I was recently intrigued by a blog post from a notable social media monitoring company. The post was about the rationale for brand engagement and the issues related to responding to online brand mentions. As I understood it, one of the main assumptions was that consumers only wish to speak to other consumers online about their respective brand experiences.
I agree that monitoring online brand discussion is important, I’m not sure that consumers only care to discuss their brand expriences with other like-minded consumers. Let’s remember that there is a variety of places that consumers congregate such as corporate sites like www.fordforums.com, enthusiast sites like www.truckforums.com or forums where the common ground is issue-based such as www.cholesterolnetwork.com .
Forums in particular are consumer communities that are formed on an ‘opt in’ basis by people who share a particular interest in an issue (re. high cholesterol), how to manage a process such as product usage or looking for a product such as shopping for a new vehicle. Forums are typically moderated by an individual who acts as gatekeeper to the conversation in order to ensure flow, continuity and balanced participation from the forum members. You usually have to register to become a member of a forum, so as to ensure legitimacy and authentication of participants and to keep out undesirables such as those who like to engage in ‘brand bashing’.
Which takes us back to some of the rules of engagement: Forum participants, whether they are brand loyalists, detractors, lapsed customers or dissatisfied consumers, do welcome participation by outside agents. This is especially true when consumers are trying to resolve a complaint or source product. I remember one forum in which an automotive brand was being discussed and there was an interest in a specific exterior finish. My client, once having been permitted to participate in the forum, clarified which colors were indeed available. Forum members subsequently commented on how nice it was for a manufacturer to take the time to participate and inform – a nice change from the usual ‘corporate speak’ communications.
There are many opportunities on the Internet for brands and consumers to have discussions and to co-exist. Though a brand mention is an indication of awareness, it’s not a request for response. On the other hand, where there are clear stated interests in products and the problems they might solve, the door is wide open for a healthy B2C2C conversation.
– Ted Morris