Starting your implementation for digital engagement requires careful planning, a lot of thought, dedication and, most of all, a significant investment of time. So it’s important to understand the different strands you need to think about when you create your plan. There are several things that you need to consider when you build your community or ecosystem and make it self-sustaining and thriving. Imagine a citizenship project at your company. The project moves along defined tasks and timelines to a defined set of milestones. It is driven by one person, the project manager, who co-ordinates the rest of the team when required. But what if this project is driven by social networking? This project would engage volunteers for the project who felt that they had something to contribute. The volunteers would use their shared knowledge to come to a consensus about where the project was heading. Friends of the contributors, who also wanted to contribute, could also potentially work on the project, sharing their knowledge. The combined skills of the community of project workers would drive the outcome of the project.

Successful companies let customer feedback, based on experience and knowledge, drive their future direction.

The three most important things that you need to make your project successful are community, content and connections.

You also need to listen to the community. Your customers are out there talking about you and your brand. It’s very worthwhile listening to what they are saying. Listen to what they say about your brand, your products, and listen to their experience with you from a consumer point of view. Are they positive, neutral or negative towards you? Are they vocal in their praise about you? Are they detractors or, even worse, critics who influence others to become critics too? Without this level of market intelligence, you can run the risk of setting off in the wrong direction with your product and alienating your customers. Gaining product feedback from your customers in the form of online conversations is really important. You can elicit votes and comments on your website and you can ask questions.

The answers that the community will give offer you a huge amount of information that rounds out your standard web metric results and will give you a different perspective for analysis and response.

Demonstrating to the customer that you are listening to them is important for your long term business goals and will allow you to create initiatives that will enable your business to grow and help to connect effectively with your customers.

Listen before you leap

This programme is a long term investment for your company and it will take some time before success and a positive ROI can be measured.

Starbucks listens to its customers and has produced some great results. Starbucks has a site called My Starbucks Idea ( where customers can suggest ideas to improve Starbucks. The site has polls where you can vote for your favourite kind of coffee or decide on a new initiative. Customers have persuaded Starbucks to sell Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, sell decaffeinated iced coffee and bring back oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Since My Starbucks Idea launched in early 2008 Starbucks has had over 79,000 ideas submitted by the community, and the company has over 13 million friends on its Facebook page.


  • Spending time collecting information about the audience before you embark on your customer engagement strategy is vital.

  • The approach has to be communicated to your staff so that they can also become online advocates.

  • Ultimately, your communications strategy will be embedded in your staff approach to customer engagement and it will become part of the values of your organisation.

Until that happens, the goals you set need to be realistic, flexible and focused on what your customers want. If the needs of the customer change, then the goals also need to change and it is important to bear this in mind when you create your plan.

Your trusted advisers

Referrals are really important when you are building your network of influencers and advocates. Just as a doctor may be asked whom he trusts when it comes to patient referrals, so key people in your network will also be used by the community as super-referrers. These super-referrers have a key set of good connections across several different networks, and information given to them has the potential to be spread broadly across a wide set of interconnected areas. These community members are very well connected, they are often first to try out a new product and they are considered to be influential amongst their groups. They are often not self-proclaimed experts, but they are genuine enthusiasts about their technology, and other members of the community go to them for thought leadership and trends. These leaders often have more reach and influence than traditional self-proclaimed experts. Experts already assume themselves to be thought leaders and often are not as interested in what others in the marketplace are actually doing. This makes them slower to adopt new practices, gadgets or technologies and slower to talk about them to others.

Beware the self-proclaimed experts.

You don’t necessarily need to engage with the people who have the largest number of apparent connections. These people might not necessarily have the greatest number of strong relationships amongst their connections. Monitoring their blogs, status updates and forum entries will give you a good idea of how they interact within their social circle. Watching in this way will give you an indication of the strength of their networking ties and how many good strong and weak connections they have. These strong relationships will be more valuable to you as they indicate a trusted adviser status amongst their followers and friends.

Networks such as Twitter are useful for broadcasting ideas and discovering trends, but the word of mouth network is often hidden and poorly explored here.

Marketers have their work cut out to discover who maintains strong ties across their network and who propagates valuable and relevant information. Often marketing teams have relied purely on the number of connections that someone has and have not exploited the hidden links within a network. It’s often the interaction between the 30 or so ’real’ friends within a network that will bring the most value to the conversation.

You also need to consider the people who work inside your organisation.

Identify your existing evangelists, enthusiasts, pragmatists and any detractors you might have.

These are the people who might already be speaking publicly about your brand. Make sure you’ve prepared them to communicate externally with an effective, practical and workable social media policy. Give them training on the different types of tools that they will be using, remembering that tools that are in vogue today may be out of favour next year. Allow for change in your plans and make sure these are effectively communicated internally to the digital natives who will be contributors to your stream.

One of the most important benefits of effective engagement is the development of your ‘voice‘.

Whether this voice is the voice of yourself, the team, the organisation or the company, make sure that the voice is human. Leave the corporate style messaging to your PR team. The audience want to develop a relationship with you, your brand or your company in a way that isn’t possible with structured PR messaging.

Try not to use any form of automated response. Just as auto-responders in email often irritate and turn customers away, so automated broadcasts will drive your followers away from your transmissions. To ensure that you create and maintain a strong relationship with your customers it is important to engage directly with your audience to give them that personal connection that they value. Investing in the personal touch will in time develop your relationship with them and will prove rewarding in diverse ways. Your connections will become your advocates, benefiting from being your first tier 1 influencers in your social graph, and having an indirect and positive influence on your sales.

If you want to improve your customer satisfaction ratings, reach out and engage with your customers. Regularly engaging with customers, quickly responding to their issues and engaging in open and honest dialogue will demonstrate a high level of customer care. This regular and personal interaction will start to alter customers’ perceptions of you and your company.