As you know, I was invited by Dell to participate in their Customer Advisory Board in Round Rock last week. I love the fact that Dell invested the money to fly 30 people to its headquarters and hear what they had to say about the brand and its customer service. It’s an amazingly cool way to connect with customers and get real, useful feedback your brand can implement (and should).
You don’t have to fly people out and foot their hotel and food expenses if it’s not in the budget, but you can still get the same results. There are two ways to hold events to interact with your customers and followers:
- In person, at an all-day, or even a few hours event
- Virtually, in forums, tweetchats or webinars
The Value of Face to Face
Of course, you’ll get more mileage out of inviting your customers to meet with you face to face, but start local if a major event like Dell’s isn’t in the budget. Identify the influencers in your industry and geographical area. Choose bloggers, people who have a large and active presence on social media, and maybe even a journalist or two for good measure.
Determine the purpose of your event. Is it to offer a tour of your facility, to show behind-the-scenes views that people would clamor to see? Maybe it’s an open forum for customers to address some of your business’ weak areas (I’m guessing for most that will be customer service). Or maybe it’s a conference or seminar on a topic that relates to your industry, sponsored by your brand (Hubspot does this well online).
Set your date and budget, then send out the invites. Make sure to set up a strong social networking infrastructure for the event. The one tiny complaint I had about Dell’s event is that I had to hunt for info on Twitter and ask about a forum before it was presented as a way for me to connect to other participants. Set up a hashtag participants can use on Twitter to follow the event.
It’s a good idea to set up a dinner or tweetup to informally become acquainted with your event participants before the event if it’s a several-day event. Otherwise plan one for after the event when everyone’s old friends.
Online doesn’t get the face time that in-person events do, but they can still be effective. Many brands, like Wal-Mart (their 11 Moms program has been a stellar success) create online panels for participants to voice their opinions, try new products, and interact with one another.
The key to online forums and panels is to keep the momentum going. Collective Bias, a company I provide PR services for, has its own blogger community that is very active, sprouting new conversations about brands daily. It’s important for participants to feel engaged and involved, otherwise the group loses its purpose.
It’s a good idea to repeat your event regularly, either annually or quarterly if need calls for it. And actually use the feedback you get! There’s nothing more insulting than a brand that asks the opinion of consumers only to never act on it.