Monday, November 30, 2009

Build Community By Encouraging Customer Participation

When someone makes a purchase or performs a desired action on your site, do you sit back, kick up your feet, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done? You shouldn't. That's because you'd be missing an opportunity to solidify your relationship with the customer—by encouraging the development of an ongoing chain of participation.

One large retailer practicing the participation chain methodology found a surprising driver of additional sales. The company sent e-mails to reviewers after their product reviews were either posted or rejected. The messages linked back to the e-commerce site, but featured no product promotion. Those simple functional e-mails produced a higher open rate and greater sales per e-mail than nearly any promotional e-mail the retailer had sent to customers. Why? Because they were an important link in a participation chain—they helped foster a feeling of goodwill among people who had contributed content to the site, and encouraged them to further interact. They went back to the site, probably to look at their own review, and then, perhaps feeling warmly about the retailer who had published their contribution, decided to buy something else.

The act of participation itself causes people to feel more warmly about your brand. Harvard marketing researcher Michael I. Norton has found that labor undertaken in association with a brand—such as assembling Ikea furniture or building teddy bears at Build-a-Bear Workshop—increases people's positive feelings about the results of that labor. Contributing reviews, stories, wishlists and the like on a Web site is similar, in that people are helping build the site and therefore feel invested in it.

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