Influence or Empower?

Of late there’s been a lot of discussion (here, here and here) on whether social media should be used to influence customers or to empower customers. Mark those words – “should be used” – as if someone has a choice!! I think if marketers had complete control over what they could do with social media, they’d always choose “influence customers” over “empower customer”. Fortunately, they don’t have any such control. In fact, I think, the whole debate about empowering or influencing customers is sort of futile. The customers ARE already empowered by social media. Thank you very much!! I think the question you (companies/marketers) should ask yourself is – how are you going to influence “empowered customers”?  Old techniques aren’t going to work. For instance,
most company websites still show exaggerated testimonials on their home page – “Big Mac is the healthiest food in the country says VP of MacroSoft” or something like that…you get the point…is that working? If I were planning to do business with you, I’d immediately google your credentials and get to the truth from social forums – takes 2 minutes. Now, if the social web tells me something that you were trying to hide on your website, I’m going to be very angry, not only because you are lying on your website but also because you underestimated my ability to get to the truth. From now onwards, I’ll not trust anything you say; every ad impression you waste on me will only strengthen my stand and if I see too many of them I’ll actually start actively participating in anti-you forums.

I guess the take-away from all of this is that brands need to be authentic…at least they need to come across as authentic...to empowered customers. For instance, if a brand shows me all kinds (+ve/-ve) of comments from it’s customers on its website, my respect and trust level for the brand will immediately go up and I might be willing to do business with it even if not every customer had something great to say about it.


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