The social and consumer dynamics of interactive digital dialogue are constantly evolving, and for some time now Web 2.0-savvy consumers have been doing much of the talking. They’ve taken control over entertainment and editorial media, reversing the conventional flow of communication by increasingly uploading as much as downloading content. This wave of Consumer Generated Media (CGM) – blogs, podcasts, videos – is viewed or listened to on a rapidly increasing number of social website, TV and mobile networks.
Digital media owners are riding the CGM wave. YouTube users can produce and upload videoblogs in a matter of minutes, and view those produced by others. Social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter let people keep in touch with one another and voice their opinions. Amazon encourages consumers to post product reviews for others to read. Periscope users transmit live video feeds. Some entertainers are also encouraging interactivity – movie makers are reshooting to include suggestions from preview internet audiences, rock bands invite fans to remix album tracks before re-releasing them online.
And with Web 3.0 just around the corner consumers will be doing more of their talking from an increasing number of devices – not just from their smartphones, tablets and laptops, but also from their smart TVs, video game players, medical monitors – even their clothing will connect to the ‘internet of things’. And with the likes of Google planning to understand the context as well as the content of such communication, the dialogue between browser and consumer is going to become more humanised – leaving brands in danger of being left out of the conversation.
What’s a brand to do? The answer is to openly engage with the consumer through social networking channels with a genuine, honest voice, encouraging them to befriend the brand and to participate in brand development activities. For example, crowdsourcing sees consumer volunteers or low-paid amateurs being encouraged by brand-owners to help design better products or services online, often motivated by nothing more than their own creative aspirations. The advantage to the brandowners is that new ideas can be generated at little cost and candidate ideas can be aborted if rejected by participating consumers. And by inviting their involvement, consumer affinity with the brand is strengthened.
Another example is Consumer Generated Advertising (CGA) which encourages consumers to write and even produce their own online ads for their brand by making video clips and music tracks available for download. All the big USA brands have experimented with this – some successfully, others not so. Without editorial control – and that would be seen as a cop-out – it can be a risky business. Disappointed customers can have a sting in their tail.
Perhaps CGA is taking consumer empowerment a step too far. Brands should encourage consumers to suggest product innovations or improvements, by all means. Entertain them, engage them in conversation, indulge their creative ambitions, even – but brandowners should never forget that consumers are there to be sold to. Remember, brands can be at their most persuasive when shout turns to whisper. Exploit the new dialogue between brand and consumer. Embrace the emerging technologies and the new interactive communication channels and make them work. For you.
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