Tag Archives: consumer collaboration

Online communities help marketers stay in touch and build advocacy

Econsultancy examples of online research communities

Follow this link to a good blog post from Econsultancy on how Mercedes has set up two online communities to get closer to existing and prospective owners.  An increasing number of companies are doing this, recognizing that engaging with consumers in an informal, social online setting encourages spontaneous and open discussion,  yielding a truer picture of people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas than more “lab-like” techniques like focus groups and surveys.

You can find other examples of marketer-created communities in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s outstanding book Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and in Bob Gilbreath’s book, Marketing with Meaning.  I like how Bob describes them, which I think is at the heart of why they allow for richer insights than more traditional research …

“… these communities are inhabited by anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand members; the topics are free-flowing and the discussions self-generated, allowing members to feel as if they own and run the community.”

The result is that you obtain perspectives and insights based on what consumers feel is important rather than merely what the marketer is trying to find out.  Community members also feel recognized and appreciate the fact that the company is really listening, which helps to drive brand advocacy.

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General Mills goes social

Here’s the killer chart…


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During the launch of the Fiber One Bar, General Mills could see a nearly exact correlation between weekly online postings and volume.  As Mark Roddicks, General Mills’ CMO, points out in his inspiring presentation General Mills Goes Social, it’s the kind of chart you can take to management to prove the value of consumer participation in the development and launch of products through social media tools.

General Mills has a stable of well-known, iconic food brands, including such favorites as Pillsbury, Cheerios, Green Giant and that venerable but ageless queen of the kitchen, Betty Crocker.  Back in the 40’s, the Betty Crocker brand received up to 3,000 letters a day from passionate homemakers.  Social communities built around brands have existed for decades.  Only now, thanks to today’s online social tools, General Mills can leverage the power and passion of those communities in unprecedented ways.

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Here’s just a few examples of how General Mills is “going social,” because, as Addicks says, the company has only recently started on this journey and continues to learn as they go.

General Mills regularly gets new products into the hands, and kitchens, of engaged consumers before they launch.  The company uses social media tools to encourage those consumers to talk about the product, share experiences and feed back opinions and suggestions.  Not all the feedback is positive, but that’s how the company learns.

Two tools they use for this are My Block Spark and Pssst…, which invite connected consumers and bloggers to participate and provide them with platforms to share and provide feedback.

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By leveraging communities in this way, General Mills builds early awareness and involvement among influencers, which facilitates fast word of mouth when the product actually launches.  Progresso Broth was launched through the Pssst… community with almost no support from traditional media.

One way General Mills gets the conversation going is by saying to consumers, here’s why we created this product, here’s how we think it works, tell us what you think.  Feedback can be in different forms, including video, and the ensuing dialogue provides rich insights for the product developers and food experts.

General Mills brands also support a number of causes.  The effectiveness of these programs has been enhanced through web 2.0 tools put in consumers’ hands.  The Yoplait “Save Lids to Save Lives” initiative in support of  Susan G. Komen for the cure saw participation increase by nearly 50% when women were provided with online tools to set up their own teams behind the program.

Addicks understands that going social with consumers with this degree of transparency can seem pretty radical to C-suite members who are used to a traditional tell and sell approach.  One way he suggests to get started is within the company itself.  One of the first things General Mills did was to create a common portal inside the organization, which enabled employees to form communities, discussion groups and interactive best practices.  This helped senior management understand the power of becoming social by demonstrating the power of the organization to help itself through these kind of tools.

Inspiring stuff.  You can see the presentation deck, as well as a video of Addicks presenting it, at the Business Building Blog.

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