Boy, oh boy do I have a story for you today. I’ve been working with one of my customers who has decided that they need to improve how they communicate with their customers. Having read all of the industry rags, they’ve decided that they need to set up a social networking site for their company / product. Sounds good so far doesn’t it?
This is where the problem comes in: they want to control the discussions. Oops, looks like someone doesn’t quite get the “social” side of social networking. Yes, having your customers talk about your product can be a very good thing. However, in exchange for this potential goodness, you’ve got to give up some control.
No matter whether you set up your own social networking site or if you just use exiting ones such as Digg.com, Del.icio.us, FaceBook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, as a product manager you’ve got your work cut out for you. Since you can’t control the content on public social networks (and shouldn’t on your own), you need to be a participant. Replying to their comments and posting your own suggestions will make you a part of their social network.
Don’t make the mistake that some product mangers have made and try to pass yourself off as a happy and satisfied user – it generally comes across as quite lame.
Listening to what your customers are saying about your product can provide valuable information on changes that you need to make to your pricing, features, etc. What you’d really like to be able to identify are bloggers or commenter’s who are sources of power – others listen to them.
If you can find these people, it would be worth your time to cultivate a relationship with them. Offering them free copies of your next product with no strings attached can be a great way to get a (hopefully) positive review out there just as your next version launches. However, keep in mind that you can’t control the review!
I ended up working with my customer to make them understand that the value of a social networking site for their customers that their customers trusted (no content edited by the firm), was so valuable that it was worth the risk of the occasional negative product comment. They went ahead and implemented it and have been thrilled with the results that they have seen so far.
Do you watch the social networking sites to see if people are talking about your product? Have you set up your own social networking site? How do you deal with negative comments about your product? Do you interact with power commenters? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.