Thought Leadership at its Core

In today’s digital world, we are constantly connected and continually exposed to thought leaders. As an individual who has proven themselves as a trusted expert in a specific field and generates engaging content, a thought leader is ultimately an expert on influence. Let’s look at thought leaders as they relate to a B2B organization. What best practices could benefit a company trying to develop internal thought leaders that showcase its expertise and support its branding message?

Map it Out

Setting a plan in place is the best starting point to any Marketing strategy and thought leadership is no different. Who are you targeting with this thought leadership, what are your goals, how will you achieve them and which platform is best suited to the overall plan? Determine whether the content will be led by the experts themselves or by corporate strategy, or both.

The Passion

What’s at the core of this strategy?

The experts. A company might be proud of its employees’ ability to solve problems, innovate and think outside the box. Maybe these experts are already writing for industry publications or speaking at tradeshows. Are they the go-to support for sales calls and up to date on industry trends and competitors? Reputable, influential, and trusted, these employees can increase brand awareness and improve brand credibility. What are a few characteristics of a true Thought Leader? Let’s find out (Thought Leadership Leverage, 2013).

Hot Topics

Now that your team is excited to share their expertise, what about content?


A few aspects worth considering are customers’ pain points and industry trends. Using research to determine both of these is essential. What issues are your customers facing that could impact their goals? Maybe trending topics or technology advancements exist that your experts know well. Joining specific Social Media groups or following targeted influential individuals, even competitors, could provide this essential intel.  But, as stated by the Marketing Insider Group, avoid promoting your products and services as this can lead to your audience losing interest and breaking that trust you worked so hard to obtain (Brenner, 2017). Remember, the goal is to influence by choosing content wisely.

On Target

Having an engaging and influential message is key, but who are you targeting?

Determining the audience and who will be most influenced by your message is extremely important. Follow the segments of your existing Marketing strategy, or develop new ones based on the applicable content. Next, determine how to best reach this audience, be it blogging, email campaign, or Social Media, for example.

Support your Plan

To be successful, the best assurance is to have corporate support for all aspects of your plan. Prioritizing training and employee satisfaction is important, as is ensuring consistent and impressive branding across all mediums. For example, ensure your experts are motivated to maintain top profiles on LinkedIn.

If you follow these steps, you can ensure you’re on your way to successfully leveraging internal expertise for thought leadership and influence within your industry!


Brenner, M. (2017, 03 18). Content Marketing. Retrieved from Marketing Insider Group:

Thought Leadership Leverage. (2013, 12 01). Retrieved from YouTube:

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash
Photo by 
Elijah Macleod on Unsplash



Finding Value in Social Media Marketing

A Facebook marketing campaign seemed like a success, but was it worth its efforts? An executive’s blog is so time consuming but is it being anticipated by its eager fans? Social Media Marketing is now common practice and as such needs to be measured and tracked for efficiency. We need to understand when and to what degree social media metrics can be obtained.

A Financial Calculation

Quite simply put by Social Media Examiner, “Social media ROI is defined as a measure of the efficiency of a social media marketing campaign” (Fontein, 2016). As long as we have financial metrics to compare, we can use the formula:

Social media ROI = (SM return– SM investment) / SM investment percent

This is perfectly fine if we have the financials to support it. Costs or investment for a social media campaign are very similar to that of a typical campaign. Common list of social media costs could include labour, training, development, technology, third party consultants, paid advertising and general overhead. Now, you may have the financial return, or gain, already determined, in which case you can move forward on to complete your formula. But for most of us, finding the dollar association for the benefits obtained by your social media campaign is a challenge. This may need some discovery.

Emotional Value

It’s hard to determine a value for an emotional response. Another method of determining ROI is to compare the changes in behavior before and after the campaign and measuring them against the campaigns goals. How did consumers act prior and how have they adapted afterwards? Has their motivation been altered? Aligning a set of values to these emotions is the best plan of action.

Return, or gain, can be measured directly, by its Estimated Value of Exposure (EVE) (Long, 2015), or what it would cost for the same amount of publicity if it were typical advertising. To calculate this type of gain, determine the cost to buy the reach earned in social media. For example, if you reached 100,000 impressions for free that would have ordinarily cost $1.50 per thousand impressions (Effective cost per thousand, or eCPM); your EVE at 100,000 impressions is $150 (Long, 2015).

EVE = Reach x eCPM = 100,000 impressions x $1.50 eCPM = $150. So, therefore,

This would give us a 50% ROI for that social media initiative.

Measure Benefits by Channel

Another way of looking at it is by using the Lifetime Value per customer to calculate the benefit. As Neil Patel’s Infographic explains, there are 6 steps to measure your social media ROI.

photo-1460925895917-afdab827c52fFirst, set your conversion goals, so there will be a measurable action that has monetary value. Actions such as making a purchase, completing a contact form or quote request, signing up for a newsletter, downloading a pdf or engaging in an interaction. Next, track the conversions with Google Analytics or similar, to determine reach, traffic, leads, new customers and conversion rate. The tricky part again is assigning a dollar value to each conversion. The Lifetime Value (LTV) per customer is important in this calculation and if it’s unknown, determine what a new customer is worth to your company. The conversion rate is how often the customer takes action, such as 1/10 download a pdf or watch a video. This calculation would be as follows:

Conversion Value = LTV x conversion rate = $175 x 1/10 = $17.50

Now you can use that value to determine the benefits of each conversion per channel. Another important step; to determine which channel, be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, is most efficient for you.

Neil’s last two steps are; determine the total costs and of course, plug in the benefits value to the familiar ROI calculation; ROI=(Benefits-Cost)/Cost x 100.

Don’t Forget to Blog

If we look at blogs, and specifically executive blogs, we can again determine the ROI based on assigning a value to multiple campaign benefits. But you might find blogging generates an impressive ROI. If you’ve followed the POST strategy method and have strategic goals to measure against, you’re ready.

Here are a few typical cost measurements for an executive blog (groundswell, 2011):

  • Start-Up Costs: Planning, development and training
  • Ongoing Costs: Platform, brand-monitoring service, IT support, content production (time), review/changes

And now a comprehensive list of potential benefits:

  • Advertising value: Visibility, traffic
  • PR value: press stories about/ driven from blog content
  • Word-of-mouth value: referring from other blogs
  • Support value: calls avoided due to info on blog
  • Research value: customer insights

The cost item worth noting is the content production time, likely lengthy and therefore costly. But, the benefits such as PR value could be extraordinary, worth thousands of dollars per story, and the support value saving hundreds, with numerous calls avoided daily. The main point with an executive blog is that it really does take more education and time, but if done correctly, the gains can be huge. Blogs generate high visibility, are customer service driven, help in a PR crisis and can gain customer insight (groundswell, 2011).

Is It Really Worthwhile?

According to Ignite Social Media, “the most effective consideration drivers” are from “social media”.

Whatever method is chosen to determine Social Media ROI, it’s best to ensure it is reviewed continuously for improvements. Before you begin, you should have set clear long term strategic goals in order to prove that this type of campaign is worth pursuing. Choosing the right strategy will also help you in the long run by providing metrics to analyze your success and hopefully gain you more buy-in from executives and management to move forward.

There are multiple ways to find value in your social media program and campaign, you just need to find the one best suited to your organization and goals. Let’s not forget that typical advertising is usually seen as shouting, whereas social media is a more conversational. That aspect alone is a driver in the right direction…finding value in Social Media Marketing!




Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Fontein, D. (2016, 03 18). HootSuite Blogs. Retrieved from
Ignite Social Media. (2012, 10 04). YouTube. Retrieved from
Long, A. (2015, 04 09). Pagemodo. Retrieved from
Patel, N. (2014, 06 27). quicksprout. Retrieved from
Photo by: Carlos Muza  retrieved from
Header Image by: Olu Eletu retrieved from



From the Inside Out

How many times have you received multiple emails that are annoyingly similar, from different team members, that reference different versions of the same project? GROAN. Or how about wishing there was a better way to corral all those employee ideas and requests? Social technologies are generally thought of as communication tool to aid us in expanding our reach potential and in a timelier manner, but what if the target market is down the hall? Wouldn’t it be great to improve internal communication in the same manner as with strive for with our customers?!

It’s no secret that employees ARE the company, right? Ask any CEO and if they disagree, well…read on. Employees know how the company is run, from the books to the processes, products and services to the customers’ specific needs. Companies need to tap into the potential ideas that are lurking beneath the surface. How can they accomplish this? Let’s look at three different methods of improving internal communication by using social technologies.


The best example of an impressive, internal social community is Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation. Started by two corporate marketing employees looking to gain insight into advertising effectiveness, this social network grew into something much more. At first they had no participation, but after some promotional giveaways their “chalk talks” gained some feedback from other employees. A year later, it had grown to 14,000 employees logged in each month, mostly Sales associates at 85% (groundswell, 2011). As stated by Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson, a legitimate groundswell guru, they saw their employee base as a “natural asset” with ideas of “authenticity” that could more easily “develop a community” (Hirshberg, 2009). But, these ideas are also used to help each other. Think of the masses of products sold by Best Buy and a technical issue might get resolved more easily and quickly if posted on the network. Or what about a human resources issue? Employees can converse on suggested improvements that Management can review. The five strategic objectives for working with the groundswell can be applied here as well. Listening, to the employees and product issues. Talking, by communication any corporate changes on policy or goals. Energizing, by finding the most enthusiastic employees and encouraging them. Supporting, by mentoring one another within departments. And finally, Embracing, by meeting with the RIGHT people and gaining insight from them.


Another type of internal communication tool is the ever popular Wiki. Why not have a single repository for the company’s project documents, and processes, especially if they are in development or evolving. Even with Gmail’s impressive search function, I would still rather NOT have to filter through numerous emails on each project. Instead, you can review, on separate Wiki pages; live project summaries, roles, notes, documents or deadlines. It’s more conversational than email (groundswell, 2011) and did I mention the entire company has access to it? What a thought! Now the only requirement with an internal collaborative tool like this is…PARTICIPATION. It can’t be stagnant, or it will not fulfill its purpose. It has to be a constant part of each employees’ day; reviewing, updating, commenting. One addition that Organic, an advertising agency in New York, made was adding a social network to improve the participation of their Wiki. They encouraged everyone to have their own profile and share their work, supported those looking for certain expertise and connect with each other. They essentially combined the elements of a social network, collaborative software and corporate intranet, and it worked. They learned that the relationships are more important than the technologies (groundswell, 2011).


What about really tapping into the employees’ idea generation? If you’re going to go for it, you might as well jump right in. That’s what Bell Canada did. With the American Idol voting in mind, they decided to let their employees submit ideas and then…simply vote on them. They launched “ID-ah!” and within the first year, there were over 1,000 ideas submitted, over 3,000 comments made and 6,000 votes. Over a 6 month period, they had 27 top ideas that were gathered, leading to 12 being implemented overall (groundswell, 2011). Who knows, maybe that’s how they came up with gems like their Let’s Talk Campaign, bringing awareness to mental health.

By involving the entire company, you’re increasing empowerment and accountability allowing employees to feel more important and part of the team. The one hindrance that can play sabotage is lack of participation by leaders or management. They need to lead by encouragement and really get involved. At Best Buy, they soon learned that Management needed to have the “curiosity to listen” to the ideas generated by these employees to continue to be motivating leaders (Hirshberg, 2009).

Are You In?

Participation can’t be forced. Any form of punishment for suggestions or requirement to join in will only push your employees further away from sharing. It’s best to simply encourage participation and generate a positive word of mouth that will entice employees to join in. This will be easier if the culture is already a positive one that relies on a Listening strategy or management style. Just like the Best Buy geniuses, look for the “rebels” in your organization. Those that are already trying to find new ways to improve processes and are keen to try new things. Provide them the tools they need and you won’t regret it. And be ready for change. Without buy in from the top none of the strategies will be effective. They need your support! Let’s communicate and collaborate!




Bell Canada. (2014, 12 22). Retrieved from YouTube:
Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Hirshberg, Peter (2009). Retrieved from Vimeo:
Photo by: My Life Through A Lens,




Find your Energy

Recently, I received an email from ESSO inviting me to buy a gift card and they would donate to the United Way. Awesome. They called it “energizing the community” and it got me thinking…how DO we energize our consumers? Certainly once a group of like-minded people are gathered, getting them involved in an attractive, cooperative goal is a great first step.

Word of Mouth

When we talk about energizing our consumers, word of mouth definitely comes to mind. What better way to increase influence than relying on your existing consumers’ preferences and finding the key players to get the word out? Word of mouth is a powerful amplifier of brand marketing because it’s believable, self-reinforcing and self-spreading (groundswell, 2011). There is even an existing non-profit Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), that reinforce the thought that this is a powerful, truthful tool that should be tapped into. But before we get too excited, we have to remember that Listening is the first step to any groundswell activity. Energizing is best to follow a Talking strategy, which is certainly best preceded by Listening. It’s known that 23% of online consumers in the US are Creators; blogging, uploading videos, or maintaining a website. Now, if those Creators are spreading good news, who do we think will be reading it? Since 1/3 of online consumers are Critics and 2/3 are Spectators, you can imagine how far the word will travel. And since people believe other people more than media (groundswell, 2011), the potential for influence is very strong and should not be ignored. But how do we really know how far the reach is? Is it worth it?


Metrics for social media are starting to flourish and tracking word of mouth success rates is no different. Fred Reichheld, author of “The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth”, derived the term Net Promoter Score (NPS), being the likelihood that you would recommend a company or product to a friend or colleague, valued from 0-10. The scores that are 0-6 are considered “detractors”, or those who would not participate and those with 9-10 are the “promoters”, or the obvious enthusiasts already known. The real valuable people are those who chose the 7-8 value, who would decidedly participate, if they had a reason to do so. North American consumers trust sources of information about products and services first and foremost from friends and family at 65%, consumer ratings and reviews at 62% and expert consumer ratings and reviews at 57%. These, compared to a company’s website information at 31% and a company email at 21% (groundswell, 2011). Based on these findings, it’s seemingly best to then get in touch with these consumers who are having such an influence on your potential consumers. But what’s the best method?

Get the Word Out

If you have room in your budget for a few extra dollars, you could try a vendor like BzzAgent, who will basically sell your word of mouth for you. They find around 3,000 brand critics and give them a few motivators like gift cards, then if they like your product or service, boom. They will spread the word for you, to an average of 60 people. The math on this one ends up being about $28 per person cost to you. Is it worth it? You could always try it yourself! Here’s how.

Let’s Review

Get your consumers to rate and review your products. If you can motivate them to get online and post a review and rating for your product or service, you’re a step ahead. If you need a little help planning this strategy, maybe all you need is to give them a little push, like Ebags did. Exactly 21 days after a shipment, an email is sent out suggesting that the consumer review the product purchased. Guess what? 22% respond, likely being Critics, at 44%, based on the Social Technographics of business travelers. These Critics post reviews and the Spectators, at about 78%, will read them. Considering that people want to depend on other people (groundswell, 2011), this is a powerful audience they’ve established. Reviews are known to increase the buy rate of products, which is not a surprise since 96% of consumers use them, 61% of e-commerce sites have them and of those, 71% rates them as effective (groundswell, 2011). It’s surprising that 80% of reviews tend to be positive, a number that must have been influenced by social media. Didn’t it used to be we would only call the manufacturer to complain? A silent customer is a happy one, right? Interestingly though, without a few negative reviews, a site’s credibility is tarnished. And with these few negative reviews, quality control issues can potentially be resolved more easily and quickly. Allowing your customers to post comments online might not be so scary after all.

A Sense of Community

Another method of energizing is to form an online community where your consumers engage one another. Think of all the loyalty and referral programs out there and how effective they can be, then, consider all the participants in a discussion. They will motivate each other and essentially increase the enthusiasm and awareness of your product or service for you.  Let’s look at a non-profit, called Operation Smile. It is estimated that, worldwide, a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft lip or palate — about one in 750 births. Operation Smile believes in a world where children don’t have to suffer from malnourishment, difficulty with speech or social isolation because of their cleft condition (Operation Smile, 2016).

Operation Smile depends on its skilled volunteers and as such, has created an online community where they can connect. The Medical Volunteers Action Center (MVAC) helps volunteers understand the credentials system required, find surgical programs, find potential missions, and most importantly connect and discuss with other members. What better way to plan such an important volunteer mission than to hear from others who have experience? Or to share your experience with others? These doctors are energizing each other and the 364,932 hours of volunteer work logged last year is proof that it’s working (Operation Smile, 2016)! Within this type of community, the feeling of altruism, or the “pay-it-forward” motivation is very strong.

“My hope is that children who have surgery are able to see the world in a new light and with confidence to overcome barriers they had to endure previously.”- Dr. Arash Babaoff, Pediatrician, United States, Volunteer for 13 Years (Operation Smile, 2016).

Join the Conversation

A better option for your products or service might be to participate in an existing online community where you can monitor and motivate your consumers energizing one another. The best example of this is Lego. The online community called LUGNET, is a consumer thriving, consumer generated community. Who would have thought that the AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego, didn’t you know?) account for 5-10% of Lego’s sales and that these people really like to connect and discuss all things Lego? The company strategically joined the community and created an ambassadors program, where they assign only 25 members, motivated by Lego bricks, to help spread the word. The cost on this was about $200,000, but with a reach of 100 people per ambassador, sales were substantially increased. Again, like with ratings and reviews, listening to product feedback is important. You can find flaws or new design ideas lurking in the discussion threads if you simply listen.


Whether you’ve decided to allow ratings and reviews or create or join an online community, you will need to plan ahead. First off, do you really want to energize your customers?  If you don’t have a strong emotional connection or brand, or have a slew of dissatisfied customers, maybe it’s best to stick to a Listening strategy. Don’t forget to check the Social Technographics profile of your customers and design a strategy around their tendencies. Without this, you might be trying to energize a bunch of Spectators…and they won’t be having it. A really important tip is to figure out what your customers true pain is. What do they WANT to talk about? With the Operation Smile example, the potential volunteers want to discuss details of mission trips or share stories and suggestions with each other. With Lego, I’m sure the creativity is pouring out of those discussions! Lastly, make sure you have a long term plan, or your fan based enthusiasm may disappear over time…Remember that an energized consumer expects a response and is eager for a conversation.

When it comes to energizing your consumers, remember, they are looking for the chance to make a difference and be a part of something special, so let them!





Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Operation Smile. (2015, 09 16). Retrieved from
Operation Smile. (2016). Retrieved from Operation Smile:
Photo by: Austin Schmid




What’s your Handle?

Twitter. It is an amazing technology that has brought so many people together. I honestly can’t believe how quickly it has become the norm for social interaction and how quickly those interactions spread. There was a time when I thought only the Kardashians tweeted…and now look at us. Certainly this is a huge win for organizations looking to take their social strategy to the next level, but like other social media technologies, it’s worth putting in the effort to plan and strategize to take full advantage of where this platform can take you.

Our peer to peer interaction is now visible and searchable by the public in 140 characters or less. It’s that simple, really. With a #hashtag conversation starter and a @username mention or retweet, you can be in a dialogue with your choice of celebrity, CEO or better, and get your passionate word out to the world. On this simple, free and open platform, anyone can follow anyone, but be wary of getting blocked!

Whoo Tweets?

A “tweeter” is considered as someone who tweets at least once a week and tweeters are thought as highly socially connected, as are those who read tweets (groundswell, 2011). As of 2010, only 7% of US online adults were actively using Twitter, but such a small group was still considered to be a very influential bunch. Currently, that number is much higher, with 310 million monthly active users (Twitter, 2016) and that group of users with influence has become enormous. If an individual has a large following, they are pushed into becoming a key influence, by posting more tweets and keeping their following engaged. If we look at the Social Technographics Profile of a Tweeter, we’ll find they are three times more likely to be Creators, twice as likely to be Critics and half as likely to be Joiners as compared to typical consumers (groundswell, 2011). As such, they are ready to be the influence that we need on Twitter.

Twitter Tips

Twitter is relatively simple, but there are a few hidden gems you should be aware of. TweetDeck is a full screen interface for Twitter, that allows you to see an overall dashboard of your Twitter feed. It would be an asset for someone whose account takes off and needs to organize and categorize notifications, newsfeed and messages. Another is, a link management platform, that essentially shortens a web link so it can be accommodated by Twitter’s short character rule. This one is a must have. Tools like Klout evaluate the influence of Twitter users and helps improve just that. Flipboard, one of my personal favorites, collects Twitter links and creates a magazine of articles, photos and videos. Hard to resist such an easy reading format.


Strategy over Technology

We can pull the same standard social media strategy objectives over to our Twitter plan. Listening is the most important, as it is typically always needed in order to move on to another strategy. How will you know what to share or discuss if having not first listened to your followers or potential followers? This is how you can determine what they are most interested in. Talking seems like a big component of Twitter since it is mainly an open dialogue, for everyone to participate in. After all, brevity inspires curiosity (Hartwick, 2015). But be wary of simply broadcasting your press releases and never responding to questions. This is essentially….boring. Unless you’re as popular as expert blogger Seth Godin, @ThisIsSethsBlog, who has over fifty-five thousand followers, follows zero people and never responds to comments (groundswell, 2011), you won’t be getting away with that. Southwest Airlines, @SouthwestAir, is a good example of executing a Talking strategy well. Not only do they tweet deals and news, but they actually respond to service related issues, and quickly (groundswell, 2011). Energizing is talking, but to the right people. You really need to listen to find the most enthused who are very interested in your products or services OR something related that you tap into to get a response and want to share. Dunkin’ Donuts found an interesting opportunity where they reached out to two people who were promoting a JetBlue travel promotion and gave them gift cards to use on their journey. Dunkin’ felt they were living the slogan “America Runs on Dunkin”. I bet they tweeted about it! Supporting is equally as important and is again to follow listening. What do your followers need? They will let you know and actually expect you to respond and quickly. Twitter is known as an instant communication tool and it’s in your best interests to plan accordingly for that. AT&T was surprised to find so many product related issues on Twitter’s trending topics and ones that were easily solved. They revised their strategy to include Twitter and set out to fix this by including a department working long hours with two main twitter handles and individual ones for the service reps as well. They serve around two thousand people every month and are now NOT a trending topic on twitter (groundswell, 2011).Even the famous Ashton Kutcher, @aplusk, who was once the top person on Twitter, got a response from the team. As stated by the Chief Marketing Officer at PEMCO, Rod Brooks, “People may start out with a bit of criticism, but can be turned into advocates” (groundswell, 2011). The most difficult objective is Embracing. How do you truly engage your followers and allow them to essentially create something for you? Links to surveys, providing incentive and prizes, or requesting feedback on a specific product or service. Look at Starbucks’ popular @myStarbucksIdea, where you can communicate your ultimate coffee creation and see if they bite. Exciting! Although, really, it doesn’t get much better than a caramel macchiato, does it? OR, you can simply engage in an interesting dialogue, by…asking an inquisitive question and peak interest.

But what about non profit organizations? The same strategies can apply to help achieve your goals. A good example of Listening and Talking is the Terry Fox Foundation of Canada with 32.3K followers and 4,885 tweets, since 2010. They tweet regularly about the latest research, supporters, events, join current conversations and their followers like it!

My son participated in a daycare walk for a few years; what a great idea:

They join current, passionate dialogues that are in the headlines:

And they occasionally remind us of the hero that was Terry Fox:

Prepare for Success

Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure your success. Get your Twitter handle under lock and key, unless you want it sabotaged by a non-fan or worse. Remember, listen first, then move forward with your strategy and be ready to support your followers since they WILL expect it. Be ready for a PR nightmare…but be confident that Twitter is the instant tool that can help you relieve the crisis. Make sure to have a department or staff who are responsible for these timely efforts. Check with any legal or regulatory guidelines before tweeting to ensure you’re allowed to go public with specific content. Don’t forget to follow others to help find interesting, current news and links. This is, after all, what Twitter is all about! Include responses, retweets, links, news articles, blog posts, photos or video links and try not to repeat your tweets as it shows up for all to see. Make a plan that includes an established presence, so you don’t waste a gathered following (groundswell, 2011) and incorporate this into your overall social strategy. Now….let’s Tweet about it!


Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Hartwick, C. (2015, 04 16). Retrieved from
Twitter. (2016). Twitter. Retrieved from
Terry Fox Foundation of Canada. (2016).Retrieved from /
Photo by Martins Zemlickis at

Lead by Collaboration

What would you think if I told you that your customers would prefer to retrieve service responses from an expert within their online community rather than your staff? Or that you could save service dollars by opening up your support network to the masses? If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. Allowing the groundswell to dictate our products and services’ dos and don’ts is not the ideal. Or is it?

The first step towards this was motivating our customers to visit our content worthy websites for all their questions and concerns. This worked great for allowing them to retrieve answers on call and saved you money on support calls. Some organizations then thought why not move the support center overseas; the calls will be answered regardless. But what about the quality of those responses and exchanges and potential delays on more complicated questions? Were we on track to losing touch altogether?! I think so.

Helping Others

Enter online support forums, where people are more willing to trust each other than a company (groundswell, 2011) and they will actually spend time helping each other. Amazing. Why would you not tap into this goldmine? Worried about quality? Negativity? While there are important steps to take to ensure success, you’d be surprised at what your customers can build for you if given the opportunity. If your company has a diverse lineup of technical products and services, or complicated support requirements, you might want to think about extending the reach of your support system. Let’s look at Dell, for example. They had an online support leader, Jeff, aka “Predator”, who logged over 473,000 minutes, or 123 working days/ year, supporting Dell customers. Did I mention he doesn’t work for Dell and he does this because he “actually enjoys helping people” (groundswell, 2011)? This brings up an important reason for online participation that we should include in our corporate strategies; psychic income. This is one of the multiple psychic rewards including altruism, or good feelings, validation, or getting a sense of belonging. People like Jeff are out there waiting to prove they have all the answers, so why not let them? At Dell, between 20-50% of consumers retrieved an answer from a support forum and from 4 million posts, 1 million could be considered answers (groundswell, 2011). According to Henry Jenkins, a Media Studies professor, this is a “participatory culture”, where consumers do far more than just consume; they create as well. (groundswell, 2011).

Let’s Build It

Now, how do we get our customers to create and really build something for us? Let’s look at Wikipedia. Do you trust its content? Do you participate in its content? Since a collaborative encyclopedia provides answers to so many of us and so often, why not tailor one to your own company? Now, I’m familiar with using a Wiki for an organization, as more of an internal repository, but opening it up to the masses is another matter. There are so many aspects to consider, but maybe it’s worthwhile if your company raises a lot of questions or has multiple, complex support categories. If you have existing, detailed content that would engage your customers, a reliable panel of interested experts and are willing to patiently supervise the Wiki’s growth, you might be ready. Look at Yahoo!Answers. As at July, 2007, it held 350 million “answers” and counting (groundswell, 2011). They use a unique points system which helps distinguish the experts and promotes their credibility, another type of reward. This is definitely a good idea, since I’m not sure I would trust all the Yahoo!Answers I’ve read…ahem.

Are You Ready?

So, are you ready for a collaborative experience? Let’s see if it adds up.

1. What problem are you trying to solve? Or what is the support that you would need to provide and how can you motivate participation? If your customers are passionate about a cause or product, you could engage them with discussion.

2. Are you ready to participate? You have to build up the participation to start it off. Without activity, there will be no content and without that, no traffic. Do you see where I’m going with this? Considering that 22% of online consumers participate in online forums, this might be worthwhile.

3. Have you googled yourself lately? Is there an existing community that is already on its feet? If so, don’t be scared away by its experts and negativity. With some slight monitoring, you could use this to your advantage as its already a living community.
If you support, listen and talk you will be surprised at how you are perceived and how your credibility will soar.

What about a non profit organization? How would a support forum differ in that sector? Really, we can apply the same planning and strategy noted above. Look at Tourette Canada, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians affected by Tourette Syndrome  and associated conditions. They have an active forum that is a place to exchange ideas, obtain help and talk about anything related to Tourette Syndrome, support for people with Tourette Syndrome and information about treatment options relating to Tourette Syndrome (Tourette Canada, 2016).

In the forum, the administrator, aka “Steve”, provides extensive responses to concerns and is sure to get involved in a thread if he sees any misconceptions. He clarifies how a diagnosis will help a child gain access to support in school to a perplexed father and he posts about the latest groundbreaking research to engage the members. Two mothers of 6 year old girls connect over their daughters recent tics and change in behaviors and suggest medical treatment centers to one another, while “Gary” posts that he wishes he would have had access to such a forum when he was younger. This is an impressive, living, breathing community, with 4,573 threads, 20,652 posts and 2,037 registered members for a poorly understood and complex disorder that affects 1% of Canadians (Tourette Canada, 2016). They do have rules regarding posts including a specific medical message policy, no self promotion and general posting etiquette. They do not allow advertising on the forum and as such, request a membership to assist with the forums operation. The Tourette Canada forum seems to have credibility, content and a good balance on patience and policy (groundswell, 2011). Certainly the administrator has built up a lot of that content, but remember…once the thread is out there, it’s searchable and will drive traffic to the site. Perfect!

Lead the Way

To get an online community going, you’ll want to start small but plan for the future. Your forum might expand quickly so be prepared for that. Find the niche experts you need and motivate them to participate on your forum to help boost that rich content you really need. It would be beneficial to make a plan to drive traffic to your site, by advertising, or paid search engine listings. Make sure you build a reputation system so that the experts can get that psychic income and competition they strive for. And finally, let your customers lead you! They are going to provide so much detail and opinion that you will find yourself revisiting your strategy and starting new ventures. Let’s collaborate!




Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Dell. (2016, 03 18). YouTube. Retrieved from
Tourette Canada. (2016). Tourette Canada. Retrieved from
Tourette Canada. (2016). Tourette Canada Forum. Retrieved from
Tourette Canada. (2015, 02 27). YouTube. Retrieved from
Photo by Nicholas Swanson


We Need to Talk

It’s no surprise that one of the main digital strategies for engaging your audience is, quite simply, Talking. But, when I think of “talking” I immediately think of being on the receiving end in a flurry of aggressively repeated information. Turns out I’m not alone. Typically, Marketing has involved Advertising; thriving on repetition, and Public Relations; taking advantage of free media and coverage to publish accomplishments. TV commercials are seen as more shouting than talking (groundswell, 2011) and the metrics of reach and frequency are missing an important measure; engagement. The way we do business is changing, so the way we talk to our customers needs adjusting as well.

Talking is not to be confused with Listening, Energizing, Supporting or Embracing, all effective digital marketing strategies. By Talking you are hoping to spread a message further, by expanding into more interactive channels by stimulating two-way conversations (groundswell, 2011).

A Broken Path

Heard of the Marketing funnel? If not, don’t worry, it’s broken anyway. Guiding our consumers from awareness to consideration, preference, action and then loyalty just doesn’t happen as frequently as we would like anymore. According to Forrester Research 2007, “Marketers no longer dictate the path people take, nor do they lead the dialogue” (groundswell, 2011). In other words, consumers lead the dialogue and these people are having conversations with more people whom all influence each other. If planned strategically, by using blogs, discussion forums, social networks or viral videos, a marketer can use that influence to reach objectives. Let’s take a look at a few main Talking techniques to see which one best fits your business goals.

Social Networking

The most common technique is likely engaging in social network and user generated content sites, with 59% of US adults, 41% of European adults and 29% Japanese adults participating based on 2010 data. With sites like Facebook and Twitter, not only do you have the visibility of the messages, but you also gain the exposure of the conversations that ensue. An example is Ernst & Young, who hire many college grads and take advantage of just this. They respond to incoming inquiries, but truly depend on the peer to peer interaction of the grads to save them time and money in the long run. Is social networking right for your company?

Make sure you know your target market by determining their Social Technographics profile. If at least 50% of your audience are Joiners, you might have good chance and while age is starting to be less of a determinant, if they are between 13 and 35, the likelihood of participation is higher. Do people already love your brand? Or at least “Like” it? (no photo-1432888622747-4eb9a8efeb07Facebook pun intended). If you have a loyal following, the exposure will be easier. If not, the success can still be obtained by focusing on your strengths. Make sure to look at what social networking site groups or pages are already representing your brand, since you never know if these could be leveraged to your advantage. Did you know someone created a MySpace profile as Barack Obama that got shut down during his campaign? Did you also know it had over thirty thousand friends? Maybe they could have used that exposure to their advantage. You definitely want to make a presence that promotes interaction and conversation, with interactive elements that help facilitate this. How can you make it easier for a person to share and comment on a post and subsequently influence their peers? The Canadian Make A Wish Foundation’s Facebook page has added a “Donate Now” button alongside the standard Like and Message, bringing this need to the forefront. Or maybe your audience contains mostly Spectators, in which case blogging might be a better fit.

Try Blogging

Blogging is pretty amazing, actually. It generates trust and stimulates discussion (groundswell, 2011). If your products and service are anything like HP’s, you might want to start thinking about a blog, or multiple for that matter. HP found that they could respond more effectively by reaching customers at the right stage in the funnel; somewhere in between consideration and preference and they could influence the Spectators that wouldn’t’ otherwise participate. When Windows Vista had a printing issue, they were able to resolve it via blog and it was shared among many people online. Blogging can stop a PR disaster in its tracks, generate high visibility, answer customer questions and eventually can lead to insight (groundswell, 2011). But blogging can be a huge expense, right? Look at the breakdown. You can determine a valid ROI analysis if you look at the potential value you gain in advertising, PR, word of mouth, support and research. Estimate this ROI before you get started. Next, listen. Get a hold on the buzz that’s already begun in your industry and take note. Then, set a goal. Will you be focusing on products? News? Make sure to develop a plan that includes who is blogging and when and an editorial process of who needs to review and approve. This can HALT any project if it’s not efficient. Develop a Marketing plan so the blog is actually found and read! This can include email campaigns, press releases, by using links to other interesting blogs and ensuring to use your tag words efficiently. Don’t forget to do a few trial runs to ensure this is viable. Remember, blogging is more than writing (groundswell, 2011) and comments and discussion are equally as important as the information. Lastly – be honest! Letting the world see our opinions, mistakes and solutions helps build credibility. We are all people after all.

Viral Videos

Speaking on credibility, or lack there of, let’s talk about viral videos. Unless we’re talking about a company like Blendtec, with their successful “Will It Blend” series, I wouldn’t have given much thought to a viral video as a campaign. How do you promote a non profit organization’s vision or message with a video, that will actually go “viral”? Let’s look at a few examples that really brought awareness to their message and its importance. The company Water is Life is a non profit whose mission is to “provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene programs. Saving Lives. Transforming Communities.” One of their transformation efforts was, and still is, in Haiti, post earthquake. They created a video, using people in the local communities, to bring awareness to this need, in a unique way. First world problems, anyone?

This video from 2012 has been viewed over 7 million times and essentially hijacked an existing twitter hashtag called #firstworldproblems. According to data from, this hashtag has a potential reach of 1.2 million (Patel, 2016). What an idea! This is the power of social media in action. Thanks to the donations made from the video, one of the boys in the video was involved with bringing clean water to his country (Water is Life, 2016). Amazing!

Another more current example is the new Spice Girls Wannabe remake, by Global Goals. This video was just posted on July, 5, 2016, and within two days already has over 700 thousand views and is a trending topic on Twitter under the #WhatIReallyReallyWant. Global Goals is bringing attention to the need for gender equality and awareness on “what we really really want for women and girls” like ending child marriage, violence against girls and gaining access to quality education to name a few (Global Goals, 2016). The need for this increased awareness is in preparation for the UN in September. It’s in one word – AWESOME – and has already drawn a lot of attention.

These types of viral videos would definitely take a strong Marketing plan and some initiative. Another aspect of videos is the B2B relationship. Although the audience would be much (MUCH) smaller than my two examples above, the goal may be different, so it could still have the potential for success.

Community Driven

Maybe your audience is more community minded, in that they share a unique trait already, that draws them to each other? Some consumers, like car enthusiasts, would have a natural affinity towards each other (groundswell, 2011) and share stories, ideas and influence each other. If most of your target market are Joiners and Critics, you might have more success with a community, where you can engage them as a group. Do they essentially, already HAVE a community? If so, then you need to be a part of it! Even using subtle branding can be successful, if it helps them solve a problem and want to share their experience. The main concern with starting a community is supporting it, so make sure you include a long term support system in your Marketing plan.

Let’s Talk

If Talking is your digital marketing strategy, one of the techniques listed above is recommended. Do you need to increase awareness? Brainstorm viral video ideas. Obtain word of mouth influence? Try social networking sites and turn it into a conversation. If your message is more complex, try the blogosphere and if your audience prefers to find information from each other, start a community and join the chatter. Whichever technique you choose, do us all a favour; stop shouting and start talking!




Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Global Goals. (2016, 07). Global Goals. Retrieved from
Patel, N. (2016, 01 28). Retrieved from
The Gift of Water. (2012, 10 03). YouTube. Retrieved from
The Global Goals. (2016, 07 05). YouTube. Retrieved from
Water is Life. (2016, 07). Water is Life. Retrieved from
Header image by: Pablo Garcia Saldana
Image by William Iven



Strategy over Technology

So you’ve decided to tap into the world of corporate social media marketing. Easy, right? Just throw someone in charge of setting up a Facebook account, Twitter is next and done. No problem. Wait…what are you going to consistently post about? How will your customers react? Will this change how you do business with them or your business partners? Maybe we need to put a bit more strategic thought into this after all.

At least you’ve decided to start the process and take the online plunge. The term “groundswell approach avoidance syndrome” (groundswell, 2011) refers to an obsessive interest in all things social media, including competitors or new technologies, but real anxiety over the actual participation in the digital world. Some people feel they should join but the actual action of taking part keeps getting postponed for various reasons. If there is one thing that is certain it’s that social media isn’t going anywhere, it’s not a fad and it should be taken seriously when creating strategic goals. Let’s participate…wisely.

In order to have a clear and successful experience, it’s best to treat this like any other company initiative and make a plan. It’s a great idea to have a vision of your success in mind but be warned that there are certain factors that should be taken into account before rushing in. The following four step POST process enables you to plan it out to better ensure its success. People – Objectives – Strategy – Technology.


The first step is to analyze your customers and how they do business. As previously mentioned, determining the Social Technographics of your consumers is the best method of really knowing their habits and preferences, so you can provide the best outlet for them to communicate and engage. Maybe your target market participates actively online or maybe they are purely spectators. This is important to know. It would be a huge loss if after all your planning, you realized that getting the information TO your customers was an issue. And don’t forget about the people behind the business to business relationships. Just like consumers are grouped by likes and dislikes, habits and other similarities, these people are grouped based on job title, or responsibilities. Businesses don’t interact – people do (groundswell, 2011).


Next, it’s important to set actual goals and objectives. What is it that you see as your preferred outcome? As with any plan, having a detailed goal will help determine the best strategy. Maybe generating sales is the hope, or increasing awareness and reach of an important message. Look at your current company goals and expand on those. Whatever the end goal is, make note of it and keep it in mind while creating your strategy.


That brings us to the most important step, your Strategy. Having a goal and understanding your customers is a start, but without a sequential, thoughtful plan, your efforts may be wasted and your customers’ engagement stagnant. How do you see your relationship with your customers changing (groundswell, 2011) and how will you accomplish this? Perhaps your main strategy is Listening, by doing a varied form of research, to gain more insight and better understanding of your target market’s thoughts. Maybe Talking is a better approach, allowing you to spread your important message to new customers and expand to more interactive channels (groundswell, 2011). Energizing your consumers is difficult but can be accomplished by finding those most enthusiastic and proud and willing to share their stories, where word of mouth is key. Supporting your audience can be important if your corporate service and support costs are high and you’re hoping to bring your members together to support each other. If Embracing is your strategy, you’ve likely already had success with one or more of the actions already listed and are looking to really use your consumers’ knowledge and engagement to your advantage, to help improve your designs or methods. A few pointers when creating the strategy include to start small, look for feedback and build on that. Really think it through; how will programming or business plans change? Place someone in charge that has experience and seniority. And finally, choose your technology partners wisely.

Whatever strategy you choose, choose wisely! It will help you in the long run by providing metrics to analyze your success and hopefully gain you more buy-in from executives and management to move forward.


That leaves us with the LAST step, Technology. I know, I know. You’ve already chosen the preferred technologies and they’re at the top of the project summary. My advice to you is…clear them from your mind until you’ve determined the first three steps; People, Objectives and Strategy. As we’ve all seen, technologies change so rapidly that your plan needs to be flexible and have wiggle room for these changes. Don’t make a Facebook plan, but rather a social media plan. Remember, chasing the technology (groundswell, 2011) can lead to the “groundswell-approach-avoidance-syndrome” I mentioned earlier……so be careful. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when solely looking at the technologies.

POST in Action

If we apply this process to a non-profit organization, like the Centre for Family Literacy in Edmonton, we can map out these important POST steps. This organization is committed to helping build, develop and improve literacy in Alberta. Their Vision is “A healthy, literate society where all are able to contribute and succeed” and Mission, “to build, develop, and improve literacy with families and communities” (Centre For Family Literacy). They had me hooked once I received a “Grow Into Literacy” chart when my son was born, where I added a photo as he grew from 6 weeks to 5 years, while being reminded of early literacy tips and habits.

To start off our plan, let’s look at the People. Their successful programs and services are targeted towards two main consumer types; adults who struggle with literacy and families with young children just starting out, while their important message and vision is targeted towards potential volunteers, donors and partners. Adults struggling to read may have a lower tendency to take part in the groundswell, or be solely Spectators. Families could have a varied participation in social media, but likely be Spectators or even Joiners due to their interest in literacy programs. Both adults and families choosing literacy would benefit from word of mouth or partner engagement such as the local library or the community League. Potential volunteers and donors may be more likely to have a higher tendency to visit and contribute to social networking sites, being Joiners or even Critics.

In regards to Objectives, let’s look at a few of the organization’s current goals (Centre For Family Literacy, 2016) and see how they can translate into a Social Media plan.

  • Adults will improve their literacy skills
  • Parents and program providers will increase opportunities and support for children’s language and literacy devel
  • Individuals and agencies providing adult literacy, skill development, and family literacy opportunities in Edmonton and across Alberta will receive training and support

photo-1424115087662-5845efc6b366Since one of the tips for creating a strategy is start small, it’s best if we just tackle one target market initially. For example, targeting parents who are interested in improving their own literacy as well as starting their children on the right path which would in turn increase the reach of the current programming and support. This strategy example can be incorporated into a social media plan by “Talking” and using new interactive channels to communicate the messages. After this plan sees some feedback and engagement, perhaps the next step would be to target partners who provide similar programs, like the Edmonton Public Library (EPL), and increase their awareness of the latest research and training.

The Technology of choice to complete this initial Talking strategy could be Twitter and Facebook. They could communicate program highlights, contests, events, literacy facts and research and share similar organizations’ updates and interesting stories. A next step could be a blog, which could then also be highlighted on the Twitter and Facebook pages. Their current strategy utilizes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and they have an interesting blog. They’ve even created their own App called Flit, Families Learning and Interacting Together, to help with the development of literacy.

I think it’s fair to say that they have done an amazing job at taking their objectives and strategies over into their social media planning. The Centre for Family Literacy has incorporated the Intellectual (literacy skills), Emotional (family interaction) and Social (stronger community networks) aspects of literacy into their message (Centre For Family Literacy, 2016).

POST for Success

With a successful POST process you can ensure you will be ready for a long term social media plan that you can incorporate into your company’s strategic vision. Choose strategy over technology and you won’t regret it!




(Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
(2016, 06). Retrieved from Centre For Family Literacy:
Centre for Family Literacy. (2013, 01 25). Retrieved from YouTube:
Centre for Family LIteracy. (2016, 01 25). Retrieved from YouTube:



Embrace the Transparency

If you asked me ten years ago whether I would be writing a blog, I would have been more than a little skeptical. You probably would have gotten a sarcastic quip as a response. Blogging! Ha! Even now, I still have a hard time understanding how it is that we came to be in such a digitally connected world, socially, within a short time frame. Even more surprising are the success of corporate blogs. Who knew blogging was more than personal? Or is it……isn’t a corporate blog just another person sharing their take on things?

In the corporate world, taking on social media is a challenge at first, building up effective community forums takes a huge resource load and what about blogging? Including a blog in a company’s social strategy is a risk and may not be at the top of the list for many. I’m sure many executives are hesitant to touch the “weblog” world and receive instant feedback on their product mix’s minimal or giant flaws. But, we’ve learned that this risk might be worth taking, as demonstrated by a tech giant, Dell.

Dell started facilitating offshore support in 2001 and was in a downward spiral of customer dissatisfaction, as shown by one blogger in 2005. After two failed repairs and a false or non-existent in home service plan, he took to the web and really let the world know about his troubles. He created an audience for Dell’s flaws and he finally got their attention. This set in action what is now Dell’s blog resolution team, where they monitor blogs then coordinate with all departments to respond appropriately (groundswell, 2011). But they definitely should have been involved in the conversation earlier on.

To be most successful, the first recommendation is to start small. Instead of jumping in head first to all aspects of social technology, it’s best to strategically choose one and let its plan be completed and evaluated. Look for current issues and use the technology to solve them (groundswell, 2011), while focusing on the success and impact of the step instead of its grandeur.

26354592713_e49a79f066_zThe next tip is to have a plan. Want to post to Facebook, Twitter and create a blog? How about envision what conversations you will be having with your customers in a year, or two. Or describe the relationship you will have with them at that point (groundswell, 2011). How will you get there?  A good example is the Canadian Red Cross. They have an interesting and informative blog and on May 5th, one blog post in particular, The Red Cross Responds to Alberta Fires, attracted a lot of attention due to the Fort McMurray wildfires dire situation. It’s a summary of what was happening, how they were helping and who to contact to register for assistance. The 96 odd comments range from support phone numbers not working to international donations to accommodation offerings to mental health services support. They responded to the comments requiring assistance but let some others be owned by the online community and rightfully so. The Canadian Red Cross also had a huge Twitter and Facebook presence during the fires and still do. They are doing an amazing job at communicating and set a good example of how it’s best to focus on the communication instead of the medium. #AlbertaStrong.

Now, how do you choose who will communicate the most effectively? A surprising expert blogger is executive Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Marriott International, Inc. His blog, Bill Marriott On The Move, is as interesting as it is broad. From a self-described “technophobe”, he has written blogs such as Smiles Are Better Than Smiley Faces and My First Twitter Chat, and also tackles politics, religion and education. But be warned, not all executives might fare so well. Make sure to have the right people blogging. Like Bill, they are passionate and customer-centric (groundswell, 2011), being both interesting and trusting to the readers. As Bill says himself, “in this fascinating information age, you have to be transparent” (Marriott).

This brings me to the next step. Ensure to include the leaders in the planning. Management at all levels will need to be on board and feel empowered by the groundswell, just as those executing the plan. You’ll need to be persuasive in explaining how with this method, you’ll become so engaged with your customers that you walk in step with their needs and wants (groundswell, 2011). Wait…isn’t this what we’ve been waiting for?! As stated by Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson, a legitimate groundswell guru, they saw their employee base as a “natural asset” with ideas of “authenticity” that could more easily “develop a community”(Hirshberg). They soon learned that Management needed to have the “curiosity to listen” to the ideas generated by these employees to continue to be motivating leaders.

I’m sure for every successful company, there are a few that fail, but even in this new world of communication, there are strategic steps you can take to avoid the mishap. Remember Dell? They quickly learned to join the conversation and be more transparent in doing so (groundswell, 2011). Don’t forget, authenticity is key. You might as well blog about your blunders – everyone else is!





Canadian Red Cross. (2016, 05 05). Red Cross Blog. Retrieved from

Canadian Red Cross. (2016, 05 06). Flickr. Retrieved from

Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.

Hirshberg, P. (2009). Retrieved from Vimeo:

Marriott, B. (n.d.). Marriott On The Move. Retrieved from

Schaefer, M. (2011, 01 05). Retrieved from

World Travel and Tourism Council. (2016, 04 06). Retrieved from YouTube:

Photo By: Ian Schneidere:


Sit Back and Listen to the Chatter

Good communication means always listening. Communication is a two-way interaction. Ask open-ended questions. These are tips that we constantly use in standard business settings and training, but when we look at the new era of business interaction – Social Media – how do we use them to our advantage?

Let’s look at a few common listening strategies; market research, surveys and focus groups. These are the typical go-to approaches for a company looking to find out more about their customers; current or potential. These are known for their effectiveness at pin pointing the answers the company was searching for, but what about the questions they never thought to ask? Syndicated, or market research is a one-way communication that will map trends but won’t tell you what people are thinking (groundswell, 2011). Surveys, typically carried out by phone, mail or internet, are simpler to complete, but can cost upwards of $10,000, may have issues reaching niche markets and again, fail to find the “it” questions that were never asked. Focus groups are on the right track, getting the people who fit the profile to interact and react spontaneously to the questions asked. But are these really the right people? And are they really giving you their all? There is a commonality here in that the real consumer insights – the deep down, emotional gripes and grievances that these people are feeling – are lacking.

We can do better!

To dig deeper into the minds of your target markets, there are two monitoring methods that can help. The first type of groundswell monitoring is a private community. It’s like a huge focus group, of hand picked thoughtful people, that interacts. Some vendor examples are Communispace and MarketTools. They form a community that functions just like a social network with profiles, discussions, chats and photos so it’s a familiar and comfortable setting for consumers. What do you do while this interaction is going on? You LISTEN.

Ellen Sonet, the VP of Marketing for the New York Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, learned through such a community that a cancer patient does not make business decisions like a business executive  (groundswell, 2011). She was basing her marketing strategy on the reputation and expertise of their facility, all the while the patients were clearly overwhelmed and trusting their family doctors with the decision of a treatment center. One patient in particular provided in-depth, constructive details on his needs and preferred resources and was a crucial partner in Ellen’s revised marketing strategy.

What if companies are missing these key partners?

Let’s look at the MS Society of Canada. They have implemented a program called Listening to People Affected by MS. It’s an extensive research program that used focus groups, online surveys and one-on-one interviews. The information they gathered is impressive and provides understanding of current quality of life needs, priorities, gaps and barriers experienced by Canadians affected by MS (MS Society of Canada, 2012). I wonder if with a private online community, they would have found that extra insight or key consumer partner? Maybe. But the MS Society seems to have targeted the emotional side to quite an extent, especially based on the focus group findings, showing gaps in support such as the lack of specially-trained physiotherapists across the country, lack of age-appropriate long-term care facilities and the need for more effective and available employment counselling (MS Society of Canada, 2012). If anything, a more community-based listening strategy may have extended their insight by more candid and influential interactions that typically occur in online communities. A community offers a more lasting value with the missing “what” and “how” getting answered (groundswell, 2011).

Brand Monitoring is another type of listening strategy worth noting. You can hire a team of experts to listen on your behalf. I mean REALLY listen. They understand the Social Technographics of your target market and monitor their online chatter; blogs, discussion forums, positive and negative comments, down to the emotional expression detail. Everything that is said about your brand is heard. Companies like MotiveQuest can charge about $70,000 for this level of detail, but it could be worth the lump sum investment, as determined by MINI head of Marketing, Trudy Hardy.

What better way to promote your brand than target existing owners? Some might disagree. But what Trudy found was that by creating a promotional program targeted towards these unique, proud and exclusive owners, she created the online buzz needed to sustain sales to reach the yearly targets. Have your customers promote your brand for you…what a thought! By creating this online chatter she generated a strong consumer collaboration which has the potential for far greater commercial impact with the least amount of risk (MechanicaMade, 2013).

Are these new listening strategies the way to go? Think of your brand. According to Ricardo Guimarães, founder of Thyme Branding in Brazil, your brand is what your customers say it is and its value belongs to the market (groundswell, 2011). Simple as that. Other potential benefits include:

  • Hearing when the buzz is shifting
  • Saving money in the long term
  • Finding sources of influence within the market
  • Managing a PR crisis early
  • Generating new ideas!!

What’s the first step?

Whether you choose to hire a vendor to listen for you or you start the process yourself, the first step is to make a plan. Check the Social Technographics Profile of your consumers looking for Creators and Critics and know that increasing awareness in your listening strategy will change how you see other strategies. Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, Sales and most importantly, senior level decision making will all be affected. These listening strategies can start at the internal level as well. An example of utilizing the employee skill set to benefit the community at large is the Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation (Hirshberg, 2009). What was initially an employee community tool was quickly seen an asset for product and service innovation and subsequently customer feedback and support. Regardless of your chosen listening strategy, you need to act on what you’ve learned, with a clear plan to action for future implementation.

Remember, when it comes to consumers, feelings are facts (MechanicaMade, 2013) and it’s these feelings that will gain you the insight you need to grow your business!




Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.

Hirshberg, P. (2009). Retrieved from Vimeo:

MechanicaMade. (2013, 07 18). YouTube. Retrieved from

MS Society of Canada. (2012). Retrieved from

Verbatimblog. (2010, 10 25). Retrieved from YouTube:

Photo by: William White