Restore community marketing. Used properly, social media is accelerating a trend in which buyers can increasingly approximate the experience of buying in their local, physical communities. For instance, when you contemplate a major purchase, such as a new roof, a flat screen TV, or a good surgeon, you're not likely to go looking for a salesperson to talk to, or to read through a bunch of corporate website content. Instead, you'll probably ask neighbors or friends — your peer network — what or whom they're using.
Companies should position their social media efforts to replicate as much as possible this community-oriented buying experience. In turn, social media firms, such as Facebook, should become expert at enabling this. They can do this by expanding the buyer's network of peers who can provide trustworthy information and advice based on their own experience with the product or service.
For example, a new firm, Zuberance, makes it easy and enjoyable for a firm's loyal customers to advocate for the firm on their social media platform of choice. At the moment one of these customers identifies himself as a "promoter" on a survey, they immediately seend a form inviting them to write a review or recommendation on any of several social media sites. Once they do, the Zuberance platform populates it to the designated sites, and the promoter's network instantly knows about his experience with the firm.
Find your customer influencers. Many firms spend lots of resources pursuing outside influencers who've gained following on the Web and through social media. A better approach is to find and cultivate customer influencers and give them something great to talk about. This requires a new concept of customer value that goes way beyond customer lifetime value (CLV), which is based only on purchases. There are many other measures of a customer's potential value, beyond the money they pay you. For example, how large and strategic to your firm is the customer's network? How respected is she?
One of Microsoft's "MVP" (Most Valuable Professional) customers is known as Mr. Excel to his followers. On some days, his website gets more visits than Microsoft's Excel page — representing an audience of obvious importance to Microsoft, which supports Mr. Excel's efforts with "insider knowledge" and previews of new releases. In return, Mr. Excel and other MVPs like him are helping Microsoft penetrate new markets affordably.
Traditional marketing may be dead, but the new possibilities of peer influence-based, community-oriented marketing, hold much greater promise for creating sustained growth through authentic customer relationships.
More blog posts by Bill Lee