Reading reviews, pin boards and FAQs gives insight into the likes, dislikes and instinctive behaviours of consumers. Amongst all the noise is an untapped gold mine product developers are exploiting.
It seems the internet was invented so consumers could vent their feelings about anything without fear of reprisal. Like releasing a valve, having a good moan online about a product’s functionality or an inefficient service has become an important part of the user experience. A certain catharsis comes from making it everyone’s problem, not just our own. But the difference between previous consumer generations and our own, is that brands are listening: whether the issue can be immediately dealt with or part of long-game product development, someone is taking note.
A fresh approach
John Pears from Hello Fresh, the recipe box delivery service, who are changing lives through food one healthy meal at a time, says the explosion in social media has meant businesses must have an active "social" engagement or risk becoming out of touch with their customer before any product development can be plumbed from the comments section. "It’s something that cannot be swept under the carpet, if someone emails you or calls you, no one hears about it, but on social everyone sees it." It’s something Hello Fresh has taken heed of, employing a social media customer care team, dedicated to solving any issue that may arise and preventing a replay occurring again. It’s this prevalence of social media platforms at consumer finger tips that have forced businesses to up their social media game.
The brand social media
Richard Cristina from Bloom Consulting, who provides holistic marketing strategies to start-ups, refers to review-based sites such as Amazon and TripAdvisor as a type of social media for business. "It’s basically hearing what the community is saying not only about the product, but also about the packaging of the product and the reliability and the service provided by the vendor. Were they responsive to any questions? Did the product arrive on time? It’s huge." It’s here, where an information exchange between consumer and product developer is occurring, although the consumer may not be aware of the free market research they are providing.
Innovate through design
While Hello Fresh is a leader in the recipe box delivery industry, the brand still looks to its own social media pages to innovate. "When it comes to rebranding the box, we are now thinking about how we can suggest to people to use it in different ways." The brand started to see an unexpected trend when customers were repurposing the packaging in useful ways around their homes. Sheep’s wool insulation designed to keep the cold pack contents cool for up to 36 hours was being upcycled as insulation in garden sheds and bedding in hanging plant baskets. Upon seeing these social media shares, the Hello Fresh team started developing numerous upcycling suggestions making the box and packaging just as important to their environmentally conscious consumer base as the delicious food and recipes inside.
Free market research
It’s imperative brands and particularly start-up brands look further than their own social media platforms to develop their products. Cristina warns against social media managers becoming bogged down in the development of their own content calendars, leaving no time to monitor competitor social media channels. "It’s free valuable feedback; you see what a customer has said about their product, well thanks for that because we were thinking about adding that feature on our product."
Beyond your competitor’s social media pages, Cristina also recommends starting an affiliation through social media likes, shares and comments with a brand that shares a likeminded target audience. Starting a dialogue through social media can lead to a migration of their customer onto your platforms and vice versa. And as Cristina advises his start-ups, if the development winds blow in the right direction, product collaboration could offer your brand increased exposure.
It’s clear a rich seam of information is ready to be exploited by brand developers through social media and review sites. But social media managers need to be flexible when planning their social media strategy to include, not only researching their competitor’s social media pages, but the companies closely affiliated with their target audience. Discovering potential product collaboration with a well-established brand could be the breakthrough a fledgling start-up desires.