Thursday, December 27, 2007

Consumer Needs and Social Media

Today’s newsletter from the Center for Media Research references an interesting new study from marketing services firm Communispace. They’ve used a framework of personal needs and motivations to explore the benefits that consumers can gain from various types of social media. This chart summarizes their framework and benefits of various types of social media.
If the categories sound familiar, that’s because they are based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which we’ve all met in social psych and marketing courses. The hierarchy itself is rather global in nature, but when applied to specific subject matter it becomes interesting. Their adaptation produces five social needs people can meet by participation in social media and points out that they are increasingly seeking to fulfill these needs online. Meeting deeply-felt needs results in an increasing sense of connection to the site or business that is responsible for the community.
Two points are especially worth noting:

1.Different social media are used for different consumer purposes. Blogs are by definition a means of self-expression. Community requires groups of some type, whether they are consumer generated or formed by an outside entity.

2.From the marketer’s perspective all the social media represent the voice of the customer and we should be listening intently.

I’ve repeatedly noted that the social media give marketers the ability to engage customers in ways that are mutually beneficial. If communities form, either spontaneously or with marketer sponsorship, it is because the interaction fulfills a real need. The CMR newsletter says that:

People want to be reassured of their worth and value, and seek confirmation that what they say and do matters to others and has an impact on the world around them.

I agree with that perspective on consumer needs. From the marketer’s perspective, I suggest that we develop online spaces where like-minded people can meet, interact, support one another, and—in time—perhaps become evangelists for the sponsor.

This strongly implies that social media initiatives cannot be—or be perceived as being—a heavy-handed promotional activity. Each one has to meet one or more basic consumer needs in order to be welcomed and integrated into customers’ lives. That requires a kind of delicate sensibility that is the opposite of traditional advertising and promotion. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for many marketers to grasp this new way of interacting with their target audience.

You can access the complete report here.
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