Leading brands are changing the way social media is working for them. No longer content just to let Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al be a platform for conversations about them, they are waking up to the realisation that they are the host of those conversations in social spaces within their own websites – and that this can have enormous and wide-ranging benefits.
A couple of years ago the demise of the corporate website was widely predicted as social media and networks expanded exponentially, but now leading brands are re-inventing not only their websites but re-positioning and re-inventing themselves and their proposition.
How are they doing this? They are creating social platforms – online communities – that enable customers and supporters to engage in ways that their online experience differentiates them from the way they engage with their competitors.
They are creating content that tries to engage a ‘community’ of customers to make decisions about how a programme of content works, how its features operate and how the products can ‘feedback’ to benefit customers.
And the outcome…? It turns those customers more and more into supporters and endorsers.
Image source: bit.ly/12s5acD
If you want to see how this works take a look at the websites of financial services brands like Barclaycard Ring or Commonwealth Bank, the mobile provider
, cosmetics giant Sephora or even top brands in the charities sector like Amnesty International, British Heart Foundation, Breast Cancer Care or the teacher recruiter Teach First.
These brands are all trying to do something radical to change their customers’ perception of them – and the creation of increasingly ‘trusted’ content is the key to the way those customers are being engaged on their own websites to move their business and campaigns forward. They have realised that ‘peer-to-peer’ customer experience can not only enhance brand proposition but also be a game-changing platform for brands to differentiate themselves from competitors.
The risks? As with all customer and stakeholder engagement there are reputational risks in management of a community – after all, communities have a quality that is unpredictable but organic – but properly managed communities can create a level of engagement that encourages customers not only to exhibit good online social behavior but fundamentally changes the relationship of customer to brand.
But it’s not just the management of a community that determines this – it’s the technical architecture of it too. And that means making sure that the aims of the community are specific, transparent and objective at the point of commissioning the design and build – so if you are thinking of going down this road, make sure you choose a web-design company that takes you through an open and thorough ‘discovery phase’ – where all your aims, objectives and issues are thoroughly bottomed out.
The architecture around which a community is hosted is absolutely crucial to its birth, growth and development – there’s no point trying to put a ‘nursery school’ inside a ‘factory building’ and hope that a community of nursery children will thrive in that setting. They won’t – however good your management of them is.
Brands are also coming to understand how online community forums can also make a massive impact on their ‘search’ visibility. If their own websites provide a place – indeed a social space – to create fresh content to engage customers, just think how much more that can increase across managed and ‘curated’ conversations across other networks.
So, not only are brands using online communities as a way of engaging customers, they are massively increasing their chances of being discovered through relevant search terms on Google, which thrives on fresh content.
But don’t think the value is just in terms of search engine optimization – brands are using their own online communities and social networks to make their business more dynamic to customers and supporters, more transparent, more responsive to content creativity – and all of this is changing their relationship to their customers. They are no longer just seen as transactional customers – but become supporters… endorsers… and advocates.
Social is serious business.