Timmy the ThinkGeek monkey

Even if you’re not a geek like I am, you should know about ThinkGeek. Ask your IT staff, or the guy in your office with the coolest cubical (or your social media manager)—ThinkGeek has earned a cult following by selling “stuff for smart masses.” Customers can buy bulletproof body armor clipboards, or titanium sporks, and then upload Customer Action Shots to their website. I wanted to know more about the role that this fun form of user-generated content (UGC) has played in the success of ThinkGeek, and about the other ways they’ve cultivated such a vibrant community of proud customers, so I contacted their Public Relations Manager, Shane Peterman for the following interview.

What are some of the biggest benefits you’ve seen from using Customer Action Shots?

Peterman:

While ultimately, it’s a fun way for our customers to share their photos with us (and the world, really), there are definitely some legitimate business benefits to it, as well.  For example, when people visit a product page and then view an action shot, they’re 66% more likely to purchase (not necessarily that particular product, but some sort of purchase).  Those sort of figures really are almost more of an after-thought, but it’s a great indication that people are spending some time on the site looking around.

How many photos are uploaded in the average week?

Peterman:

On average, anywhere from 100-150 images are received every week.  Since we don’t necessarily upload every one we receive, we put up closer to 75-100 every week.

How has ThinkGeek been able to gather so many Action Shots? Do they flood right in, or do you have to do a little more to incentivize submission?

Peterman:

There’s a chance to win a $100 gift certificate, so there’s definitely an incentive.  I think that a lot of people are just excited to show off their creativity, though, evidenced by the number of action shots that we get that are really great shots, but not quite appropriate for the site.

Besides displaying user-generated content on product pages, how else are you using it?

Peterman:

We also have a Techie Haiku contest that we run on the site, with the reward being a $50 gift certificate.  Within the past year or so, we’ve begun including a few customer action shots in our print catalog as well, just picking out some of our favorites, and placing them alongside the corresponding product.  The winning action shot and haiku are also included in our email newsletter.

What are the most effective things ThinkGeek has done to build such a vibrant customer community?

Peterman:

Honestly, we haven’t really so much built a community, as much as we’re part of an existing one.  Sure, we’ve cultivated relationships via Twitter and Facebook, but so many of us were existing fans of the company before starting here, and we all come from varying backgrounds within the geek community.  I think far too many companies try to focus on building a community or following around their particular brand, almost putting themselves on a pedestal above the community, and that’s totally not us.  We are the community that surrounds us, and try to regularly get involved in events centered around said community.

With nearly 170,000 Facebook Likes and 252,000 Twitter followers, you’ve got a huge fan base to engage with.  Do you have a dedicated social media team, or do you encourage wider employee participation in social (or is it a mix of both)?

Peterman:

It’s a little of both.  While there’s a very small team of people that handle our official Twitter and Facebook accounts, most of us are active on one or both of the sites as well.  Some of us keep the accounts strictly personal, while others are more open about things.  It kind of ties in with us being part of the community, though most of the customer focus is obviously on the official company accounts.

How have you used social to learn more about your customers, and about what they think of the products you sell?

Peterman:

We get a LOT of product suggestions from our customers, whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, or the Bounty program on the site (we’ll reward up to $500 if we use your shirt design!).  Some are great, some are slightly less great, but it’s an awesome way to be able to find out what people are interested in, and what they want to see more of.  Both Twitter and Facebook are really great for just simply asking customers a question and getting responses, too.  It’s about as close as we can get to legitimate face to face interaction with some of our customers, especially people living outside of the US.

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