To most corporations and companies in this day and age, you, the consumer, are not a person. You are a dollar sign. The point of businesses are to make money right? You have to be in the green for your company to continue. Some companies decide to take a detached route for community, while other are embracing it. I believe that community will make and break companies in the coming years, and this is why.
What’s the strongest emotion in the human encyclopedia? Love. Songs, movies, and monuments are built in the name of love. People are willing to do ridiculous things in the name of love. People will kill you for it. They’ll also save you for it. People love to love, and they love to BE loved.
Companies are not used to loving their consumers. Most companies still don’t, but the outlook is getting better. There are some companies out there that totally get this, and they aren’t super successful. Then there are other companies out there that are super successful, and they don’t get it at all. My best example of the latter is Apple Inc.
Apple makes a ton of things that tons of people use. They just announce the iPhone 5 and a plethora of new iterations of their products. However, Apple doesn’t seem to care about you past your purchase and the occasional tech support. Apple makes no effort to put themselves out in the public for reasons of “brand security.” If they don’t put themselves out there, then there’s no chance of getting hurt. Apple chooses to remain a recluse to the community, and sit in their tower making products they know you’ll buy.
Because of this, they’ve made some pretty amazing things, but they haven’t made people like them. They’ve had scandals with how they treat their workers outside of the U.S. They’ve shown their hypocrisy by stealing from other designers, patenting trivial things like rounded edges, and then suing the pants off of anyone who dares to use the simplest of patent without permission. They’ve made no secret of their distaste for other companies. They also haven’t engaged the community outside of advertising.
Apple doesn’t have an official Facebook page. Apple doesn’t have an official Twitter page. Name a social network and chances are they don’t have an account for it. They’ve stated that they don’t want anyone else to hold power over their brand. They want to protect the image of Apple from all other outside influences. They want to sit inside instead of playing with the kids at recess, because they might fall and skin their knee. This is going to cost them in the long run, because other companies understand community, and embrace it.
These are companies like AT&T, Microsoft, Harmonix, Visceral Games, EA, Paramount, Warner Bros, etc… There are a ton of companies that are paving the way for future businesses. These companies understand that consumers are potential profit, but that they’re also people. They understand that it’s OK to be imperfect and to figure things out. They also understand that their consumers may have problems, and those problems will need answers as quickly as possible. Most important, these companies understand that people have value that goes far further than a monetary gain.
Let’s look at AT&T. Yesterday, after the iPhone 5 announcement one of my friends was discussing carriers and asked who they thought they should go with for the new phone. I, being an AT&T customer, mentioned AT&T as the best network out there. It was a tweet in a sea of tweets, but somebody noticed…
@SamoX19 Thanks :). We think you are the best too!—
AT&T (@ATT) September 13, 2012
AT&T made an effort to let me know that I had value to them. That’s incredible. That’s connection.
Other companies have done the same thing. @deadspace constantly responds to tweets from their fans about their games. @RockBand and @HMXHenry read a blog post from May where I explained my love for Rock Band (the best music game ever) and mentioned that, because of said love, my drums had broken a long while back. They re-tweeted my link, favorited it, and then asked me to DM them my address so they could send me a new set of drums. (You can read that post and the update here) @CinemarkUSA responds to moviegoers in lines at midnight showings. @Oatmeal responds to love and hate all on the same feed.
These people all understand their communities. When I was already a lifetime customer, they made me an eternal one.
I think, going forward, companies will NEED to be connected to their consumer bases. Tons of companies already have community managers and social network experts working for them. THEY GET IT. I can only hope that it will eventually be something that is thought about as essential and necessary without any complaint or wariness. Social interaction with your consumer is an opportunity to go from a faceless entity, to someone who directly cares about the people they make products for, and that’s huge.
Follow these people. Talk with them. Get to know the people who sell you things. Most of them are willing to make that connection with you, and that’s a priceless opportunity.