Consumers are increasingly sceptical of industry leaders, disloyal to brands, well-researched in the products and services they need, and not willing to be talked at. Through social media, they listen to one another about which brands are worth caring about, and which are not.
The brands that are the best communicators are also the best listeners, constantly asking for feedback and implementing it. This means that companies that want to survive and thrive need to go back to basics and open their ears.
Seek out what consumers are saying about your business, about your competitors, and your industry in general.
This can be done via social media platforms and other online tools: allowing Facebook reviews, monitoring mentions of your business on Twitter, and soliciting opinions with online surveys and open forums. If difficult conversations or comments about your business crop up online, engage with the person and then take it offline – and out of the public comments box.
LinkedIn is another great tool. For example, when we’re helping a company crowdfund, we connect with their tribe – targeting our client’s first, second and third connections, and engaging them well in advance of launch.
Many of these people will then not only become investors, but part of a loyal tribe that sticks with the company for the long term. Increasingly, the best way to see your ideas succeed and gain a legion of supporters is to first have them validated by the crowd.
As the crowd becomes the zeitgeist, the perceived wisdom of industry leaders loses its resonance – pluralism is overtaking individualism. Soon, all new ideas and brands will only be trusted if they have first gained the trust of the crowd.
In New Power, authors Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans propose that we’re trading twentieth-century values for new power values of “disintermediation” – leaderless movements and crowdsourced ideas.
These are replacing old systems because the digital landscape allows for instant, positive feedback loops. Ideas and content can snowball online through a continual appraisal process of likes, shares, and upvotes.
This is exactly why crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and community platforms are growing faster than other digital channels. They rely on engagement, and primarily on emotional (rather than rational) decision-making, so that people jump on board to bask in the buzz of the feedback loop.
As a result, more SMEs will embrace crowdfunding as a means to engage the crowd, and see their idea appraised at the same time. This process will also lead the wider crowd to trust in the idea or brand itself. For instance, the challenger bank Monzo has overcome the almost impossible task of getting customers to switch their current accounts because it has engaged their tribe through a number of equity crowdfunding campaigns.
Engage the crowd
While crowdfunding is a means to raise funds, it is also a powerful communication and listening exercise.
During a campaign, each effort, if successful, raises your profile among the crowd, among investors, and ultimately results in more funds for your business. It encourages you to be more transparent, to create a community of customers, and generate positive feedback loops for clients, and thereby create better experiences.
So, if you’re looking for new ways to engage customers or fund your business, start doing the hard work of building a community, listening to their ideas, and giving them feedback to make them feel more like a stakeholder than a client.