Crowdsourcing has become more and more popular as brands engage with users on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites.
However, the benefits (increased engagement and customer insight) are often counterbalanced with demands for businesses and organizations to change and become more responsive to customers’ needs.
Pulin Modi of Change.org has a unique perspective on what this means for marketers. A senior campaigner at Change.org, a petition platform with more than 25 million users worldwide, he sees new grassroots campaigns appear daily, aimed at everything from making youth football leagues coed to freeing imprisoned activists – as well as requests for businesses to change the way they operate.
The ability of customers to drive change is changing business and marketing, he says, echoing MarketingProfs’ Ann Handley‘s observation that brands no longer control their own perception; rather, consumers do.
We asked Pulin what this changing dynamic means for businesses, consumers, and marketing.
Q: How has the digital world changed customer-business relationships?
A: If you look at the traditional way that consumers give businesses feedback, it’s very much controlled by businesses. You go to a company’s website, fill out a form, and choose a particular category of where your feedback falls into.
It’s very much guided by what makes it easy for that company to ignore it or pay attention to it in a way that’s most convenient to them.
What we’re seeing with Change.org and with other online groups is that consumers now have more flexibility in how they communicate their concerns and share them with other people.
They can share concerns with their friends, on Facebook, on Twitter. It creates a different experience for the consumer. I think it’s a lot more empowering than filling out a form, selecting a couple of categories, and hoping for the best.
Q: What does this change mean to businesses?
A: It’s helping to diversify how companies hear from their consumers, so they have less control.
But at the same time it’s helping consumers better connect with each other. If you just fill out a form on a website or call customer service, you don’t necessarily know how many other people are doing that.
You can’t read comments like you can on petitions, where concerned moms talk about what their kids are eating, for example.
Q: Why should businesses listen?
A: Companies have nothing to lose by listening to their consumers. If there’s a serious concern from a large base of consumers, it’s an opportunity for businesses to show how much they care.
One of the best and most pressing examples of that is Gatorade recently announcing that they will stop using Brominated Vegetable Oil in its products. That should be commended.
And Sarah Kavanagh, the high school sophomore from Mississippi, who started the Change.org petition to end its use, is very clear that she thinks it’s a great thing. She’s not bitter or holding a grudge about it.
Q: How can businesses listen to their target audiences better?
A: It’s great to pay attention to traditional forms of feedback, which is through businesses’ own websites, customer service lines, and the other data they track about how their products are doing.
But it’s a big mistake for any company to overlook what people do on Change.org, Twitter, and Facebook. The speed at which this information and these campaigns can grow is much faster than anything they could anticipate. These channels make it quicker and easier for companies, if they’re willing, to listen.
Q: How can businesses improve customer engagement?
A: There’s a disconnect because businesses know that peer-to-peer marketing to sell products is a very powerful thing. But they’re still a little slow to realize that the opposite effect can be true. Negative word of mouth about about products is just as powerful and can move just as quickly.
You don’t want your company to have to deal with a nightmare. The quicker you catch it and try to communicate with the people who start petitions, the better off you’ll be.
The customers will be happier because they feel like their voices are being heard and that they’re actively part of these corporate decision-making processes.
The company only benefits from that, too, because they want to keep consumers happy.