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Five ways to engage your customers in 2009

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For the final in our series of Five things to do in 2009, I thought we’d go back to basics. Today we’re going to look at five ways you can engage your customers in 2009. One of the real benefits for brands of using social media or of building an online community, is that it can build sustainable engagement with your customers. Here are five ways to get this engagement.

1. Be active about asking your customers for their opinion

Too often firms don’t ask customers what they think. They may give ways for them to contact the brand, tell them their opinions or call them with compliments or complaints. But this is all very passive. Brands need to be actively asking their customers what they think. You need to go to them, not the other way round. For the customer, being asked what they think makes them feel special, part of our organisation and valued. A simple task such as calling your ten top clients in the first week in January will give you new insights into what you are doing right (and wrong) and will make ten more loyal customers. You then need to think about how you do this long term and on a much larger basis.

2. Make it easy for customers to complain

There are many ways that customers can raise their complaints about you and your products. They can tell you directly, post their thoughts on their blog, write to a newspaper, talk to all their friends…the options are endless. As a brand you should be able to feel in control of these complaints. Nobody likes to hear that their customers are unhappy, but it is much better for them to do this in a space where you have right or reply and you can even learn from these complaints. If you don’t provide a way for people to complain they will still do it, except you won’t know where and won’t be able to respond.

3. When you ask your customers something, make sure you respond

There’s nothing worse than being asked for your opinion and then not hearing what people think about it or if they are going to do anything having heard it. When you ask customers questions, or ask them to complain you must respond. Closing the feedback loop will make them feel valued and make them realise that you are actually listening to what they are saying. This will encourage them to continue to engage with you and, by knowing what and how you think, it will make their contributions more focused and productive from your perspective.

4. Deal with customers in public

Only some of your customers are going to want to talk to you and give you their opinions, and an even smaller proportion are going to want to complain. But all of your customers will want to know that you are an organisation that listens and responds. They want to know that if they were to have an idea or some feedback, that you would take it on board; and if they were to have a complaint that you would deal with it. There is a huge benefit to engaging with your customers openly and in public. If they can see you resolving a customers problem they will have greater respect for you as a business that cares about it’s customers. If they see you giving feedback they will know that you’re an organisation that listens to and focuses on the needs of its customers. Respond, and respond publicly; this is where an online community can really pay dividends.

5. Realise that engagement is not a campaign

Unlike other activities, engaging your customers cannot be run as a campaign. It is not about creating a number of advocates for a product launch or about having a conversation with some of your customers for two months. Engagement needs to be ongoing; sustained and sustainable. Once you start to listen to and close the feedback with your customers you must keep doing this. Of course, the benefits you get will be vast and wide-ranging, so most brands won’t want to stop engaging!

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Five ways to use an online research community in 2009

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It’s almost Christmas, and for  the penultimate in our Five things to do in 2009 series, I wanted to focus on one specific use brands can make of social media: online research communities. Of the communities we build and manage at FreshNetworks, many are specifically built for research. Even those that are not usually end up offering valuable insight into what consumers think. This insight is something every brand can benefit from, so today here are Five ways to use an online research community in 2009.

1. Get customers involved in your business

It’s often said that the cleverest people don’t work for you. And it’s certainly true that customers and consumers are likely to have quite extensive experience of your products, and how they are actually used. If you want to test a new idea, find out how people are using your product or find out about how you are different to your competitors, then the best way can be to ask these people who know best. An online research community can act as a customer voice and empower internal teams with customer input and insight. If you have a question, however small it may seem, you can get feedback from your online research community, often overnight, and be able to represent the customer inside your business.

2. Innovate with your customers

We’ve posted before about the power of co-creation and of innovating with your customers. An online research community can be a great way of both getting new ideas organically, and of working with your customers on innovation and co-creation. The format means that you can have ongoing discussions with them and involve them throughout the innovation process, rather than just testing ideas at specific stages. Bringing together internal experts and others with your customers can also have a powerful outcome, and in our experience always brings to your brand ideas you might never have thought of before.

3. Find out how your customers interact

Traditional market research has often considered the customer as a respondent - an isolated being who can answer questions about their habits and behaviours. This is a false construct and misses the most important aspect of any market decision - the social context. It is difficult to truly understand the ‘why’ of market research using traditional methods - we  know what people do and think but not why. All we can usually do is ask them what they think the why is. With an online research community it is easier to observe the conversations people have, how they discuss your product or competitor products. How do they advise other people, how do they explain their decisions and opinions, what do they choose to discuss. Answers to all these questions can come from observing what they do and how they talk to their peers. Just watching your online research community can sometimes be an enlightening thing to do.

4. Learn the language your customers use

Too many brands and products are hindered by the language that is used to describe it. We often find that customers use a very different vocabulary to the one that brands use. This can be very difficult to explore and understand using traditional methods. It’s only in an online research community can you analyse and draw insight from the language people use. And then you can ask them why they use this language and not the one that you do. Perhaps the most powerful finding from one of our online research communities this year was that a global telecoms firm was talking about its product in a way none of it’s customers understood.

5. Find answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask

Traditional market research offers great ways to find answers to questions. It’s less good at getting answers to those questions you never thought to ask in the first place. By building a community of customers and then using this for research and insight you will generate organic discussions and debates alongside any activities you run. These discussions will let you understand what your customers talk to each other about, what they really think about your product and how they really talk about. You will be able to see what matters to them most and what they think about it. And most importantly they will ask questions. A well managed online community will see community members generating ideas and debates with each other. If you are using this community for research then you will be able to benefit from these questions, and the answers others give. You’ll know the answer to things that are important to your customers, but that you probably never thought to ask

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Five things your brand should ask about social media in 2009

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For the third in our series of Five things to do in 2009, we are going to look at five things your brand should ask about social media in 2009. During 2008 we have seen a rapid rise in both the volume and the sophistication of how some brands are using social media. In 2009 we expect to see much more of this, with brand learning from examples of good practice and with more innovation in this area.

If you’re thinking about using social media or just interested in what it could do for your brand, here are five questions you should be asking yourself in 2009. In fact, if you’ve got some free time over the next couple of  days why not ask yourself them early and steal a march on the competition.

1. Where are people talking about our brand already?

Even if you’re not actively using any social media yourselves, your customers almost certainly are. The first step any brand should take when thinking about social media is to see how customers are talking about you right now. Who is talking and what are they saying? And are these the kind of people and the kind of discussions that you think of when you think about your brand online? It is likely that the answer to these questions is no. Not because they are the wrong people, or because they are saying the wrong things. Just because real people on the web talk about things in different ways to the way the brand does. Knowing, who is talking about you, where and how they are discussing you can be a real education and should be the first step to anybody new to social media.

2. What social media are our competitors using? What’s best practice in the industry?

It can be very difficult to think of the best use you might make of social media from scratch. Indeed, many people take their inspiration from the likes of Facebook. A better approach is to look at what your competitors are doing and what best practice in your industry might be. Look at your competitor websites, and at other sites they might be sponsoring to see what they are doing and, perhaps more importantly, what of this is working and what isn’t. An informative approach can be to look in the forums to find threads where people are talking about their experience of using the site - what do actual users like (and dislike) about competitor sites, and what can you learn from this.

3. What channels do your customers use to interact with you at the moment?

Do you take a lot of calls from customers with questions or queries? Do you have well-used email forms? Do people come to the workplace and talk to you direct? Look at these channels and then investigate what people ask or talk to you about. Are you answering lots of the same questions? Do you have queries you just can’t answer? Are you using lots of internal resource interacting with customers in this way? Most brands will find that a good use of social media can help to channel their interactions with some customers or with all customers on some issues. If you analyse and understand these interactions, you can start to plan better how to use social media to better engage with the people who matter most to you.

4. What tools have you tried yourself?

It’s difficult to understand how social media tools work if you haven’t tried them for yourself. Have you shared photos online? Do you follow people on Twitter? Have you ever contributed to a forum or commented on a video. Think about what use you have made of social media and how you have contributed your own content to the web using these tools. Maybe try one or two - join a forum discussion, comment on somebody’s photo on Flickr, or maybe follow somebody on Twitter (if you don’t know anybody feel free to start with me). You will start to understand what it feels like to use social media tools and then will be in a better position to think about which are right for your customer.

5. What business aim will this contribute to?

Brands should only be using social media where it contributes to a specific business aim, now more than ever. This might be a very hard aim (I want to increase sales through our e-commerce platform by x, or I want to gather data on y customers) or it might be a softer one (I want to generate more ideas for the business, or I want to treat all our customers like they are the really special ones). Only when your use of social media is tied to a specific aim will you be able to get it right and make it measurable. Start with a large piece of paper on which you write all of your businesses objectives and for each one brainstorm ways in which social media might help. This piece of paper should serve as the blueprint for taking your ideas forward, testing and developing them and then starting to use social media in a sensible, targeted way.

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  • Are customers the true BFF’s?
  • Don’t Rush Into Social Media
  • How Can We Keep the Passionate Community Without the Risk?
  • Social media brings new risks for companies and employees…
  • If You Remove the Social from Social Media Tools …

Five things that probably won’t happen in social media in 2009

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For the second in our Five Things to Do in 2009 series, I wanted to turn on it’s head the usual round of predictions that we usually see at this time of year. Rather than make predictions about things that will happen in 2009, I’m going to do the opposite, so find below our Five things that probably won’t happen in social media in 2009.

1. We probably won’t see the rise of mobile social media

For many years, people have been predicting the rise of the mobile web, and this year is no different. Evidence from the UK suggests that growth in Internet penetration is indeed being driven, in part, by an increase in mobile internet access. But this increase is being driven only by those who are already online and by a very small proportion of these. For social media to truly go mobile we need widespread acceptance of mobile internet. And this has not yet happened. Perhaps a rise in fully internet-enabled mobile devices in 2009 (such as the iPhone and BlackBerry) will set the scene for truly mobile social media in 2010 or beyond. But until then it will continue to just be a relatively small trend for a relatively small proportion of users.

2. We won’t see widespread acceptance of portable profiles

A significant development in social networks and online communities will be portable profiles; where people can take their profile (and their friends) with them to all of their online communities. This is exciting technology as it reflects the way we behave in society - we have a core group of friends that we carry with us wherever we go. But in 2009, I don’t think that we will see widespread acceptance of this. We’ll see an emergence of a number of technologies and profiles and people experimenting with each of these, but until one of these reaches widespread acceptance and use we won’t realise the benefits that portable profiles can bring. This is a shame.

3. We won’t all be searching semantically

There’s been much talk of the semantic web for a while now, and semantic search would be a great step forward. But the technology that exists isn’t yet mass market, and this probably isn’t going to change in 2009.

4. We won’t see as many new social media tools as in 2008

2008 has been a great year for innovation and experimentation. It seems that new social media tools have been launched every day. Some have been successful, others less so. Rather than seeing another year where so many new tools are developed, we think 2009 will be a year of consolidation. Successful tools will become more so and we will all learn what tools users want and how to help make their online experience better. So fewer new tools, but better and more useful tools overall.

5. We won’t crack social media ROI (just yet)

We’ve spoken a lot in 2008 about measuring ROI in online communities and across social media. It’s something that has been discussed at every conference I’ve attended or spoken at and something that many people have been writing about. Lots of discussion but very few definitive ideas on how to measure ROI. At FreshNetworks, we believe that it’s important to measure the impact of the use of ROI - if you build an online community make sure it is designed to contribute to specific business aims and then measure this imapct. So measuring ROI is seeing a lot of ideas and a lot of different approaches. But it’s a difficult one to crack, and needs us to change our view of what social media marketing is and where it contributes before we can develop a real ROI model. Perhaps we’ll make great progress in 2009 but a true ROI model will probably have to wait for 2010.

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  • The Mobile Internet Market
  • What’s Next After Web 2.0
  • Semantic Web ~ Web 3.0

Five blogs you should read in 2009

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I’ve just finished my gift shopping, have two more days at work and am halfway through the various parties in my diary. There are just five days left until Christmas, and one of the longest breaks from work I’ve taken this year. I probably won’t be posting between Christmas and New Year and so wanted to use the last five posts of 2008 to highlight Five Things to Do in 2009 (actually five lots of five things so 25 in total!)

Today I’m starting with Five blogs you should read in 2009. Blogs that I’ve enjoyed and learnt from in 2008 and that I think everybody in social media or online communities should be reading in 2009.

1. FeverBee

I’ve become a big admirer of Richard Millington’s work this year. He helps companies with their online community strategy and his blog, FeverBee, contains ideas for how to build online communities. He generated a lot of interest in early December 2008 with his Online Community Building Manifesto, which highlights his belief that the non-technical aspect of growing and building an online community is important to focus on. And this is exactly what he does in his blog.

2. Ignite Social Media

The blog from Ignite Social Media is a great source of information and examples of use of social media by brands. I love it as a source of examples and ideas to use when talking to clients and to keep up-to-date on what brands are doing with social media.

3. Social media (re)loaded

I’ve studied languages for much of my life and have lived in both France and Russia. So I have a lot of respect for anybody who blogs in a foreign language, and enjoy reading the different perspective on the market that you get from other countries. ‘ English-language blog is a good source of information, interviews and debate on social media, coming from a European perspective.

4. ThreeMinds

The blog from Organic has been a respected source of information on digital marketing for a number of years now, and is a good source of information on trends in the market. Their Weekly Digest is a particularly valuable read and a quick and easy source of information on things you might have missed each week.

5. FutureLab

The only ‘aggregator’ blog on the list, and I should admit that some of my posts contribute to this blog, but the team at FutureLab select and then publish what they consider to be the best posts in marketing and strategy from around the web on their Marketing & Strategy Innovation blog. The end result is an interesting and informative digest of what people across different industries think and know, and it serves as a good route in to discovering new blogs.

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