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Tips From Ben McConnell on Harnessing Social Media

Posted by Bill Lee on April 11, 2007 at 07:48 AM

Since 2001, Ben McConnell has been researching the effects of word of mouth on customer loyalty. Forbes calls his work (along with partner Jackie Huba) in this field "the word of mouth gospel." In his newest book, Citizen Marketers, Ben and Jackie examine the social media explosion: the ever-growing communities of enthusiasts and evangelists using videos, photos, and animations, as well as the "user-generated media" of blogs, online bulletin boards, and podcasts.

And I'm happy to say that Ben will be keynoting at our Spring 2007 Customer Reference Forum on April 24. Here, he takes a few minutes to talk about the implications of citizen marketing for customer reference managers.

Q: The phenomenon of Citizen Marketers has sparked a number of great stories in the consumer and small business world -- as the little guy takes on and sometimes wins against the giant corporation. Where do you see the trend going in the stodgier world of B2B business?

A: The examples in the B2C world often involve customers taking the reins of participation and leading the way for others like themselves to get involved with a company or its products. They create pathways for conversations, which lead to alleys of influence and ultimately, the doorbells of
referrals. For people in the B2B world, the burgeoning world of social media -- participatory media -- can be a rich source of conversations between customer and company, customer and other customers, and customer and prospects. Social media also expose companies to the influence of customers'
opinions. Then it's a two-way street. Better be prepared for the traffic.

Q: If you're a marketing manager in a high tech firm, how would you map out
a strategy to find and engage the citizen marketers relevant to your firm?

A: First, build a listening strategy. That may be a big step for companies used to dictating the rules. Understand what's being said on blogs, forums and social media sites and by whom. Rank the opinion leaders and their ability to lead conversations. After that, decide whether your engagement strategy will be out in the open or more reserved like shuttle diplomacy. The answer probably depends on the size of the company, the number of prospects involved and the company's culture. About the only rule to engaging the citizen marketers is: Each one is different. Treat them like
guests in your home.

Q: If you're a customer reference manager (our group), should you try to
encourage your most enthusiastic references -- what Fred Reichheld calls
"promoters" -- to engage in some citizen marketing on your behalf?

A: Yes, but it's important to observe what's already being created in the marketplace by everyday citizens about your company, product or sector and build on top of that. By keeping close tabs on existing "creation trends" within your sector, you'll avoid the mistake of trying to push citizen
marketers down a contrived path that's unfamiliar to them.

Q: How do we marketers avoid the tendency we all have -- to control the
conversation?

A: By now, every marketer in the world has probably heard the admonition to
"give up control!" It's a scold, and it creates a natural resistance. I think the better frame to use is: "Create more ownership." Give the early adopters and the content creators -- the one percenters -- the keys and
tools to take ownership of your company, product or brand. The nature of their emotional investment increases their long-term commitment. A housing analogy works pretty well here: In your neighborhood, would you rather have your neighbors be renters or owners?

Reference Community Comments

I think the "voice of the customer" is so much stronger then people realize. I loved the answer to the first question, especially the simple view of "treat them like guests in your home." I recently heard an interview (http://mshare.net/news/mshare-news-04102008.html with the president of a customer survey company. He made similar comments about the power of the customer's voice - and how important it is to keep the customers you have. Thanks again for the insight.

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