How Collaboration Can Turn Customers into Brand Promoters

Years ago, consumers had very little say in corporate strategies and presentation. Information was disseminated in a top-down fashion, and brands retained complete control over what their customers knew and said about them.

In today's world of social media, Reddit and Wikipedia, consumers have more power than ever to share information about a brand. Raymond King, CEO of domain application and management company Top Level Design, believes that instead of fighting against this trend, companies should be collaborating with customers to give them a richer, more meaningful brand experience.

"Wiki culture is based upon the idea of radical trust, where I trust you to edit my content in a productive way," said King, whose company created the .wiki domain. "That's how a group resource is honed over time, and we never say that it is "perfect" or "done." Collaborative brands get this. They know that their customer interaction is never static and that they can constantly work alongside their supporters to improve their performance."

Many brands mistakenly believe that responding to customers on social media is the answer to customer collaboration, King said. Being engaged and responsive via social channels is a great first step, but often, businesses don't use customer feedback collected here to its full advantage. [7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers]

"Simply creating a Facebook page or a Twitter handle [won't take your] customer interaction to the next level," King told Business News Daily. "Big and small brands alike regularly struggle in this department. The fact that many companies use social media in a superficial way, basically as a public feedback forum that never finds its way into decision making, limits its effectiveness."

If you truly want to make your customers feel like they're part of your brand's decision-making process, you need to find ways to encourage meaningful collaboration with them. King offered the following tips to help you get started.

Provide a collaborative space for conversation. Many companies already understand the power of collaborative documents and webpages for internal collaboration. They are an invaluable way to keep all company resources organized, and power dynamic brainstorming across an entire staff. With these types of tools, you have an opportunity to bring your customers into the conversation like never before. If your customers know they can go somewhere to delve deeper into your brand's world, you can expect to turn your customers into educated spokespeople.

Speak as an expert to your verticals. To truly build trust and interaction among consumers, break out of your constant marketing cycle and speak more broadly to your vertical markets.

"If I have an expert talking to me about cloud solutions and the landscape of distributed networks in a broader sense, I am more likely to trust that source once we start talking about specific solutions," King said.

Customers like to feel they are making an educated decision before they buy. King advised brands to seek to inform customers in an engaging way.

Actually listen. Many brands are happy to have freelancers or interns take care of their day-to-day social media activities, but those interactions are rarely seen or reported to the corporate leadership. The exception to this is when there is a failure: When a campaign flops in a big way, the social media manager responds inappropriately, or a company just doesn't listen and releases an updated product with all the same flaws as the last version. If you allow all employees and even your customers to interact and shape a brand’s trajectory, you will see a lot more excitement around brand development.

"Staying relevant and effective is a challenge for any growing company," King said. "It is important to remember is that you can leverage your existing customer base to help improve your products and keep you grounded in how your work integrates into their lives."

Originally published on Business News Daily.