Marketing News column: Are Your Customers Ready For Social Applications?
by Josh Bernoff
Concurrent 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.
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.
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, 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.
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
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.