Recently, I participated in a webinar for David Rogers’ book, The Network is Your Customer: 5 Strategies to Thrive on in a Digital Age.

Rogers explained how digital tools have changed our relationship with customers and gave insight into how we can best respond to and interact with customer networks. 

But first, what exactly are customer networks and why are they significant? 

Customer networks are groups of people who gravitate to certain brands, ideas or goals and who can have a positive or negative impact on a brand’s awareness, acceptance and adoption. 

Keep in mind that in the digital space, it only takes one person to share an experience that can send your company or idea soaring to new heights or sinking to the bottom of a hopeless abyss.  Rogers makes it clear that in the digital age, “no customer experience is statistically insignificant.” 

Remember the guy who wrote the United Breaks Guitars song after United Airlines, well, broke his guitar?  The airline told musician Dave Carroll that his damaged item was statistically insignificant to them, but the number of views of Carroll’s United-bashing tune on YouTube – more than 10 million – seemed to elevate the issue to an extremely significant level within the consumer network.

So what can practitioners and businesses do to make sure that their customers are advocates and not enemies?  Rogers suggests that we tap into five behaviors that customer networks practice:

  1. Access: People want instant access to information and entertainment whenever they want, wherever they are.  Strategies to increase accessibility should focus on how businesses can be faster and easier for consumers to reach at all times of day and night.
  2. Engage: The digital experience isn’t just about the amount of information that is available, it’s about the amount of information that is interesting and relevant to customers.  To engage an audience, Rogers asserts that every business must act like a media company to produce, sponsor and curate content that speaks to customers’ wants and needs.
  3. Customize: Consumers want personalized products, services and experiences.  Instead of overloading customers with irrelevant advertisements or information, businesses need to make themselves and their products adaptable to the needs of customers.  
  4. Connect: The digital space is all about making connections with others to share ideas, text and images. Businesses have a great opportunity to join the conversations among consumers.  Creating a forum where customers can interact and provide feedback can be an invaluable way for a business to connect with an audience.
  5. Collaborate: Not only do digital users want to connect, they want to come together to solve problems and to achieve common goals.  How can this happen? Invite customers to help build your enterprise, or promote an open competition or team-based challenge.

The benefits of the digital space depend on how you actually use the space.   In order for the above strategies to work in your favor, you must engage customers in a two-way dialogue.  Simply monitoring a Facebook or Twitter account is not enough to make an impact on consumer markets.  The key to success in the digital age is having an ongoing conversation with your audience to foster brand loyalty. That can translate into increased awareness and adoption of your products or services. 

So, get into the digital space and encourage your customer networks to become your strongest advocates through access, engagement, customization, connection and collaboration. 

— Sadie Kelly is a senior account executive at Airfoil Public relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley