Bringing us together or driving us apart

Nowadays it is common for companies to ask your customers for advice via their online platform, and I am curious if this is the best way to engage your customers. Currently I work at a marketing and communications department, which is at the moment very active and involved in social media. One of my main activities is to manage the social media of our brand, and the last couple of months the focus lies on creating content on the different social media websites to inspire the audience. The question that popped into my mind is if it would not be a better idea to focus on engaging the audience and thus make it a two-way direction communication platform? To summarize our company is still doing it the old way, inviting customers for focus-group meetings in order to collect suggestions and ideas. Isn’t it a much easier and more efficient way to ask for input from customers via your Facebook and Twitter account?

Liu et al (2011) investigated the effect of soliciting consumer input on customers’ tendency to transact with an organization. To better serve the needs of their customers, nowadays more and more businesses are welcoming comments and suggestions from their customers and are trying to build a relationship with them. In the paper the authors take a closer look at relationships and the closeness degree.

Clark et al. (1993) theoretically distinguish exchange and communal relationship. Examples of the latter are friendships, which can be defined as a type of relationship in which one feels a special sense of responsibility for the other’s welfare as if it were it’s own. Exchange relationships can be defined as the interaction in which benefits are exchanged with the expectations of receiving something in return. An example of an exchange relationship is the relationship between a store owner and a customer. Liu et al. (2011) assume in reality relationships are a mix of both.

Besides the concepts of exchange and communal relationships, closeness is a closely related to customer relationship and often implicitly refers to the communal aspect of a relationship and the degree of bonding. The closer the relationship, the bigger the chance the consumer will embrace the business (Liu et al., 2011).

The findings of Liu et al. (2011) led to the conclusion that asking consumers for advice improves the relationship with the accompanied business and tendency to transact. Another conclusion is a decrease in perceived relationship distance between consumers and businesses is an effect of spending time or thinking of spending time with a brand. This in turn leads to changes in one’s engagement with the business.

Concluding, it is a much easier method to ask for input from customers via online platforms and to engage with them, but do watch out for achieving exactly the opposite. As Liu et al. (2011) conclude, soliciting advice tends to have an intimacy effect whereby the customers will feel closer to your business. Soliciting expectations from customers tends to have a contrary effect, as it will drive your customers away from your business. So be careful with what you ask from your customers.

Clark, M.S. & Mills, J. (1993), “The Difference between Communal and Ex- change Relationships: What It Is and Is Not,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19 (6), 684–91.

Liu, W. & Gal, D. (2011), “Bringing Us Together or Driving Us Apart: The Effect of Soliciting Consumer Input on Consumers’ Propensity to Transact with an Organization”, Journal of Consumer Research, 38(2), 242-259

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