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« Why do people participate in social applications? | Main | Insider story: how we built Groundswell to your specifications »

April 10, 2008

Marketing News column: Are Your Customers Ready For Social Applications?

by Josh Bernoff

Marketing_news_2Concurrent with the release of Groundswell, I've begun writing a column in Marketing News, the magazine of the American Marketing Association. I'll share these columns with you as a regular blog feature.

Here's the column from the April 1 issue. If you're reading Groundswell, you'll recognize these three people from Chapter 3.

Are Your Customers Ready For Social Applications?

As I take over this column from my colleague Brian Kardon, I thought I’d start by challenging you with a question I ask all the marketers we work with at Forrester Research: do you know what your customers are doing? Do you know whether they’re active with social applications? How active?

Most marketers I speak with don’t know. And that’s partly because the question is pretty complicated.

Eric_kingsley_7 I recently saw a vivid application of this as I investigated how the Lego company markets its products to adults. Lego makes most of its sales to kids, but Tormod Askildsen, a senior executive there, recently told me he estimates that 5% to 10% of the company’s sales go to adults – the so-called AFOLs, or adult fans of Legos. AFOLs have a thriving online community going at LUGNET.com (that’s the Lego User Group Network).

I recently met three of these AFOLs at a model train show, where they were showing off an incredible Lego town and train model they had created. And as I interviewed them, I could see in microcosm how their participation reflects the varied elements that make up social media.

Joe_comeau_3 Eric Kingsley was the most active of all the AFOLs I met on social networks. He posts frequently and uploads photos to LUGNET and maintains three Web sites, two of which are dedicated exclusively to Lego. He’s a major force in the Lego community.

Joe Comeau, another AFOL, buys $4,000 of Lego a year. But his online contribution tends more toward reacting to the contributions of others, in forums, for example. “When someone comes up with a new idea, you build upon it,” he told me. “Before you know it, you are building at a level far surpassing what you ever thought of.”

Linda_dallas_plus_centerpiece Linda Dallas, a quiet woman who recently married another member of the local group (their centerpieces were Legos), reads the online postings and forums avidly, but rarely makes contributions of her own.

If you were Tormod Askildsen, you would need to pay attention to all three of these types of customers. In every communication, you need to think not just of the Eric Kingsleys, who will take your messages and spread them far and wide, but to the Joe Comeaus who will react to those messages, and the Linda Dallases, who will read and be influenced by them.

Let’s take a look at what this means in your world.

In the United States, as of about 6 months ago, 56% of all online consumers had participated in some sort of social application in the last month. (This comes from an online survey we conducted on social applications in 2007.) But this single number hides a complex set of behaviors.

Only 18% of those online consumers had actually gone to the trouble of publishing a blog or Web page, uploading video or music, or posting articles or stories online. We call these people (like Lego enthusiast Eric Kingsley) Creators, and this group – less than one out of five – are creating the content that drives the whole social phenomenon. 

But what makes the social world online is that people can participate in so many ways. Not every has to be a Creator. In the classification we use with our clients, 25% are Critics, reacting to content from others by commenting on blogs or online forums (like Joe Comeau), posting ratings or reviews, or editing wikis. Collectors, who organize the social content in by compiling content feeds (RSS), “tagging” content, and voting on sites like digg.com, make up 12%. People on social networks like Facebook – Joiners – include 25% of the online population. And nearly half – 48% – are Spectators at least reading or consuming some form of social content (like Linda Dallas). These groups all overlap, of course. 

Before building a social application, you’d better look into what your customers are doing. For example, when Chevy wanted to market its Aveo vehicle to college students, it wisely leveraged their participation in Facebook and MySpace, since a majority of college students are Joiners. It started with people – its customer base – and built a program that matched what those people were doing.

What are your customers doing? You could survey them, or you could make reasonable estimates based on their demographics – we’ve got a social profile calculator up at groundswell.forrester.com if you’d like to try it. But building social applications for your customers without knowing their profile is like mounting an expedition in strange country without a map – you may not end up where you were planning.

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Comments

Brick Marketing

Interesting article. Sooner or later - everyone will be using social applications so it can't quite hurt to get involved to SOME degree in the social media networks. However, it does heavily rely on your age demographics. If companies are involved in it now, they must definitely have a plan soon for it. Social media is not going anywhere!

Internet marketing tips

yes you are absolutely right, we have to be well planned before starting the online campaign. So we hope have the good results.

James

Indeed: Customers are more Ready For Social Applications
In fact:

When we refer to consumers, today, we must take note that there is a "new consumer"

THE NEW CONSUMERS ARE CHANGING THE OLD STATUS QUO:

Today, we speak of to the new socio-economic change and the new marketing's battle ground. 

The new socio-marketing objectives is to bring society and all its complications into the heart of organizations.

THE USER CENTRIC-APPROACH

The art of digital marketing or social media- humanizing the Web is brought to light by social and neuroscience and has quickly phased out the old mental models of advertising and marketing.

Consumers no longer decide in a linear think-feel-do way and behavior is guided by rational-only principles. Instead, memories, emotions, associations, and thoughts play a primary role in how individuals relate and ultimately engage with brands.

The future is about people:

The future of marketing has gone social. We will no longer market to audiences or targets, engaging people in conversations and implicating them in the brand is the future of marketing.

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