The consequences for small organisations from their ability to use social media to improve their understanding of the strength of their brand(s)
I believe that the really big issue here is that the lower cost of obtaining information from social media (compared to conventional market research) provides small organisations with more scope to understand and measure peoples’ perceptions of them and their brand. So they can obtain information they never had before. In turn this should improve their ability to take more effective decisions.
A consequence of more freely available information, albeit in an unprocessed form, is that it should increase the value of being able to use information intelligently to take higher quality decisions. In a situation where many competitors have little information about customers (estate agents, for instance) it can be argued that everyone is navigating half blind. To the extent that a measure of luck is involved in whether or not decisions turn out to be ‘correct’, so any potential advantage that superior decision taking should provide will be negated. So the growth of social media may provide more intelligent companies with a competitive advantage. Given that larger organisations historically have had access to more information, this could logically result in more intelligent small ones becoming more competitive, while less able ones perhaps struggle more.
The smaller and simpler internal situation of small organisations provides them with natural potential advantages over larger ones when integrating and making sense of messy and multiple sources of information.
The fragmented and messy nature of obtaining information via social media provides small organisations with a potential advantage over large ones. Gathering information from several sources, in different ways, and at different times raises issues of coherence, consistency and representativeness. This brings into play the concept of ‘triangulation’ e.g. using information from different sources to ‘reality’ and ‘common sense’ check each other. Smaller organisations have fewer staff who usually have broader focus, and a simpler and more flexible internal structure. As a result there are fewer issues of internal communication. This should make it easier for small organisations (the ‘intelligent’ ones, at least) to build a coherent picture from fragmented data sources.
Related to this point is the fact that the decision takers in small organisations tend to be naturally closer to their markets. So, once market information has been collated they may be better equipped to interpret than those in large organisations
Small organisations face one big challenge from social media, so how might they proceed?
It seems to me that the obvious challenge that faces small organisations who are looking to use social media to better understand customers’ perceptions is to avoid being overwhelmed by all the information that could become available. They will need to focus on that information that is relevant to decisions that they could take that are likely to make a difference to how their brand in perceived.
In practice what this might involve:
- Keep it simple. Perhaps just set up a Facebook page for a start and concentrate on attracting customers to use it.
- Use the Facebook page to strike up conversations with customers. As part of these, ask people how they feel about the brand, relative to others. What are the positives and negatives, what are irritations? What differences do they perceive between competitors, if any?
- Use the feedback obtained to identify one or more potential changes and initiatives that should either:
- Remove or reduce a current source of negative emotion.
- Start to develop a new positive emotion.
- Reinforce and existing positive emotion.
- Pose a small number of questions to the Facebook page fans to identify what their reactions would be to these changes, and what impact these are likely to have.
- Based on the answers obtained, confirm, amend or reject the potential changes and implement as appropriate.
- Ask people what they think and feel about the brand after an appropriate period of implementation.