Blogs, forums and wikis are all tools that can help companies reach out to customers and boost business.
Social-networking tools aren’t just for Facebook fanatics anymore. These days, consumers are demanding a higher degree of interactivity from customer-service departments. As a result, companies are being challenged to add online capabilities to their CRM systems.
Take, for example, today’s social-networking technologies. By building a product-centric social network that encourages visitors to swap information and connect with other like-minded individuals, a company can gather crucial customer contact information and build a virtual community.
Then there is the blogging phenomenon. For marketing, blogs work great to build brand equity and familiarity. Whether introduced as part of an existing product site or as a dedicated minisite for a particular product, a blog can serve as a casual and conversational approach to addressing consumer concerns and building product loyalty.
Companies can also use wikis to enhance customer relations. A wiki is a Web site that allows users to freely create and edit content using any Web browser — without requiring HTML or other technical skills. “Wikis can be a cheap way to maintain a product Web site for both marketing and for service,” said Hickernell. Not to mention the value-add capabilities of wiki technology. For example, a food manufacturer can easily create a wiki-based Web site that allows customers to contribute to a recipe database.
DISCUSS AMONGST YOURSELVES
Discussion forums“are good for building customer communities around products and brands. More than simply a destination for consumers to swap product information and tips, a discussion forum can be used to generate buzz around a product or service without a multimillion-dollar advertising budget. The right discussion forum can even increase sales revenue. Consumers are willing to pay 20 percent more for a service that received an “excellent” rating from fellow consumers than they are for the same service that received a “good” rating. And respondents said that reviews generated by consumers had a greater influence than those written by professionals.
But while online tools can engender a sense of community and brand loyalty among consumers, there is also a downside. For starters, you do need to have strong moderation when you offer user-support forums to make sure bad discussion threads are removed immediately. After all, foul language, racist comments and unflattering product reviews can “be very detrimental” to a company’s customer relations, sales and image.