Do You Have a Participation Strategy for Your Product?

Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hear Jackie Huba, the author of “Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message”, speak about marketing in the Web 2.0 world.  She made many great points, but when she talked about a Participation Strategy, I really took notice.  Here are some of her ideas with some of my own thoughts about Product Management.

As you have undoubtedly heard, Web 2.0 is all about user generated content and its effect on people, products, institutions, etc.  In the old days, companies and mainstream media would push a message to consumers.  Now, B2B consumers can easily filter the messages they receive from the corporate world and they get a large portion of their purchasing information from other consumers via social media.  Companies and products can be eliminated from purchase decisions due to these customer conversations, so it is important that you have a plan to navigate these uncharted waters.

In order to respond to the changing ways in which product information is generated and communicated, you need to include a Participation Strategy as part of your product marketing plan. The purpose of this strategy is to answer one question in detail, “How do we intend to manage the participation of our customers in our product definition and execution?”  In order to define this strategy, you must first answer a few key questions about your customers:

  • Who are the influencers/opinion makers/thought leaders in your field? Do they know about your products? If yes, what are their current opinions about your products?
  • How does your community communicate currently?  Do they make use of Social Media (blogs, facebook, twitter, etc…) or do they gather and speak face-to-face.
  • How technologically savvy are they?  My industry still makes heavy use of the fax machine, so I doubt that many of them are “tweeting” about our products.
  • How involved are your customers within your product in general?  If you build a forum for them to discuss ideas, will they participate?

Once you’ve assessed your product’s community, you can craft your Participation strategy:

  • Define your Role:  Are you going to monitor the conversation from the sidelines and make use of the information gained?  Are you going to participate – and to what level?  Who is going to manage that participation? In order to make this successful, you have to be sure to dedicate resources to this that have the business savvy to manage it properly. (If you try to control the participation too much, then you may be seen as meddling.)  Also, ensure that you have included the roles played by supporting teams – for example, you may need to your legal team to swiftly review company responses or comments.
  • Document your Communication Vehicles:  Are you going to blog? Are you going to tweet out ideas and links to industry-relevant articles?  Are you going to react to questions or opinions in other blogs about your product? If you are going to use one of these communication vehicles, make sure that you have a publishing schedule and resources assigned to each medium and deliverable.  If you don’t, you will end up with large gaps in your content releases, unanswered user posts and generally poor communication which will cause you to quickly lose followers and relevancy.
  • Specify your Objectives:  This is probably not going to produce a measurable ROI, yet it will add value because you will have much greater insight into your customers’ daily activities and a direct line of communication to them, but that is very difficult to measure.  Instead, try to think in terms of an ROO – Return On Objective – and define those objectives in terms that increase your customers participation, such as “Number of Customer Re-Tweets”, which would indicate that your customers like your tweets so much that they are sending them along to colleagues.
  • Revisit, Revisit, Revisit:  As with any strategy, you need to regularly check on it to ensure that it is still relevant and effective.  I recommend that you schedule monthly reviews of your objectives and methods because this environment changes so rapidly.

Ms. Huba called Participation “The Fifth P”, which gives you an idea how seriously marketers are taking this concept.  If defined and implemented properly, your Participation Strategy will allow you to manage your communication with the customer, proactively handle adverse situations and gain the trust of the customer.