Younomy: With social media, brands can technically get customer information at a granular level. So much so that it gets down to the level of “individual”. Technically, brands can engage with individual customers, but do you think they (especially, bigger brands) can engage with “individuals”?
Ric: I definitely think they can. Now, with that said, there are a lot of different categories, countless brands, and a world of challenges that are different for each. From a customer care standpoint, there are brands that make a point of answering each and every mention of their brand. Discover Card is a great example, there. Other brands are focused on pushing content out to their audience segments, but never respond. While we "social media experts" might tsk-tsk those brands, some are successful - although they tend to be what I call "love brands" - those brands that have extremely high customer loyalty, such as Harley or Red Bull.
Younomy: You talk of co-creation of value. Generally co-creation is associated with social media (and vice versa). Why?
Ric: C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy wrote their book on co-creation back in 2004 - before social media was really taking off - yet they described the scenario in which customers and brands were going to work together to create value - then, boom! Social media came about, and it was a natural fit. Later, those same authors saw the connection, and wrote extensively about it in HBR - so naturally, its executives have been exposed to the concept early on.
We've also had some great case studies of co-creation through social - like the My Starbucks Idea, which generated some product enhancements that were successful. When brands open up the conversation so that customers' voices can be heard, they often get both the value of the innovation, and the good will created by listening.
Younomy: Engagement is one thing, and engagement by design is another. How do brands make engagement-by-design happen to trigger more word-of-mouth or voice-of-customer?
Ric: I think the focus shouldn't be on creating more WOM - that's a nice benefit - but if brands are focused on engaging in order to create customer value - fulfilling customers needs whether those needs are explicit or hidden - they'll receive the WOM and voice-of-customer.
But, there's the answer - focus on customer value. We have the precedent in the Lean Manufacturing revolution in which everything we do much create value for the customer, otherwise it's waste. We also need to have a deep understanding of psychology. Humans have a strong need to be acknowledged - to be heard. Just this morning, a co-worker tweeted out to Amtrak that the QR code on their tickets didn't work. Immediately, an Amtrak community manager responded - turns out the QR code is just for the train conductor - not for customers. Kind of stupid, and a little annoying - and yet the person forgave Amtrak because they responded quickly.
Younomy: You have been an advocate of processes. How different is social-media-as-a-project and social-media-as-a-process?
Ric: Well, a project infers a closed system - we're setting out to do something, like build a house. At some point, we'll finish building the house, and we'll move on to the next project. You might very well have projects within your social media, but they're likely to be small parts of a larger process.
The Agile programming concept of sprints can be very useful here. If you can break down your efforts into small time-periods, you can iterate quickly - or to adopt the contemporary mantra, "fail quickly" - and move on to the next iteration. The technology and even cultural aspects of this is all changing so quickly - every day is a rush of new information.
With that said, it's extremely valuable to use project management in your work - particularly in strategy building. There are tasks that should be done that are dependent on other tasks, all culminating in the strategic plan arriving to its execution. But even there, from an execution viewpoint, you might look to John Boyd's ideas of OODA Loops (Observe, orient, decide, act) - so that while the overall desired outcomes are in view, how you arrive there may need to change at any given moment.
Younomy: Your thoughts on how companies can use information about the likes, shares, comments and many other social activities for customer/market segmentation?
Ric: All of this information is incredibly valuable. You have to be a bit of an ethnographer and observe what's going on, and then a psychologist to interpret the meaning of the various actions. Then you will want to do a backwards look at the participants, and any demographic, psychographic, or behavioral patterns that can be sussed-out from the data available.
Every industry is different - whether you're in B2B or CPG's - how you can use this data, or whether there is sufficient data - is going to be different. And then, you have to apply a marketer's insights into the meaning of the data. For instance, you might have a non-traditional micro-segment becoming excited about certain things - yet it's an aspirational audience -and thus you don't necessarily want to address them head on. Marketers have to become hyper aware of the information they have and sometimes use it in ways that are not apparent to the audience. Target's use of big data is a great example. You might know that a customer is pregnant - yet you must sandwich the baby products ads between lawn care products, so that the customer doesn't know they're being understood so well!
Younomy: You talk of customers projecting their personality on brands. How social media enables this?
Ric: Yes - we know that people DO project personality onto brands. If the project is off-course for you, you'd want to try to modify how you're being perceived. In social - particularly in those flavors of social where a brand is truly engaging with customers (as opposed to just broadcasting) - every utterance can have a voice. Are you friendly? Are you cold? Are you intelligent?
It requires a great deal of discipline - understanding and training of community managers - to have a consistent brand personality and voice. At the end of the day, though, it can build on itself and be a powerful component of branding. In branding - we need that consistency. If one day you're off-voice, it can destroy a lot of work!