How Social Media Can Serve as a Free Focus Group

Years ago, when I met up with friends at the mall, brand ambassadors would ask us for fifteen minutes of our time in exchange for a movie voucher, food court ticket, or even sometimes a few dollars.  All we had to do was complete a survey about a new product, commercial or service.  At the time, I had no idea I was partaking in a version of a focus group.

Once college came around, I learned that participating in a focus group was the quickest, and sometimes fun, way of making money.  So what is a focus group?  It’s an opportunity for brands to hear feedback directly from the consumer about a product/service to then evaluate the product and possibly change it according to what was said.

Focus groups take time and money, and brands today are scarce on both.  However, if brands listen to the conversation about its product/service via various social networks, they would be uncovering a huge resource, a free focus group.  In my opinion, one of the most vital ways a company can enhance its product is by paying more attention to the negative feedback during these sessions.

Here are a few examples:  

TripAdvisor. As a travel publicist, this is one site I believe has the most influence on travelers.  Personally, whenever I begin planning a trip, I immediately go to the site looking for a) options of places to stay and b) feedback to get an overall feeling of the hotel/resort.  There is always controversy over whether reviews are truly from guests, but at the end of the day, most travelers will take into consideration what is being said.  A guest isn’t going to comment from just an average experience.  They’re more inclined to leave a review if they had an over the top amazing or extremely bad experience.  General Managers also have the opportunity to join the conversation and comment on reviews, both bad and good.

Yelp. Founded in 2004, this site aims to connect “real” people with local businesses from restaurants to hair stylists.  According to its site, more than 38 million people visited Yelp in the past 30 days as of August 2010.  That’s a lot of people.  Active users on Yelp have written over 12 million reviews.  Personally, I’d rather go to a hair stylist or dentist recommend by others than just blindly picking someone.  Hopefully the owners also listened to the feedback.

Amazon. One of the largest sales forces on the web, this site attracts   approximately 65 million customers to its U.S. website per month.  The simple mass of that traffic and the ability to post product reviews provides a wide net of customers of all types, visiting the product pages and leaving reviews.  Not all products will have a large number of reviews, but many will.  For example: A leather Kindle cover with a light is a basic gift for the holidays.  On Amazon, it has over 1,800 customer reviews of the product.  Enough said.

Twitter/Facebook. These are together because they are most commonly used by consumers to discuss experiences with companies.  We see it all the time.   The only downside is the brevity of comments.  Typically the consumer will tweet about service without explaining why it was good or bad or write a short post on Facebook that may even be private from the public.  Nonetheless, brands should still listen to the comments; they simply need to validate it elsewhere.  Use the feedback as a tip to inquire deeper internally.

If a company doesn’t take the time to actually evaluate its product after listening to feedback, then why listen?  To enhance customer service and your product, take reviews seriously.  Empower your staff and teach them the importance of these reviews on social networks.  If an employee is singled out for going over-the-top, recognize them internally.  This will encourage other staff members to do the same.  If there is a trend within the customer complaints, take action and talk with the staff on how to improve and make the experience better.

What other social networking sites do you encourage clients to listen to?  How do you empower your staff and educate them on the importance of social network reviews?

(Note: A version of this post also ran on the Purple Lounge, official blog for Quinn & Co.)

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