Effective Customer Engagement in a Social World – A New Mandate


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This is the seventh in a series of posts that Vanessa DiMauro and I have recently published highlighting the more significant findings and excerpts from a forthcoming report based on the The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks study that we conducted as part of our fellowship with The Society for New Communications Research.  Please visit both Vanessa's and my blog regularly for the latest analysis.

"In one’s professional life it becomes even more important to get endorsements or positive user reviews when making a work decision because it is usually a huge ticket item and your credibility relies on it, your job relies on it."  - This quote is from a social media executive at a Fortune 10 company.

Professional networks and business focused on-line communities are quickly becoming a new strategic mandate for many professionals and companies selling in a Business-to-Business environment.  As discussed in previous posts, it has long been known as truth that peer endorsement is the single greatest decision-making accelerant.  Through social media, peer influence cycles are happening at a velocity never before seen, and in many ways, companies are losing the ability to control their messages and their 'sales cycle.'  Decision making is clearly becoming more social.

Effective customer relationships are the core to any successful organization and the strength of any organization is largely dependent upon the company’s ability to deliver the right products and services to its customers in a timely way. Knowing what the customer wants and understanding their current and future needs is paramount to increasing revenue and exceeding customer expectations. Communities provide a prime opportunity for organizations to get to know their customers more intimately and keep the finger on the pulse of their needs and behaviors. The time is now for companies to embrace communities to help them serve their clients better, faster, and in more cost-efficient ways. Through the use of professional networks companies now have an opportunity to forge a dialog with their customers actively throughout the lifecycle — not just at the point of sale — to learn what they like and don’t like about a product or service.

There is nothing more dangerous to an organization’s lifeblood than a group of dissatisfied customers. Yet, often times, an organization may not even be aware of clients’ issues until they have incurred reputation damage or a trending loss in revenue. By cultivating meaningful relationships on-line, product development leaders can work with clients to share road-maps and plans — and to get early input from the people who would be their buyers at a later stage. Marketing can learn what messages are most effective with their constituents and have greater opportunities to educate and inform the customer, not just with shiny white-papers and marketing newsletters but by bringing them into the discussion and process of product and content co-creation. Professional networks also offer opportunities to make heroes out of users, enabling them to share best practice and learn first hand from each other. This is especially effective with enterprise level support when the key buyer is a C-level executive: information sharing could result in strategic growth opportunities for all involved.

In the New Symbiosis of Professional Networks research, we found that many professionals have shown a strong increase in trust and reliance on their professional networks to support their decision making over the last three years.

Through the use of professional networks and on-line communities, decision-makers are connecting and collaborating with peers, experts and colleagues far and wide in an on demand environment, about the issues that keep them up at night.  The impact of these far-reaching business networks is becoming clearer every day as millions of consumers, partners, suppliers and businesses discuss and share their professional experiences with each other with increasing levels of trust and reliance. 

For many companies, a behavior change is required to effectively engage with customers through a Social Media Peer Group setting – dominated by valuable content and genuine contributions, transparent honesty and a commitment to follow where the decision-maker wants to lead. 

One unique finding from the interviews associated with our research was the ways in which professionals used on-line networks to establish or reinforce professional and corporate credibility.  Different social networking tools are used by the sophisticated on-line collaborator to determine various information sets. For example, many commented that LinkedIn is the place to look to reveal someone’s professional background corporate and social affiliations – who are they and where have they been in their professional life. Meanwhile, industry specific on-line communities were frequently cited as the place to learn about what someone or a company thinks – what is their thought leadership footprint or platform?  And, finally, Twitter was often cited as an exemplar place to learn about who a person or company is. What do they stand for? How are they really like as a person or company to work with? 

No longer do companies need to guess what the decision-makers want, or engage twice-removed customer research projects to find out what the customer thinks.  In trusted on-line environments where audience is vetted and the rules of engagement are clear, as is the case with most professional networks and on-line communities for business, companies have an opportunity to make informed decisions for the future- collaboratively with the constituents that matter the most to them.  The implementation of collaborative influence strategies designed to interact with customers and prospects will find better results in using social networks to effectively build brand experience, opportunities for innovation and sales opportunities.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Don Bulmer
Royal Dutch Shell
Don Bulmer is Vice President of Communication Strategy at Royal Dutch Shell.


  1. Great information. It is vital for all businesses to engage their consumers at some level. I liked your point about how Twitter allows consumers to discover more about what a person or company is really like. I’ve found that to be true in my own experience on Twitter. LinkedIn is invaluable as an “extended resume” that also gives one insight into professional background.
    Many companies would benefit from reading your series, and incorporating effective behaviors that represent who they are, and work to increase consumer engagement.


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