Making Social Media exclusive – the next evolutionary digital step

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece “not so social media” and within it I posed questions about how a business manages the balance on social media (Twitter, Facebook etc) between loyal customers, potential customers who haven’t bought, and those that joined because they might think about buying someday but equally might not.

There’s little debate that social media is huge for consumers and businesses. There’s even less debate that Twitter and Facebook is very useful for quickly spreading messages ranging from as ‘Britney Spears got a new haircut ZOMG’ through to ‘Rebellion in Libya, tell the world what’s happening to us’.

But where there is debate and discussion with Twitter and Facebook is its tangible, monetary value to business. Particularly to those businesses that see it as a ‘push’ service, not a discussion and communication medium. And internal conversations are fast evolving from ‘lets get as many people as we can‘ to asking ‘how valuable are the people we’re getting anyway?‘.

Businesses are now quickly facing up to questions about social media database value, and treating them just like any other database they might have built through ‘traditional’ channels. High-level questions such as:

– ‘How do we deliver real value to loyal customers through social media?’

– ‘When our loyal customers swim in the same pool as people who have never used us, how do we separate them to build meaningful relationships with either, or both, group(s)?’

– ‘We’ve managed to get 100,000 followers on Twitter. How much are they worth to us?’

– ‘How do we determine who is truly engaged, and who isn’t?’

– ‘Do we really want or need a huge database? Or is having a tight-knit, more engaged, database better?’

Many marketers are currently focused on evolving businesses, messaging and campaign offerings to deliver greater, more personalised, experiences – perfectly tailored to individuals or close knit groups of similar users.

How might social media evolve from here: Retention and deeper emotional connection

Social media will undoubtedly evolve from its current form. But as marketers, the challenge will be to ensure that evolution and adoption is valuable too. But how can social media play a part in that as part as a valuable communication ‘bridge’ if the conversation is open to anyone and anyone?

I believe there is an opportunity for businesses to take a more proactive approach to integrating social media into incredibly valuable, but as yet, largely untapped areas in their business, and that is ‘behind the wall’. Adapting social media technologies to membership marketing and retention marketing activities may just be one of the cheapest, and most effective ways of retaining customers. As yet it hasn’t been adopted much, if anywhere.

There is an opportunity to differentiate and add significant value to product and service offerings by qualifying individuals and approving them to join group(s) and channel(s) as a part of the entire customer experience.

The argument for making Social Media exclusive

Social media purists, observers and commentators might rear-up in horror at the thought of organisations locking up social media channels, and that’s fair enough – it’s a new concept.

Making some, or specific, social media channels exclusive to current, valuable clients, might sound ludicrous to some – ‘social media should be open right?’, but if we think about it in a real life situation, nowhere works that way. For example: If you go to a bar on a Saturday night, you don’t have a conversation with every single person in the bar. You will almost always have conversations with people you know or new people who have been introduced to the group by a friend. Now ask yourself why you don’t have a conversation with everyone in that bar? Nothing is stopping you. You don’t know for sure you won’t have anything to talk about with each person, but it might take a lot of time to find the few things that you do have in common. And in the end having the common ground you may have might outweigh the uncommon ground you have, thereby negating the effort and actually producing a negative reaction of avoidance should you see that individual again.

By pre-qualifying who can join discussion channels it actually makes the value proposition for the business and customers more valuable. Customers who are actually invested in the product or service have an open forum to discuss issues while ensuring that the conversation is only had with like-minded, or similarly interested parties. The conversation would be more engaging due to there being a higher starting benchmark and the participants would care more about the outcome of the discussion.

In a more private, like-minded environment more valuable conversations about product innovation, testing and idea generation can be developed, as well as more effectively presenting renewal, reward and retention offerings. Should the customer choose to cease purchasing, or continuing their membership, access to the exclusive social media arenas would also cease – if the customer is heavily invested in these groups some may continue using the product and services to continue having those discussions. Equally, it would allow customers to voice dissatisfaction earlier, and allow the company to respond more appropriately.

The wealth of untapped information that could be shared is mind-boggling, and unbelievably valuable, if you start to think about all the possibilities of what a loyal, exclusive, group of customers might discuss and be willing to share.

Maybe not for everyone

This concept may not be for everyone and every business. But in an economic environment where more and more businesses are competing for eyeballs and dollars, low-cost, effective customer retention and product innovation is fast becoming a major objective of many businesses. It’s all well and good to grow, but if you’re losing em’ as fast as you’re getting em’, then the business isn’t growing, it’s treading water.

People want to feel good about themselves and their decisions. People want to feel exclusive, and that the companies they choose to purchase from care about them.

Using social media as a retention tool is a new way of using a new technology to meet and exceed age-old customer expectations.

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