If your marketing team wants fast consumer insight, consider asking an online community.
Social media is a wonderful way to engage online communities, but what we're really talking about is the traditional communication that has existed since the dawn of humanity. The conversation isn't new; it's the platform that has evolved so communities can form faster and grow bigger than ever before. The message isn't new, the medium is.
While social networks and tools dominate Internet marketing buzz, there's a lot more to them than impressions and branded communities. This evolution in community technology has created a new platform for consumer feedback.
I recently participated in a presentation on social media and user-generated content (UGC) for the Internet Advertising Bureau. Although the event was geared toward advertising and media, Marc Schiller of Electric Artists and I focused on some of the social phenomenon's more interesting communication uses.
Our presentation was entitled "The Death of the Focus Group," and though it may be a bit premature to predict the demise of this traditional feedback mechanism, social media and UGC can be leveraged for marketing research and development. Companies are leveraging UGC to provide insight into packaging, merchandising, and product development.
Last December, my company posted about the unboxing phenomenon on our blog. Unboxing allows observers to watch consumers as they open the packaging of new products (generally technology-oriented, high-price products). The unboxing sequence is often recorded on video (and sometimes through stills) as the unboxer provides a running commentary and review of her experience.
Although the unboxer provides the primary criticism of the experience, the community eventually weighs in with impressions, such as "It looks cheap," "Why doesn't it come with a memory card?" and "The cables are too short to reach my television." After our post, "The Wall Street Journal" picked up the story and explored the deeper effects of unboxing and what it means to consumers who may be on the fence about buying a particular product. "The Journal" discovered some companies took the feedback to their packaging and product design teams. To see some unboxing experiences, search for "unboxing" on YouTube and Flickr.
Schiller presented a case study of how Electric Artists leveraged the Second Life community to prototype future hotels for Starwood. He suggested that Starwood, which was at the early stages of its aloft boutique hotel design program, could gain insight from a community that was focused on development albeit online.
Schiller's team constructed a virtual hotel that encouraged Second Life participants to collaborate on what a next-generation lodging experience should be. Starwood took the feedback from the community, then constructed a prototype hotel near its corporate headquarters. Once the project was complete, the virtual hotel was deconstructed in Second Life.
As a leading destination for UGC, Flickr offers a variety of ways to navigate photos, including the EXIF (define) data that accompanies digital images. This information can tell you the brand and product name of the camera, shutter speed, aperture, and more.
During Q4 2006, Flickr created a Camera Finder to let prospective buyers browse cameras based on the photographs taken with them. Can't decide between two cameras? Check out the photos taken with each one. What's more powerful during the consideration process: sample photographs from the community or the guy behind the counter at J&R Music World?
Nikon saw this coming and developed its awesome Stunning Gallery. Nikon users can submit their photos to a Flickr pool and share them with the community. Nikon now has a powerful library of sample images to help merchandise and promote its camera lineup. In short, Nikon stocked up its reference library with this program.
All these examples provide some alterative tactics for leveraging social media and UGC. While we were making this presentation, Facebook quietly launched its Facebook polls program. For the maximum price of $1 per answer, users can now conduct multiple-choice polls on Facebook.
Simply ask a question, define your audience (by interest, gender, age, and location), provide up to five answers, and set your price per response (the lower your price, the longer it will take to complete). We've conducted surveys that have taken less than 30 minutes to complete. This is a great way to get some immediate feedback on an idea or take the temperature of a trend. Though it's not the most scientific tool in the drawer, the insight is valuable. Imagine the time $100 could save you.
There's more to social media than banners and keywords. Are you struggling for insight? Consider asking the community.
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Chad Stoller is the executive director of emerging platforms at Organic Inc., a leading digital communications agency with clients such as DaimlerChrysler, Sprint, and Bank of America. In this role, Chad leads Organic's strategy on client communication platforms and Organic's Experience Lab. Prior to Organic, he spent 13 years at Arnell Group in various roles, including director of communications solutions, and was responsible for branded entertainment, new media, branded gaming, and marketing alliances. He has developed a series of award-winning programs, including the Cannes Lion winner, "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker," for Reebok and Jeep Evo 4 x 4 for DaimlerChrysler. Chad is also a regular contributor to Organic's blog, ThreeMinds.
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