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Friday, 20 May 2011

Names You Need To Know: Consumer Co-Creation

Latest news from Forbes Blogs

Original article by Quentin Hardy

Names You Need To Know: Consumer Co-Creation

Brands are the myths of a consumer culture. In the service of their great ones, people will labor for free.

One of the more intriguing offshoots of the social media phenomena is consumer co-creation: People who would normally expect to buy goods instead sacrificing their time and talent to support them, even make new products for the company.

In England, there’s an 18 month old mobile telecommunications company called giffgaff. It sends SIM cards to deliver its service, all online, so it has low prices, and operates with no customer service or call centers, and (sorry to say) almost no advertising. Instead, consumers with questions ask them to a forum of other consumers. Giffgaff has cultivated a core group of 100 of them, who can answer questions with high reliability in under 60 seconds. Not bad, considering giffgaff itself has something like 14 employees.

“The essence is mutuality,” says Robbie Hearn, head of member experience at giffgaff. “We put the community in a few months before you could even by a product.” They announced themselves, what they were thinking of doing, and invited anyone in to talk about what they should create and how. “We need a lot of advocacy for our model to work.”

That is well beyond the usual crowdsourcing, which is often little more than the old “write our next jingle” soapbox contest. It’s about people deriving a big part of their identity from a commercial project, in which they get no monetary benefit. Instead, they get paid in esteem – of the company, but even more, from other customers.

Expect more. A year ago there were 50,000 people in the United States who spent four or more hours a day expressing themselves on corporate social media – blogs, forums, customer chat rooms – according to Lithium, a company that sells tools and advice for building corporate social media. Today there are 200,000. Another company, called Linqia, searches the Web for passionate interest groups, from single mothers to Aston Martin fans, and figures out way to connect the appropriate companies with them.

“We have to rethink the way they we treat our customers- treat them as part of our company,” says Lithium founder Lyle Fong. “Ninety percent of people trust their social networks. Only 14% trust ads.”

Talking its own game, Lithium just announced DeveloperNation, in which its customers can access all of Lithium’s social tools to build versions they want for themselves. In one early case, a software engineer tweaked Lithium’s browser-based tools so it could work on a desktop product similar to Microsoft Outlook. “We’ll continue to build the big things, and give advice on best practices to make the social media work, but everyone is also unique – they can tailor it to what they need.” Their consumers may also be able to tweak the tools.

Some big companies are on a hunt for consumer passion and ideas. Dell’s Ideastorm project generated over 10,000 submissions. Others are drawing more on the talents of long term employees who live with their customers – Home Depot’s social media strategy draws the knowhow of 25 hourly employees, with an average tenure of 10 years at the company; while providing tips online, these people also keep working their retail jobs, so they stay close to the consumers, picking up tips from them.

Customer satisfaction at giffgaff is among the highest in the UK, just behind Google and Apple, says Hearn.

How far does this go? “There are things you can’t get done by the community — financial stuff that really gives you insight into profitability,” he says, while indicating it’s profitable and capable of scaling to millions of customers. Overall, he says, the stuff away from consumer co-creation “is about 10% of what we do.”

SOURCE: http://blogs.forbes.com/quentinhardy/2011/05/19/1211/