Every brand knows they need some sort of social media strategy, but it’s not enough these days just to have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel. The consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that are most successful in linking what they’re doing in social media to tangible results—namely, increased sales—are often those that have created their own vibrant online communities. These social sites live within the company’s own sites and are brand-specific communities wherein members talk to each other and to the brand, and the brand disseminates various types of content, from how-to videos to coupons.
Companies have far greater control over their brands on these proprietary sites and, unlike on third-party sites, can link these social sites to their ecommerce efforts and existing Web sign-on infrastructure. Building and integrating these communities takes some investment and technical know-how, but the effort can pay off.
Following are three key ways that CPG companies are leveraging managed online customer communities to drive sales:
1. Turning customers into salespeople
The best advertisement for your products doesn’t come from you, but from your customers. In some of the most effective online communities, members actually become salespeople of sorts, selling other members on the virtues of various products.
A prime example is Sephora’s Beauty Talk community, in which community users mix with Sephora-managed “experts,” all sharing advice on various beauty products. Sephora has found that the average Beauty Talk user spends 2.5x more than non-Beauty Talk consumers, while avid community users (superfans) spend 10x more than average. By using a single sign-on for both the community and the brand’s ecommerce site, which is also pegged to an in-store member account, Sephora can easily track the shopping behaviors of Beauty Talk members, enabling both more targeted messaging and a way for the company to track various trends within its online community.
Recently the company expanded its community content to include Sephora TV, with videos giving users detailed how-to guides for various beauty trends, complete with product recommendations from professional makeup artists. Sephora’s strategy could easily be adopted by any company selling personal care items, and the mistakes it has made (failing to more directly link products mentioned in its social site to those available for purchase on its commerce site, for example), stand as highly relevant lessons to all personal care companies.
2. Becoming a valuable resource
You can’t just create an online community, link to it from your website and your Facebook page, and hope customers show up. To create the sort of customer community that will drive sales, you need to provide content that will attract customers, whether it’s exclusive deals, useful tips, relevant research and stories, or some combination of all three.
The Pampers Village website is of the latter variety. Launched in 2008, Pampers Village is a community forum for expectant mothers, providing a wealth of information about children, from newborns to preschoolers. A downloadable app, “Hello Baby,” gives detailed images of a typical baby’s weekly growth, as well as a complete pregnancy calendar—and purposeful campaigns such as the Little Miracle Mission, which has supplied more than 30,000 care packages to families and babies in neonatal intensive care units, keep new moms engaged and feeling good about the community and the brand. The site also has a strong commercial aspect, with discounts, rewards, and “buy now” links ever present. It also suggests relevant products depending on the topic visitors are reading, and pushes related coupons to them as well.
3. Use content to turn customers into marketers
Just as beauty and infant care are highly social categories, so is the focus of Kraft’s Recipes.com community: getting the daily meal on the table for moms across America. Kraft knows moms need quick, easy recipes, and have built a community to encourage consumers to use, share, and rate their recipes and experience with Kraft products. Most moms find the ratings and reviews section to be a real acid test of both ingredients and recipes. Was the recipe easy? Did everyone like it? Was there a fun way to add a new twist? Check out Fiesta Casserole. It has nearly 700 comments, many from consumers talking about substitutes, changes, and tips on cooking the recipe.
And Kraft isn’t afraid to allow consumers to run the show, either. The site welcomes feedback and input. There’s even a recipe exchange board, actively managed with comments and tips. By opening the community up, consumers have started distributing the content for the brand via Facebook, Pinterest, and more. This helps expand Kraft’s social connectivity, drive SEO, and improve overall brand credibility, without Kraft having to devote resources to these improvements. Just as important for Kraft, it uses the community to learn about consumer needs and cooking trends and to test and inspire new product ideas.
Social communities can play an important part in your overall digital strategy, and provide a means of leveraging the power of your current users and their shared interest in your category, and your brand. Let them amplify your messages to their friends. Let them suggest answers to typical user questions. Let them find it easy to “buy now.” Let them add value to your brand experience—you just need to provide the opportunities and tools.
Peter Cloutier is president of CatapultRPM.
Tim Ross is president of SolutionSet.