these conversations to your advantage, or ignore their valuable feedback. Just don’t assume your competitors are ignoring it as well.