Corporate Blogging Survey 2005

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July 26, 2005

Influencing Customer Blogging Communities By Requesting Customer Feedback

I am in the process of attempting to understand the benefits of marketing to customer blogging communities to a company, to me a customer community exists where customers have the ability to interact and self publish content in reaction requests for comments from companies and fellow customers as well as publish content in general. Forums provide customers with self publishing communities and blogs also give customers the ability to self publish and if they develop a community through blog relations give customers the ability to develop customer blogging communities.

I recently read the following article, "The power of personalization: Customer collaboration and virtual communities," Petra Schubert, Institute for business economics university of applied sciences, Basel and Michael Koch, Technische Universitat Munchen, Institut Fur Informatik. While this paper is really focused on the power of personalization, I was interested to read about the advantages of building a long-term relationship with customers within the context of a customer community. I found this quote from the authors particularly interesting, "Personalization is not about grabbing information from the customer, using it to provide a personalized offer but it is rather concerned with building a long-term relationship between customer and online merchant where the electronic platform (web site) learns about the customer thus establishing trust and better catering to the customer's individual needs."

Further, the authors stated e-commerce web sites can gain from designing effective personalization elements into a website, they said "Besides the incentive of forming a large customer base, the collection of customer feedback is an important aspect for the creation and maintenance of a community. Merchants can derive valuable marketing and service information from discussion among clients. They hear about factors of dissatisfaction, possibilities of improvement, comparisons with the competition, technical flaws, etc. The community might be a source of valuable information that manufacturers usually seek to obtain from expensive customer interviews. Business intelligence engines can be used to give more or less weight to various comments depending on their attributes.�

Schubert & Koch suggest expensive marketing research studies can be circumvented by using online customer communities to understand the needs and wants of customers by reading discussions amongst customers in a community. However, I ask how representative a particular positive or negative comment derived in such a way from a customer community will be?

In the corporate blogging survey we learned from many respondents that there were customer feedback benefits to be gained from a using a corporate blog strategy, in particular in the examples of Maytag, Microsoft and Macromedia customers willingly gave feedback to the respective companies. Is this feedback representative of a customer marketplace? And how does a company determine the size and representative nature of a customer online community when thinking about forums and blogs? In fact does it matter if the community feedback is representative? A small minority of individuals can hijack a community’s focus of attention; maybe what really matters is if a company can influence the current discussion to focus on their issues. If Macromedia by requesting feedback during its software development process focuses a community on its products, Macromedia will gain the benefits directly from improving the product and indirectly through its product development becoming the center of focus for a customer community. A company will have to focus on the top issues described by customers, but essentially a company has framed the agenda or topic for discussion within the community. Yes, a customer community will be discussing customer issues, but within the context of a company’s need to improve their products. In the blogging survey we discovered there were additional benefits to be derived from a company focusing on their customers ideas over and above a company’s thought leadership. We developed the crossing the cultural blogging economy model to provide a framework for companies to use in developing a strategy as to how a company can influence customer blogging communities by requesting customer feedback.

Stepping back for a moment and thinking about blogging content strategies in relation to public relations strategies, I compare and contrast the process of capturing the focus of a community in the Mass Media with the same process in online customer communities. Google recently announced its Google Earth satellite mapping search service, MSN has responded to the launch with its own version, called MSN Virtual Earth. The Google announcement has been dominating public conversations for the last few weeks. MSN’s announcement continues the debate and changes the focus to MSN’s technology, though there have been some issues for MSN with regards to the age of the satellite data and finding Apple’s current corporate headquarters.

I believe the same process occurs within an online blogging customer community, there is an opportunity for companies to focus a community’s attention on their products by requesting product feedback that captures a community’s imagination just as the Google and MSN Earth stories capture the headlines now.

Posted by johncass at July 26, 2005 12:18 PM

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Feedback determination through customer contacts is a powerful tool. Blogging can be a direct interactive link between the customer and the company and in many circumstances this is a positive plus regardless of the size of the community. However, indirect feedback through indirect blogs is even more powerful because it allows a customer to interact without knowing who's listening and without threat of identification and negative recourse. Good thoughts and I totally concur with your direction here.

Posted by: Tim Whelan at December 19, 2005 10:18 AM

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