When I was the editor of a small daily newspaper in Massachusetts, we had monthly reader advisory board meetings.
A dozen or so readers -- picked carefully by our team based on demographics and engagement with the newspaper -- literally came to our office, and I greeted each one at the door. We had a targeted agenda, maintained a lively discussion and produced action items.
The result? Story ideas for my staff, rotating columns in our editorial section by advisory board members and some brand recognition in our four small communities.
Why Not Face to Face Interaction?
Sadly, I think these customer-engagement tactics are all but gone.
I’ve got proof: in two major marketing conferences out of Boston I’ve attended, where customer engagement was a hot topic, not one session suggested doing something like my advisory board.
My question today is why not?
Social media metrics, online customer habits, web conversions, web traffic, online shopping cart patterns. I get it. These have value.
But it seems we’re forgetting about the value in actual communication -- real-time, insightful, coffee-and-bagel-in-a-room kinda conversation. Of course we’re not suggesting an IBM executive fly in customers from around the world, greet them in the Armonk, N.Y. headquarters lobby and bring them to a conference room for some coffee.
It costs money.
And we’re certainly not suggesting IBM ditch its social media and web analytics marketing strategies in favor of a monthly conference call with a dozen influential customers.
Finding Value in Real Interaction
But would it hurt to add something like we did at my newspaper to your marketing repertoire -- even if it’s not face-to-face?
What would you rather have? Analysis from an hour’s worth of customer behavior on social media or results from an hour-long call with key customers and influencers? While each can have tremendous value, for immediate results and potential actions, I’m taking the latter.
from Cartoonresource (Shutterstock)
Because after all, no matter how large your audience reach is via Facebook or Twitter, and no matter how many cool graphs for fan interaction on social media you can produce to the board of directors, let’s admit one thing: organizations still today struggle with impressing CEOs with bottom-line, real ROI results in social media marketing.
Even a vendor said this at one of the conferences last month.
Are Online Communities the Answer?
Maybe the answer lies within using a bit of each method: through online communities. Develop a real action plan for an online community, identify influential industry folks and current customers, gather them into your community and get some real, actionable engagement going.
Now we’ve got a social-media type of deployment but with pre-selected key brand influencers (like my reader advisory board back at the newspaper).
Organizations can create a “targeted online community for potential clients vs. just going out there” and fishing for one on social media by “listening to the buzz,” said Andrea Goldberg, president of Digital Culture Consulting. “And it’s not a survey -- you’re actually recruiting for your community and using all the features you would in social media.”
Videos, chatting, feedback, correspondence. Answering real customer concerns, gaining actionable insights from customers. Just like I did in those reader advisory meetings -- only in a virtual, large-scale setting without the bagels and coffee.
“You can see what people are saying to each other,” Goldberg said.
Social Media Advantages
Neither Goldberg nor I are saying it’s time to toss social media marketing overboard. In fact, there are some things marketers will gain that I never could in that reader advisory board meeting.
And Dag Holmboe will be the first to tell you this. Holmboe, the CEO and founder of Klurig Analytics, said marketers can gain plenty of valuable data via social media analytics, more so than they ever would with “10 guys in a room.”
With automated, real-time analytics on social media pages, marketers can “go in any time," get customer insights and make quick business decisions.
Holmboe said he sees social media analytics in many stages, including:
- Counting the number of fans and followers
- Determining the engagement of those followers -- do they talk to you? What are they saying? Do they buy anything?
- Using keyword analysis, sentiment and emotional analysis and geographical analysis
Fan of social media analytics as he is, Holmboe said if marketers can combine that with things like conference calls and online communities, that can make you a multiple-threat.
“Sitting down and talking with a set of deeply engaged customers is invaluable as well,” Holmboe said. “Then you can get more in-depth if you take that and use that as evidence along with your evidence from social media and then make the best business decisions. You need all of it.”
Have Your Marketing Cake, Too
We didn’t have it all back at my newspaper. Facebook engagement? Zuckerberg was barely out of Harvard back then.
But if I had that reader advisory board group today, imagine the possibilities -- taking actionable insights from that meeting and deploying them on the newspaper’s social media platform?
I’d call that a marketing cake you can eat, too.
Opening image courtesy of iQoncept (Shutterstock)