As brands become publishers: transition with a CRM twist

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Matt Goddard
Matt Goddard
Before the advent of the Internet, the publisher-brand dichotomy was both distinct and complementary. Publishers catered to and created communities of interest, delivering content and facilitating dialogue with members. Brands depended on a publisher's ability to reach those communities and paid to have their content delivered to those groups. The role of the brand was passive and non-participatory.

Enter the Internet age, where the roles are often interchangeable. The online world is fragmented. Internet search technology has not only empowered consumers to seek data and opinions from multiple sources, but also to share and voice their own. Communities of interest are self-organizing, appearing all over the Internet on social networks, blogs and discussion boards.

That means brands are now developing proprietary Web content and experience-rich places where they have direct access to and can control interaction with consumers. The Internet as a research and buying engine—and changes in consumer behavior—has turned brands into publishers.

Bearing in mind the need for a complete and well-designed strategy, there are a few simple actions brands can take to begin the transition.

First, brands need a way to publish. Brands should identify and establish platforms either owned or third-party for the delivery of community-oriented content. Facebook and Twitter are examples of existing social platforms with little barrier to entry that brands can leverage to publish their message.

Once the platforms have been established, brands must fill them with engaging content that focuses on the interest of the community, not solely brand products or services. Objectivity is the toughest challenge for brands as publishers. The content must be useful and unbiased to avoid appearing promotional and self-serving. The goal is to foster customer relationship management.

Next, brands must connect with communities by facilitating dialogue to deepen that relationship. Open discussion forums where people may operate as they please, leave readable comments, view comments from others, and exchange information, are one way of approaching this. Moderation without censorship is the key.

Lastly, brands must understand what is happening in their community by listening to and participating in its conversations and responding accordingly. By doing so, brands are able to make adjustments to their offerings and image that will keep the community involved, while simultaneously attracting new members. That is customer relationship management in action.

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