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Micro is the New Macro [Video]

In the past year or so, we’ve been witnessing the convergence of several trends – a shift in online behavior, where users of social media tend to be gravitating toward micro-social networks and smaller, more socially curated sites; the rise of micro-lending, micro-giving, and localism; the growth and innovation occurring in qualitative market research; the higher levels of participation and quality in smaller-scale forms of research; the pruning of “friends” in social networks and tightening of privacy controls, and other phenomena. While disparate in their form, they are all manifestations of a few basic principles:

    • People want to feel that they are having an impact.
    • People want smaller, more intimate, more meaningful social circles.
    • People want brand relationships with a human face.
    • Companies need to better understand their customers, in a human and not purely data-driven way.
    • Privacy is starting to matter again.

In today’s webinar, Why Micro is the New Macro, my colleague, James Bailey, and I explored why this contraction is happening online, if and how it extends into the real world, shared some interesting primary and secondary research on these topics, and touched on the opportunities this trend creates for brands who are looking to build long-term relationships with their consumers.

If you missed the webinar, you can find the recording below. We have also posted some Q&A that we were unable to address on the webinar itself, but if you have any additional thoughts or questions, we’d love for you to post them here. Let’s get a great conversation going!


Q: Do you see a different level of bias between social networks like Facebook, vs. large online panels, vs. smaller online communities?

A: In venues like Facebook fan pages, you are more likely to attract, well, fans … Or at least people interested in receiving your coupons and promotions. If your objective is to better understand your most passionate customers, that self-selection can be a good thing (though as we discussed, the level of participation on fan pages is considerably lower than in either panels or small, private communities). In panels, you’re going to hear about people who may or may not be passionate about your brand or category (if they even know who you are), so while you don’t necessarily risk either positive or negative bias, you do risk a lack of knowledge or simply indifference. In private communities like ours, what we see is that while community members do indeed feel a greater affinity for the brand as a result of being in a branded community, they do not demonstrate any positive bias in response to individual concepts or ideas. If anything, they become a little more critical over time, precisely because they are more invested in the brand’s success. This makes sense if you think about daily offline life. You’re going to be polite to strangers or people you care little about; you’re going to be much more honest with your friends and family, precisely because you don’t want to see them mess up.

Q: In smaller online communities, do members see their impact?

A: We go to great lengths to insure that they do, precisely because we know that for community participants, feeling heard is so motivating. We strongly encourage our clients to share what they’re hearing, what they’re learning, and what they’re doing with those insights because we know that closing the loop drives engagement. Members like to see how they are influencing changes or decisions, and that’s a strong, intangible incentive to participate. Of course, companies do not need to act on every suggestion from the community—it’s fine to go back and explain why action was not taken from a specific discussion or project. People really appreciate that feedback.

Q: You mentioned that an online community provides a good space to employ other techniques. Can you talk about why?

A: Our community members are extremely active and engaged because our communities are small (300-500 people), private, and employ very high-touch facilitation methods, and because we’re really diligent about closing the loop and telling them how their insights are being used. Thus when we ask them to do something labor-intensive like a mobile diary project or a collage, or commit an hour to a webcam chat, they are not only willing to do so, but happy to interact with us in new ways.

Q: Regarding local giving, do you think a big part of this trend is the disillusionment with long distance giving because of corruption and lack of trust? If it’s local you feel you can direct the money to high integrity organizations.

A: I think “feel” is the operative word here. I’m not equipped to pass any judgments about whether local charities and non-profits are in fact any more trustworthy than national or international ones. Rather, I think the preference for local philanthropy reflects people’s desire to somehow feel and see the impact they are having.

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