The language of business today is peppered with terms like ‘social media’, ‘omni-channel’, ‘customer experience’ and ‘feedback’, reflecting the stark reality: digital rules. Indeed, one of the most powerful ways to build, enhance and even protect a brand is to engage audiences, and open up a public conversation. It’s a leap of faith that challenges organizations. But, we ask, do you really need to be afraid of your digital audience?

Public digital interaction
A modern digital strategy should include—wherever possible—a way to involve your audience in what you are doing for them. Let’s call this ‘digital interaction’ from here on. Well managed and facilitated, digital interaction leads to an improved brand image and enhanced desirability of your products or services. One of the most simple forms of digital interaction is offering your audience a way to give online feedback and appreciation. News sites have been offering this option for years; their audiences can respond to specific news articles and publications, but they can also respond to each other via comment streams. This lets audiences respond to the content offered and to the content they generate themselves. They have the option to share their opinion, good or bad, and it is made visible to the public. It’s interactive, user-led—and transparent.

A positive business case
Many organizations are reluctant to offer such transparent levels of public digital interaction. Some argue that active monitoring of—and responding to—what’s happening on digital channels takes too much time and effort. There’s often also an element of fear at play. Yet we can immediately see the flaw, here: if a product or service falls short of expectations, customers will find a way to communicate this. If they don’t find easy ways to connect with you, you’ll probably never see them again. And most likely, they will complain about their experience on platforms that you have no control over.

But to flip the situation, it follows that an open dialogue with customers enables problems to be put right, fast. And if a customer feels that they’ve been listened to, they’re likely to be not only forgiving, but your greatest champion in the future. Opening up and facilitating digital interaction with your customers will ultimately deliver more value to your business than the effort will cost In fact, digital participation can even help you improve your products and services; who better than your own customers to know what value a product or service improvement can bring? Time to say hello to your new R&D team.

(credit: Dilbert)

Feel the fear and do it anyway: Five Reasons to Engage your Digital Audience

  1. By actively engaging with your customers on digital channels, you clearly demonstrate to them that you value their feedback and appreciation, which helps build positive sentiment. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘a brand that listens’?
  2. It’s better to be involved in the conversation, and to manage any negativity fast—and effectively. The alternative? Brand erosion through customers posting negative experiences on third-party websites, where it’s harder for the brand to have its say.
  3. Digitally engaged customers act as brand ambassadors, helping or influencing other customers who have a question or problem. By enabling them to give a product/service review, or providing an online community in which they can interact, your brand can see the power of existing customers’ experiences and opinions at work.
  4. Digital participation and interaction with your customers provides essential feedback for improving your products and services. They can contribute to the quality and even participate in evolving them. Make use of that, it’s free R&D!
  5. Brands which take the leap into digital participation will give themselves a competitive advantage.  How brands respond online is now a key differentiator, and should be worked into your competitive strategy.

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