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Viral marketing, social networking and Web 2.0

Aug. 7, 2009

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In the last year, overall commercial interest in viral marketing, branded online communities, Web 2.0 and social networking sites was rather disappointing to say the least. Many e-commerce marketers and eTailers that have tried them came out losing and are now asking: "is there a better way?" Well, there could be, so let's review this.

In the last few months, we've noticed that a growing number of consumer brands are now adapting their existing sites into online communities that incorporate interactive features and this seems to be a trend that is accelerating to a certain degree.

It could be that the future success of the e-commerce industry depends to some degree on marketer's abilities in creating their own online 'peer' communities. Today's economic downturn is placing some pressure on advertisers to minimize marketing dollars while maximizing their online sales, and of course, competition is increasing and will continue to do so.

What these online peer communities need are better tools to monitor social media and to effectively provide data analysis to identify new and emerging trends and to better understand overall consumer sentiment.

What's more, user input into the selection process provides some assessment of market demand once a new product or service becomes available online. Some advertisers have enjoyed a certain degree of success in this area, engaging their online communities in a way that they become an additional voice into the product development lifecycle.

Here, the old and tested community blog still works, but could be starting to wane a bit.

One of the main benefits of branded online communities relates to the idea of dealing with potentially new customers as codevelopers-- partners if you will. With the advent of social networking, companies can further automate and expand their efforts to involve customers in the innovation process.

For example, last year, Verizon Wireless launched an online branded community to facilitate conversation and support the specific needs of its Enterprise Mobility Systems users. The customer user groups included the Trunked User Group and the Mobile Data User Group.

These two user groups previously came together once or twice a year in face-to-face meetings to discuss issues related to their mobile communications systems.

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Once the meetings concluded, the issues tended to go into a black hole, simply because it was difficult to sustain the conversation and facilitate the necessary follow-up.

To help solve the problem, Verizon Wireless devised a sort of report card to better track issues and to demonstrate that some kind of action was taken. The issue was communicating the real results of such efforts.

Verizon Wireless was using an internal analytical tool that wasn't doing so good. It was designed mostly for purchasing, not for social networking. What it needed was a simple but efficient platform where both customers and Verizon Wireless itself could effectively communicate outside of its face-to-face meetings.

Verizon Wireless' platform has about 1,120 active customers so far, and has evolved into a long-term solution that serves as a virtual home outside of user group meetings. That branded online community has already exceeded expectations in terms of benefits, and the company appears satisfied with the results produced so far.

The platform also facilitates user-to-user idea sharing and ensures a better and 'real-time' two-way communication channel.

Source: B2B News.org.

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