Does the groundswell even lift, bro?

Once you’ve set up your groundswell should be able to get its swell on by itself. You can work with it as a spotter, but you want it to do all the heavy lifting itself.

In non-bro-dude-gym lingo, you want the groundswell to support itself. Basically, this is your new customer support hotline. People should be able to Google their problem and get to your site to help. This could be your FAQ, your community message boards, or an outside message board where they can find a solution.

For instance, isn’t it better if I am able to Google “How do I kill the High Dragon on the Sacred Ashes mission in Dragon Age: Origins?” and find my answer somewhere on the internet versus 1) calling Bioware or EA and asking for help (that their customer support likely has no clue about) or 2) Going on Twitter and saying “OMG DAO SUX THE DRAGON IS TOO DAMN HARD!!1! eFFF THIS GAME!! #BIOWARESUCKS#EASUCKS #XBOXSUCKS!!

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Now that is a bit of a goofy example but the principal is pretty universal regardless of if you’re business is blenders, vacuums, computer programs, newspapers, or swimsuits. But this is where your groundswell can support your company. The great thing about it is that the general public is able to create posts, answers, questions, reviews, help, tips, tricks, etc. The focus can also be on more than one of your products, your company, your competition, prices, etc.

This is the one-to-many/many-to-many effect.

However, before you start to create a community for your groundswell, there are three points that must be outlined:

  1. Problem you are going to solve
  2. How you will participate within the groundswell
  3. Create a support community or join an existing one

1. Problem you are going to solvePut yourself into your customers’ shoes. How will you create a community that will solve customers’ problems and create value?

2. How you will participate within the groundswell. You must keep activity in your groundswell that there is the generation of new content.

  • Drive people to your community (such as a message board) from messages posted on your Web site, social media accounts, products or other advertising efforts
  • Participate in the groundswell by helping people by answering questions and engaging in conversation. After a while hopefully the groundswell itself does this, but it doesn’t mean you can stop.

3. Create a support community or join an existing one

Whether your organization decides to become active in a pre-existing community or create a new one of your own, the goal is that both will be beneficial and add value. The community should be able to support itself, listen to conversation about your product, and talk to and engage with users about the product and what they like or don’t like, as well as let word-of-mouth travel.

I keep coming back to Bioware for this because I’m most familiar with their community and the way it is engaged. With the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Inquisition and having been a somewhat active member of the forums for the passed two years I can see how they’ve changed their approach to pre-release as well as the game’s construction based to an extent on what the community itself desired. The only details being released are about what has been confirmed for the game. Also, the changes in the combat engine, appearance variety and dialogue system in the new game stems from a dissatisfaction felt by many fans in the previous game.

As far as plain interaction with the community, I feel it is well done. Members of the development team and writers seem to pop in and have discussions on occasion or to debunk/confirm “rumours” to help keep control of their community and the expectations of the game. Those are good things.

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Source: Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011) Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

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Speaking Groundswellian

Want to talk with the groundswell? You know, that whole social media discussion sharing one-to-many or many-to-many thing? You do, because it is important.

New-Marketing-Funnel1

The Marketing Funnel

This is the marketing funnel. Its a classic model that works on “interruption” based marketing. This is changing. Now marketing is more about “permission” based tactics. Think of it like SHOUTING AT THE CUSTOMER versus engaging in a conversation with a customer. Thank the internet.

This is your new marketing funnel

This is your new marketing funnel

Marketers cannot control customers in the internet age the same way they used to be able to years ago. Consumers now have their own channels to utilize when evaluating and purchasing a product. This is why it is incredibly important to have some presence in social media* and to use it as effectively as possible.

*anywhere with user generated content sharing. Message boards, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, Reddit.

Now, what is the most effective way possible? Well, it relates to the POST Process. Figuring out what you want to do. This is about doing that. There are really 4 options to go with, with the execution and details varying at some level inside of those options.

1) Post a viral video
This is probably the hardest of all 4 options. It is easy enough to make a video, and even easier for it to get views. All you need is a camera and some content. But to make viral? To have people share it because of the actual content? That is tough. Especially to market something. There has to be a catch and finding one that clicks is tough. Anyone can make a video like “Thumbs up, comment, subscribe and share for your chance to win a free copy of our new game!” Does that really add value to your company or your product? No, its just cheap. What could you do? The book example talks about Blendtec doing a video showing their videos blending all sorts of objects then challenging people to do the same. Neat! Shows how durable your blenders are! Now for video games? Maybe ask fans to create their own videos in a chance to win something. Or do something funny where you show what other uses your game serves to play up the humour. “Not only is it a game, it is also a coaster! Shin pads!!… etc” anything that would be interesting enough to share and add meet your POST goal.

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2) Engage in social networks and user-generated content sites
The key word being engage. This isn’t just having a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Engage with your users through these platforms. Have a conversation. Not quite like a FAQ or “help hotline” but try to start a conversation, and then take part. Especially in the games industry there is a lot to talk with your fans about. There is your own wesbite where you can create a message board. There is Facebook and Twitter where you can converse and promote your fans (think about how great that is for them) if they do something great with your IP like fan-art, cosplays, songs, YouTube videos, fan-merch, etc. Fans add value to your company and any social media plan, at its most basic level, is about increasing that value.

3) Join the blogosphere
Startup a blog, and be casual. This isn’t a press release. Its not a political speech. This is to get on the same “level” as your audience. Sort of like an email to your staff about the pizza party. No one wants to read a textbook with stats and numbers being shoved down their throats. A blog like this should be for fun/casual expression. Feel free to inform people, but keep it casual. Speak their language.

4) Create a community
A community refers to your audience, sort of. Think of the people posting on message boards. If they’re posting about your product then they’re your community. So why not try and construct a centralized one for them? This could be on your own site, or by creating a sub-forum on an existing message board (like sub-reddits). Or why not both? The more conversation the more better. This can act as a form of word-of-mouth marketing and as a FAQ that saves your company money because the community helps each other. You can also learn plenty of information to serve as feedback that is probably a lot more informative than any feedback comment section or email from your corporate website.

What to post depends on your industry. If you’re making video games, you’re goal is probably going to be to find a way to use all of these. Create a video around release for buzz. Have an active social media program to disseminate information. Have someone from the dev team or a project lead or a writer do some blog posts to keep fans updated on their long awaited game. And have a community to be able to gauge fan sentiment or feedback so you can optimize your product.

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A game I’m currently waiting on is Dragon Age: Inquisition. So far, Bioware has released some trailers that I shared on Facebook. There have also been blog posts and developer diary type videos to give me information on what to expect and what the game will include. There are a number of people who work on the game that are relatively active on the Bioware forums, their own community, to help answer fan questions and keep them informed.

All of this adds value to the company. It is “permission” based marketing. Your audience is inviting you. So why not accept their invitation?

Hit The P.O.S.T.

Source material: groundswell by Li C., Bernoff, J

How important is the Groundswell? Well its arguably the most important thing in business. The best companies listen to their customers and users and form their entire company around that. They use the Social Technographics Profile they have constructed and kept updated to feed them quality information. It all starts with people (users and customers). Trying to start anywhere else would be like trying to start playing a game at the final boss and not knowing what the controls are. How are you going to plan to beat Big Bad Boss Character without knowing what exactly you’re supposed to do? So it is beyond important to figure this out and it all starts now.

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1. People – What are your customers ready for? What do they want? How are customers going to engage in your company? Depending what industry you are in then it determines just how much time needs to be spent here. If you’re a tech company, ideas here are relatively standard. Apps, web pages, forums, social media, etc. Internet and mobile stuff. If you’re a consumer product such as a vacuum or running shoes, people might be more likely to engage in a 3rd party forum for user reviews/conversation than a social network you may set up on your own site.

2. Objectives – What are your goals? Are you trying to get marketing information via communication with the groundswell or are you trying to invigorate sales? Both? What about tapping your internal groundswell to find ideas to better your organizational design? What about finding out how employees think they may work more efficiently or with greater satisfaction? There is generally 5 main objectives that anything and everything can be linked into.

  1. Listening: Research and understanding of your customers. What do they expect? Can get very important insight for marketing and R&D.
  2. Talking: Spreading messages about your company. You talking to customers. This is more about disseminating your company and creating awareness much like advertising.
  3. EnergizingThis is igniting conversation in others. Like poking and prodding, in the nicest way possible, to get others to share your company/message/product via word-of-mouth for brand selling.
  4. Supporting: Could be as simple as a FAQ. Could go the extra step and set up your own support and help forums/section on your website for either you to answer or other users to help each other.
  5. Embracing: The most challenging and should probably not be attempted if you haven’t aced 1 through 4  above. This is integrating your customers into your company and using their insights for R&D and marketing.

3. Strategy – How do you want things to change? What of the above 5 objectives are you trying to accomplish? Once this has been hammered out it also lets you set goals to judge whether or not you’ve been successful. Also you’ll have a better idea how to prepare your organization and which people to involve.

4. Technology – What applications are you going to use? What channels? Is it blogs? Wikis? Social networking? Most will involve a multitude of platforms throughout the process but picking the right ones at the start are crucial to successfully accomplishing your goal.

Some companies that are great at doing this are generally video game companies. When they create games they look at what people want for a game, what features, what experiences and try to find their own way to deliver that. Neatherrealm Studios did this when they rebooted the Mortal Kombat franchise in 2011 to great success. People wanted the game to get back to basics after the lore turned into a convoluted mess after Mortal Kombat: Deception.

The development team at Bioware is using feedback and consumer insight in developing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Fans liked parts of both the previous two main entries, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, and now Bioware is using that feedback to find the happy medium between both games on things such as environments, combat and character interaction. A lot of this feedback comes from Bioware’s own social network where members of the writing and development team are quite active.

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Example Mass Effect 3 survey conducted by Bioware

Another good example of a company that underwent change after making a commitment to the groundswell was the WWE. In fact, the change in direction that involved social media and other outside inputs following this pipebomb from CM Punk is largely responsible for the re-invigoration of the company since 2011 when ratings and revenues had been on a continuous slide since 2006.

All these companies created POST process plans, maybe not in the exact words as this but likely in a very similar fashion, and have used it to do what their customers want.

And in the end, isn’t that the point?