How to Act on Consumer-Generated Media

How on earth do you act on consumer-generated media (CGM)? Is it inherently actionable?

Suppose thousands of motivated consumers are angrily screaming your brand’s name (or praising it) across a mix of message boards, forums, and blogs — most within a few clicks of other consumers or scoop-starved reporters.

Do you just sit and listen, or do you do something about it?

The entire word-of-mouth/CGM space is a nascent category. There’s little precedent around its use or application, and there are no clear lines of ownership in organizations. Invariably, this creates an almost-defensive posture around proving its value, often at higher levels of scrutiny than other forms of media and advertising get. Fuzzy ownership lines can also lead to action paralysis.

Why Are Audits Important?

The CGM trail provides both ammunition and guidance for executives, general managers, and CMOs seeking new measures and metrics to assess and audit the real outcome of customer loyalty or disloyalty.

Not every audit leads to action, but few would argue audits don’t serve a critical business function. There are certain things we need to know and certain things we can’t afford not to know, even if the next step isn’t always obvious. In particular, audits also help find irregularities and inconsistencies that force deeper, more meaningful exploration.

A growing number of brands recognize auditing their brands through CGM isn’t only central to a well-informed business health diagnosis, but the key to real competitive advantage. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And you can’t lead with your eyes closed.

How Do You Use It?

I’m working on a small book entitled “101 Ways to Act on Consumer-Generated Media.” Here’s a short list of achievable, actionable tactics and strategies to unleash CGM’s power:

  • Track and retool the launch. Heads roll and careers die when a new product launch fails. This is where the big money gets spent. CGM can motivate action at every possible phase of a new product launch, even months before the product hits the shelves. Motivated consumers notice everything. Exploit that cheat sheet.

  • Ignite your Web site or corporate blog. Most brand Web sites are out of synch with external conversation. Use CGM to diagnose consumer appeal pockets that can be readily integrated into the site. CGM creators are your best content consultants, even for blogs.
  • Prime your search engine. Building on this, most brand search engines, especially in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) category, fail to integrate topics or issues that show up in external consumer conversation, almost as though the site is being developed in a vacuum. If consumers are talking up your brand in the context of apples, make sure your internal search engine has a result on the word “apples.”
  • Add precision to search engine ad buys. Half the game in buying targeted ads on search engines is to figure out what’s relevant, hot, and timely in the long tail of consumer curiosity and conversation. Use CGM to identify and place relevant keyword buys for Google or Yahoo buys. We constantly anchor our keyword buys for our site to emerging buzz topics. CGM can be your best friend in ensuring relevancy.
  • Reprimand, reward, or re-script the call center. Few factors motivate execs to pay more than a passing glance at the call center than bad publicity or public embarrassment. A very high percentage of visible CGM directly implicates call-center or feedback collection processes. Call center scripts, FAQs, and email feedback forms are often hopelessly out of touch with consumer discussion and expectations. Believe me, every brand has several dozen smaller versions of Jeff Jarvis out there in CGM-land replaying bad experiences. You’ll be a hero!
  • Tweak your messaging. We recently completed a study suggesting consumers are most viral when they feel betrayed over false ad claims. Use CGM to tweak and optimize messaging to ensure your brand isn’t over-positioning, over-promising, or making itself vulnerable to public attack.
  • Focus the focus group. CGM is constantly turning up issues market research doesn’t probe or explore in traditional focus groups or studies. Take the key findings from how consumers really talk and make sure your half-million dollar research study isn’t missing the obvious. (It happens!)
  • Slap or stroke the supplier. CGM is like a pool of gold stars or black marks to put on the foreheads of suppliers, vendors, or agencies that, through their work, catalyze positive or negative conversation or word of mouth. Use CGM as part of your evaluation process. If the rebate program backfires, package the CGM for reprimanding whoever executed that program.
  • Slice your sponsorship fees. Sponsorships can be really expensive. A spokesperson may cost millions per year to endorse or use your product. Consumers never miss a detail in the CGM space, so use their due diligence on the background or traction of a spokesperson to strengthen your own negotiation leverage. Shoot for saving 10-15 percent off the base. Oh yes, you’ll be a hero, too.
  • Retool the profiling. Almost all big brand survey or feedback forms fail to profile by influence or depth of “virality.” And yet they ask every other demographic question under the sun. Use CGM to motivate the folks designing the surveys to reengineer the questionnaire to better flag the Jeff Jarvis’s out there. Are they active online? Where? Do they blog? How often? You’ll not only be a hero, you’ll probably present to the board.
  • Scrutinize the spend. Brands waste money all the time. Most new ad models are largely unproven, and CGM analysis is a great way to vet out what’s working and what’s not based on the buzz’s volume, tenor, and virality. Think twice about spending big bucks on Super Bowl ads, sponsorships, or other high-priced events if nobody talks about them.
  • Track your competitors. Consumers are the very best source of competitive intelligence. At Procter & Gamble, my first-to-market memos on Unilever’s work in interactive marketing earned me far more fame and internal exposure than I deserved, but, hey, it worked. If your competitor is screwing it up or doing something fabulously well, organize it, package it, and send it everyone in the organization who’s losing sleep over their next move.

No more excuses. CGM is everywhere, and growing. Carpe diem!

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