Friday, 31 October 2008

Social Media part 8

Energising the customer

Using Social Media, according to Groundswell, we move on from listening and talking to energising. Here are some definitions of energising:
  1. The activity of causing to have energy and be active
  2. Supplying motive force
  3. Charging of the body and soul with energy.

Fundamentally we're talking about creating energy in something or (as in our case) someone. Although the above definitions don't say so, the implication is that this is a positive thing. So the idea is to somehow create positive energy in the people we want to communicate with, ideally so that they use this energy on our behalf, but at the very least so that they feel more positively about us.

One of the best examples of energising people is the idea of being a fan. Fans join fan clubs, they talk endlessly about their craze with other fans - and whoever else will listen. They contribute towards the growth of the fan community. You don't need to look far to see this effect: Harry Potter fans, football fans, train spotters, and so on. If you have something that already attracts fans, you have a platform to build upon. But what if you don't? What if what you do is fairly prosaic? Can you develop fans around your product or service? Well this is obviously harder than building on an existing fan base, but the answer is yes, of course. In previous posts I have mentioned the example of Blendtec blenders. Now they didn't set out to develop fans so much as to market their product, but by hitting on the "extreme blending" idea and developing videos showing things as diverse as iPods and crowbars being chewed up in their product, they have indeed developed a following.

So there are two aspects to energising: the first is building up a base if you haven't already got one; and the second is building that base once you have.

Building a base

Actually the last two posts deal with this because a side effect of listening and talking (if done effectively) is that those with whom you communicate will develop and affinity with you, and maybe even loyalty. The Being Girl example I write about on my last post shows this very vividly. Proctor and Gamble wanted to market their feminine healthcare products, but they knew that a direct approach probably would not work well. So they developed a mechanism that added value for the intended audience, and which served a genuine need within that audience. By doing this sensitively and positively, they simultaneously developed a trust relationship with their audience. In short, the girls who signed up to Being Girl became fans - not of Proctor and Gamble or of their products per se, but of the brand.

So the Social Media tools I have written about so far can be used to help build your "fan base" - not as an end in itself, but as a side effect of offering them something they genuinely value. For the type of organisation I'm interested in - public sector bodies like councils - this can be as simple as being accessible and honest. Seems simple, doesn't it? Well here's a real life example of how we typically get it wrong. On my way to work one morning recently I heard an item on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about getting drug therapy for cancer sufferers. According to Macmillan Cancer Support the accessibility of the appeal process to get NHS funding for cancer drugs amounts to a "postcode lottery", lacking consistency in the way decisions are made. A sufferer who was interviewed described the "process" she had been subjected to by her local Primary Care Trust (PCT) as confusing, intimidating and inaccessible. She said that if it hadn't been for the help of charities like Macmillan she would never have been able to find out how to appeal. And her description of the process once she had made her appeal was a horrific picture of an uncaring, impersonal organisation. It wasn't so much that the outcome was negative, as that the way in which it had been arrived at and communicated to her was neither transparent nor in any way caring. I'm sure you can think of lots of examples of your own. Now I'm not saying that all PCTs act like this, but the problem is that there is enough inconsistency and poor practice to colour our picture of the service as a whole - we humans are much better at picking out the bad things than the good.

So: make the Social Media tools you use accessible, and in your dealings with the people you encounter through them, be honest, genuinely interested, and caring. Sometimes you won't be able to give the exact service they want, but if the result has been communicated in the right manner and there is good, transparent information about it, you can still end up with a customer who feels valued and connected - and who therefore just might come back and who might speak positively of you to people they know.

Building the base

The difference between "a" and "the" here is important. Here we are talking about an existing base and building it up so that the people within it are energised. Energised customers will praise you and will help develop your brand and image. Instead of telling stories about uncaring PCTs, they will tell how the organisation is helpful. They will make recommendations.

To some extent this doesn't need Social Media at all - they will use their own networks, whatever they might be. But if you can provide tools that make this easy for them, and which are possibly rewarding and enjoyable, this will help energise them. One of the most rewarding things is to be able to share your experiences and know that they are listened to positively. So a Social Media tool that enables this to happen could be very valuable. Here's an example. Do you like filling in surveys? Most of us, if we are honest, quite like to because it's a way of expressing our views - and here is someone actually wanting to hear them. But they can be tedious and time consuming. And what about the privacy issues: will the survey company pass on your details? And the subject matter might not be of interest.

What if a survey company gave you a small reward for each survey you completed: say 50p. But you don't get the money until you've reached a certain threshold, say £50. And some surveys don't give the money but enter you in a prize draw. And the survey site has an opinions section so you can feedback on their surveys and influence the types of survey they do in future. And there is a discussion forum so you can contribute to current items that interest you. Now there are already lots of survey companies (Mori, etc.) and many of them have developed web based services - some even with loyalty schemes (Harris, etc.). But the UK's YouGov has gone further because it links the survey process with a range of Social Media tools including discussion panel / feedback, blog and commentaries by leading voices such as John Humphrys (with the ability to feedback comment) - in other words they've built a community around their vision of surveys with people being "members" of the "survey panel". Thus not only are people energised to take part in YouGov surveys, but they spend time commenting on the world around them and on the site itself (thus helping YouGov build its service), and on spreading the word to others (as I am doing here!).

So having written about what energising is, coming next: Energising tools

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