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Ask the Expert: Social Media

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When should a business move from listening to public conversations to managing private communities? Schlack: Mining public conversations is great for tracking trends and observing common perceptions and buzz about brands, but it tends to be less effective for understanding challenges and unmet needs. You get a snapshot in time of an aggregation of comments, but about all you know about those customers is that they're vocal online. Private customer communities add dimension. You can delve into brand perceptions and gain insights into the feelings, needs and desires that people don't necessarily articulate. They're also a safe place where brands can co-innovate, test new concepts and engage in iterative work with their customers. So if your objective is largely to measure buzz and gain some high-level characterizations of customer sentiment, listening to public conversations works well. If you're trying to surface unmet needs and gain insight into the lives of your customers—or even engage them in new-product development—then a private community can be invaluable. What are the three most important elements of successful community building? Schlack: 1) Visible and ongoing facilitation; 2) Active and responsive listening; 3) Creating a trusting, relationship-based environment. What are examples of the payoff for clients? Schlack: In the b-to-c domain, Kraft Foods' groundbreaking 100 Calorie Packs product was conceived, refined and tested through their private communities. GSK's alli , the successful weight-loss product, was shaped and organically promoted by private communities. In the b-to-b space, Charles Schwab has made tremendous strides in improving its core products, expanding its offerings, upsell-ing and winning new markets in part by getting input from targeted communities of traders and investors. The innovation efforts at Network Solutions are being driven by a private community of small business owners. CDW has seen improvements in customer satisfaction in all of the market segments in which it has private communities. M
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