2010: The Year of Participation

January 12th, 2010

ZDNet’s “2010 Predictions: Will Social Media Reach Ubiquity?” is an interesting read despite the rhetorical question in the title.  One of the most interesting insights comes from Paula Drum (@pauladrum) from  She writes, “The good news is that consumers will continue to wield their power and word-of-mouth worthy brand will benefit exponentially.  Social media has created a world of word-of-mouth on steroids.”

While she’s correct, this is not a simple equation for marketers.  Compelling people to be interested in and an advocate for a brand is not simple.  They have to love it.  More than that, it has to be top of mind.  And there needs to be a time and place for it to come up in conversation.  For us, 2010 will be about one thing: participation.

If you could never hit a baseball to begin with, steroids aren’t going to help you.  In the same vein, if you don’t have a product or service that customers can interact with, social media isn’t going to help you.  But what does participation mean?

An article from TechCrunch showed that 80 percent of Twitter accounts have less than 10 followers.  While companies like Dell and Ford have engaged customers there, they remain the exceptions.  Domino’s Pizza has used a more old school approach of in-person focus groups supported by online media and put a lot of dollars behind it in order to encourage participation. (It did manage to get Stephen Colbert’s attention…)

The truth is that people like to give their opinions.  They like to talk about themselves.  This is not news.  The breakthrough that should start to occur this year is a move from “Marketer as Message Pusher” to “Marketer as Question Asker.”  Finding your customers, asking them relevant and timely questions, and showing them that their responses count – online or off – is the best road to participation.  Sure, the approach is as old as Socrates himself, but when paired with social media – “word-of-mouth on steroids” – it could be the next frontier of marketing.  It’s worth asking.

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