Social media allows for an informal dialogue between companies and consumers. But perhaps the most interesting thing is what Forrester Research calls the ”Groundswell”. In essence, it’s about understanding how consumer masses are shaping both society and business – and how that force can be harnessed in marketing. One application of the Groundswell is crowdsourcing, where consumers are engaged in innovating, designing or even creating products and brands.
One key area of crowdsourcing is getting input, feedback, and suggestions from consumers on a large scale. When done in a planned manner, it can be very effective. In the UK, Walker’s got over 1,2 million suggestions when they asked people to come up with new flavors for their crisps. From a marketer’s perspective the value of that information cannot be measured in money – Walker’s had 1,2 million people telling them what kind of products they would like to buy!
On a similar note, NASA held a nation-wide student contest to name its next Mars rover. From over 9000 suggestions, the NASA panel chose the suggestion of a 12-year old, aptly naming the rover ”Curiosity”.
So there’s clearly a power in big crowds. But what if your company isn’t big enough to reach the attention of nine thousand people – let alone millions? And what if your budget isn’t big enought to run ads in every media to get everybody’s attention? Luckily, social media provides you with a very cost effective solution to reach your loyal customers and a fans.
Here’s four ways to start
ONE: Start Twittering
There is a huge potential in Twitter. Britney Spears, for example, has over 1,6 million people following her Twitter profile. If you think that Twitter is only for individuals, and not organisations,you need to check out the Social Brand Index. You’d be surprised how many companies, government organisations, NGOs and other organisations are twittering! Micro-blogging, as it is called, is a great way to invite people to give feedback and suggestions for just about anything. Just post a link to your survey on your Twitter profile and wait for hundreds or thousands of people to respond!
TWO: Find Fans on Facebook
There’s plenty of other social networking sites, but Facebook is perhaps the one best suited for consumer contacts. Facebook also provides companies with a possibility to engage in a dialog with consumers directly, something that previously might not have been possible. Such a case is Coca-Cola,which has almost 3,5 million people signed up as fans on Facebook. Imagine having those brand-loyal enthusiasts respond to a survey on new beverage flavors, for example. Even with a response rate of just 10%, it would amount to 350,000 responses!
But there’s more to Facebook than fan pages. If your company doesn’t have a fansite of its own, paid ads are a sure way to reach people. Via Facebook you are able to target users based on several factors, such as geographic location, age, gender, keywords. They keyword kan relate to just about anything, ranging from music taste to job title.
It’s really easy to get started with Facebook advertising. Just create an ad with a few clicks (and pay as low as $0.20 - $0.40 per ad click) and have people respond to your survey. Make sure you have an advanced survey tool, because that will eliminate the need for a separate campaign site –just make the survey look snazzy and have the clicks directed straight to the survey form.
THREE: Spread Virally by Social Bookmarks
Naturally, there is always the possibility for social bookmarking. If the survey is interesting enough, you can add it on services such as Digg, Technorati and Delicious for free. People actively browse for interesting topics on the aforementioned sites, and when they find an interesting topic, they’ll bookmark it. Then the friends of those people see the topic and bookmark it and quickly there’s an avalanche of people building up.
FOUR: Set up a community
There are several free solutions available that can be used to create online communities, such as Ning. Naturally, other commercial options are available as well.
Genelec, the manufacturer of award-winning audio monitors for professional and home use, recently set up its own community. It now has almost 800 active audiophiles talking and sharing stories about Genelec’s products. For a company that previously would have had little direct contact with its fans, having a community opens a whole new way to get feedback and engage the fans in an active dialogue. Here, too, structured surveys could bring valuable insight into the minds of people who like and buy professional audio equipment.
How to manage the information collected?
We’ve talked a lot about different ways to tap into huge crowds online. But connecting with almost the entire world is only step one. You’ve only passed the vital bottleneck of access, but you still have to deal with perhaps the most demanding part. That’s collecting and structuring the information people give you. Do you want people to send you e-mail, type their ideas in comment fields, or even send you snail mail? How do you think Walker’s would have managed if all 1,2 million product suggestions would have come in on the back of post cards?
A good way to do crowdsourcing easily is to use a survey tool. Firstly, it solves the problem of collecting data. Secondly, it helps you collect information in a structured and standardized way. Instead of having thousands of people pouring their hearts in free, unstructured way, you can have information gathered in different categories. You are also able to take a quantitative approach to surveys, which means that you have people rate different things on scales.
What kind of tool should you be using? For starters, be sure to use a standalone survey tool . It is not restricted to any specific platform, which means you can use it in any social media you like. A second criteria you should take into consideration is flexibility. You might want to invite respondents on your opt-in mailing list as well, so be sure to use a survey tool that manages the use of several channels – and is able to show the different channels on your reports.
Oh, and don’t forget – it might come in handy to have a survey tool that allows for exporting data into statistical software, such as SPSS and SAS. This allows for the serious number-crunchers of you to make just about any deep statistical analysis of the data set.
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