Participation Marketing: Connecting Internal and External Audiences

participation marketing

By Michael Brito, {grow} Community Member

If you’re on the older side of the Millennial pool (or if you’ve seen a single episode of Mad Men), then you know there was a time when companies didn’t need to talk to anyone except consumers, and it wasn’t so much a conversation as it was broadcasting with a thing called advertising.

The Don Drapers of the world had it easy: They sent out a message and people listened to it. There was very little market competition and there was no such thing as a “mobile device” so multitasking wasn’t a thing. Consumers rarely questioned the claims made in advertising and never followed up by writing a review on Amazon.

Nobody had any influence except for us, the marketers.

The power shift

Today’s behavior and expectations are much different. The “brand message” doesn’t have the same level of influence that it used to. Now, what is said about you by people on the internet is what holds the most weight, so figuring out how to get people to spread the word of what you do in a positive light is an absolute necessity for success. Internet trolls aside, most people who are using social media are influential in some way.

The first step is clear: listen. This is the key to success in any relationship, whether it’s between a business and their customers or a married couple. Follow that with healthy two-way communication and you’re gold. Listen, respond, and then listen more. A good rule of thumb is to listen 80 percent and spend the rest of the time conversing back.

A growing number of channels increase reach. An increase in reach increases the diversity of ears, and the diversity of ears increases the types of conversations your company is expected to have on a daily basis. And let me just say that “conversations” is the operative word here, because no one, no matter their age, is going to stand for one-way communications of any sort. There must be a dialogue. Have you tried having a conversation someone who isn’t listening? It’s not fun.

Unleashing the troops

In addition to what you do from a brand and a content marketing perspective, you must deploy groups of employees to interact with your brand’s external stakeholders. If you’ve been in marketing for more than two weeks, you probably already know who these stakeholders are but lets recap anyway:

  • Customer Advocates: Your advocates are natural champions for your brand, and include customers and partners. These are people who are willing to publicly support your company, products, or services in some fashion, whether it be an endorsement or a recommendation. They’re already trusted by your target market, so they can significantly influence prospects by sharing their positive experiences through blog posts, case studies, product reviews, video testimonials, social media, etc.
  • Influencers: Industry influencers are people who have an established online presence, and significant pull with an audience. In reviewing the 1:9:90 model of influence, these are the “movers and shakers” of any given market. When they talk, everyone else listens. They create buzzwords. They launch new product categories. This group used to consist only of traditional media and journalists. Today, you can throw just about anyone with a point of view and groups of people who listen.
  • Traditional Media: Yes, journalists. They are still important, even though some can be difficult to work with. However, many journalists I know would much rather speak to an “employee” on the front lines of the technology (i.e. product manager, data scientist, developer) than be pitched by a PR person. The end result would be the same though – media coverage, engagement, brand awareness.

I sound like a broken record because I say this often: people trust people. Year after year, research and data from multiple sources prove this.

As you think about connecting internal audiences – executives, subject matter experts to your external audiences, consider the following:

  • When you mobilize employees to engage with customers, you are building a foundation of trust, credibility and influence.
  • Employees don’t have a hidden agenda. They either love the company they work for or love to geek out about the tech. People respect that.
  • Often times, the media and influencers will source for stories and content from the larger community. Sometimes they Google for story ideas. If your employees are engaged and creating content, their content will be visible

The way to win the war of brand relevance is to equip your employees to engage externally and become brand storytellers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved – employees, customers, influencers, the media and the brand too.

Michael Brito is a TEDx speaker, adjunct professor and Executive Vice President at Zeno Group, a Global, Integrated Communications Agency. His latest book, Participation Marketing, takes a detailed approach to building an engaged workforce that can be mobilized to participate in industry conversations and become brand storytellers.

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