Why Consumer Generated Media (aka Social Media) Matters to Brands: A Real-World Case Study
My Case Study: DSC-H55 and My Quest in CGM World
I needed to buy a new digital camera. Well, I wanted to buy a new digital camera. My family was visiting relatives on the East Coast last week and I forgot to bring along a camera. (OK, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)
So, which camera did I buy? If you’re going to buy a second digital camera, or a third one, you probably want to find one that does something new and different than your other cameras.
I’ve been interested in panorama photographs lately. Remembering a television commercial I’d seen, I knew that Sony makes a small snapshot-size camera that can shoot panoramas. So, I searched on Google. In a few moments, I had a model number: Sony DSC-H55. Next, I went to Amazon to see if it sold that model and if there were any reviews. Indeed, they did sell the camera and it had been extensively reviewed.
I scanned the camera’s features and then browsed the reviews. There were 29 reviews posted, and 16 of them were five-star reviews; just four of the reviews had received two stars or fewer. I read all four of the lowest scores and a bunch of the five-star reviews. I learned that the camera works pretty well at things I value and that it seemed to fit my point-and-shoot photography needs.
Next, I turned to Flickr. I found the camera’s user group (which had 28 members and 188 photos so far), and I viewed several panoramic shots. I liked a lot of them. Overall, on Flickr I found over 400 shots taken with the DSC-H55. I checked out some of the posted photos and read comments about both the photos and the camera.
The camera also shoots video, so I headed over to YouTube and searched there too. I checked out a few videos taken with the camera and a few video reviews of the camera. Continuing my search to find out more about this camera, I found discussions about the camera (albeit brief ones) on Twitter.
I went to Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com) and read some of the forums on that site that covered the camera as well as the site’s review of the camera model. By way of comparison, I also scanned reviews of other point-and-shoot cameras and reviewed some of the forum discussions for those cameras.
Lastly, I searched at blogsearch.google.com and found thousands of blog postings that referenced the camera. I scanned a few of these, and though I did not learn much more about the camera or its features, I started to develop an idea of what I might have to pay for the camera.
The above searches took me about an hour in total. After my online research, I decided I wanted to buy the Sony DSC-H55 camera. Because I was traveling, and because the newest family member (the son of a nephew) was arriving the next day, Amazon or other online retailers were not possible. So, I checked Best Buy, Target and a few other websites, and I found a local store that had the camera in stock at a good price. I’m very happy with my purchase.
In all, not counting Google or the retailers, I spent time on five web sites researching my purchase. Curiously, the one web site I never checked out was this one: www.sony.com.
Consumer Generated Media (CGM)
I’m pretty sure if I had gone to look, I could find some information there about the DSC-H55. But frankly, it didn’t occur to me. A lot of current research shows that people trust the opinions of their friends and peers more than they trust traditional marketing messages. My experience is a real-world example of that phenomenon.
We often lump all of these networks into the social media category. While the various sites are different in many ways they all represent the direct thoughts and feelings of regular people and consumers, as opposed to the views of companies. We might also refer to this broader category as consumer generated media, or CGM. Social networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites, are all subsets of CGM. I make the distinctions above because what you learn and how you engage will vary by type of consumer generated media.
It’s not that great of a stretch to apply what I found in the above personal case study to how social media strategies can be shaped. Limiting your online marketing strategies around just Facebook or other social networks may cause you to miss valuable conversations taking place in other media such as forums or blogs. I think B2B companies will find this particularly true because professional conversations congregate in blogs and forums more than in purely social networks. An ad network, for example, might be quite savvy about social networks and placing ads there. But the reality is that such an ad network may be more likely to find deeper conversations about advertising on a site like adverblog.com than on Facebook.
So, does this mean that companies like Sony can dump their expensive web sites? Not at all. It does mean that companies need to view consumer generated media, including social networks, as companions to the information and messages that they directly promote. I’ll go further and suggest that for some people, good product pages are a great addition to consumer generated media. The Sony page surely fed some of the initial interest in the new camera that seeded the reviews, forums and online conversations. No doubt, having a great product helped too.
When approaching the start (or continuation) of a social media campaign a great question to ask is: What can Sony or other brands do to foster strong consumer generated media about their products? There seems to be a consensus that people who engage in CGM are skeptical about top-down, traditional and company-driven messages. I know I am a bit myself. In a future post or posts, I’d like to touch upon strategies that brands can use to engage in consumer generated media in authentic ways, as well as strategies they can use to measure results.
Consumer generated media is so large that there are likely to be thousands, if not millions, of online conversations taking place for even niche products. This is true for B2B as well as B2C brands. The consumers have voted with their typing fingers and they want to get information from their friends and peers. Wise brands will find ways to participate in these conversations, learn and to profit from them.
Bill is a technical advisor to Optify. Bill has been involved in the BI industry longer than the term “Business Intelligence.” In the early 90s, Bill was Sr. VP of Product Development at IRI Software, where he led the development of the Express multi-dimensional database. His tenure at IRI included Express’s Windows-based user interface and porting to a wide variety of server platforms.
Beginning in 1996, Bill spent over twelve years at Microsoft where he started the BI team within the SQL Server product unit. Bill and his team delivered three releases of Analysis Services, Reporting Services, Integration Services and the SQL Server Management Studio. During that period, Bill was a frequent spokesperson for BI at Microsoft.
Most recently Bill was CTO at Visible Technologies, a Bellevue, WA company that produces software to measure and analyze brand perceptions and performance in social media.