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The Customer Is Always Right: Using Social As Your Biggest Soundboard

By Phil Norris
on 15/6/18

Launching something new – whether it’s a marketing campaign, a rebrand, or a product or service – can be a scary proposition. What if our customers don’t like it? What if it doesn’t generate the expected results? What if it accidentally leads to the whole world accusing us of being racist?

Obviously, those are pretty much worst-case scenarios (particularly the last one), but they’re indicative of a wider point – no matter how good you think an idea is, there’s always scope for it to go horribly, irretrievably wrong. So wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of huge, always-on focus group you could rely on to road-test some of your more “out-there” concepts before they officially see the light of the day?

Well, as you’ve probably already established, it turns out that this “imaginary focus group” actually exists in the form of social media. Within the next four years, the worldwide number of social network users is expected to climb past three billion, making it an invaluable source of feedback and guidance.

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With such a huge – and captive – global audience at your disposal, it’s never been easier to get real-time feedback on your bright ideas. In this article, we’ll discuss the power of social as a sounding board and demonstrate a couple of simple ways to use it for testing new concepts before they inadvertently put you out of business.

How “social proof” shows the potential of social media

Social proof is a phenomenon in which the actions of others influence a user’s behaviour. It’s certainly not a new concept; arguably the most famous study into social proof was performed by Turkish-American social psychologist Muzafer Sherif back in 1935.

Examples of social proof can be seen in many forms of marketing, from star ratings on search engine result pages…

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…to lists of USPs designed to drive conversions among users landing on a website.

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This is a similar concept to what we described in the first section of this article. In the same way that seeing how our peers love a certain restaurant or use a certain service can influence us to become customers ourselves, it stands to reason that if a social media “focus group” rates our new idea, it’ll probably work in the wider world too.

Three ways to road-test your ideas on social

So we’re agreed – using social media as a sounding board for new ideas is a good and important thing to do. But how to actually go about it?

Unsurprisingly, there are numerous methods available, depending on the “thing” you’re looking to road test and the audience whose opinions you’re trying to garner. Here are a couple of our faves…

Using Reddit to test creative concepts

The internet generally isn’t shy about putting forward an opinion. That goes 100-fold for Reddit, with its myriad of subreddits dedicated to everything from talking like a dog to images of the letter G.

This specificity, coupled with its “vocal” (i.e. merciless) user base, makes Reddit a fantastic place to test out your creative ideas. There are a few different ways to leverage the “focus group” potential of Reddit, such as:

  • After your initial brainstorm, A/B test your top-level ideas to see which generates the most engagement. This way, you should be able to scrap any deeply unpopular concepts before you’ve invested much time in them.
  • Once you’ve arrived at a firm concept, post different styles of creative to understand which resonates best.
  • Put some flesh on the bones of your creative idea by asking the Reddit experts for their guidance; we’ve used this approach to crowd-source research on everything from the most scenic driving routes to the gnarliest surfers.

A few pointers on using Reddit for trialing your creative ideas; make sure you’re actually contributing to the site, rather than just using it for your own ends. Take the time to post on subreddits you want to engage with or you’ll incur the ire of your fellow Redditors.

Also, on a practical level, try to avoid posting links to your (or your client’s) website as you’ll look like a spammer trying to drive traffic. Instead, share imagery via Imgur, or post it directly to the subreddit (note that this isn’t possible in all subreddits).

Using Facebook to A/B test your big ideas

From new products to brilliant creative marketing, very few ideas arrive in the world fully formed. Instead, they tend to be developed through multiple iterations following feedback from numerous stakeholders.

You may even find yourself in a position whereby an overarching theme has been agreed upon, a couple of variants exist, none of which has the unanimous backing of everyone involved in the project.

This is where A/B testing comes in. Only when the emotions and egos of those closest to the project have been taken out of the equation will you be able to get an objective view of what works best – and the best way to achieve this is through data.

Whether you’re working on a new content campaign, a new company logo or a new product offering, take your two best ideas – the ones you keep coming back to – and post them on Facebook at different times. Then just sit back and wait to see which post generates the most engagement. For the best results, only alter one element – such as the creative or the headline copy – between the two posts.

The below example shows Google experimenting with different creative and copy options to establish which generates the best engagement and click-through:

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Using Twitter to test tone of voice in ads

Brevity has traditionally been a vital trait of a successful tweet (although that’s less the case since the character limit was extended), which means making the most of the limited space at your disposal.

This, in turn, means identifying the most effective way to get your message across. Naturally, tone of voice plays an important part in this process. Will your audience prefer a more casual approach, or will a more formal tone help you to come across as experts in your field?

In the following tweets, we can see IKEA testing different copy options to promote its KLASEN grill. One is more casual (“making hosting a barbeque a breeze”), while the second is a little more formal (“make summer barbeques as convenient as possible”):

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Final thoughts on using social as a soundboard

When it comes to testing out your concepts, social media is invaluable. No other channel offers such a captive audience, coupled with the ability to reach a specific subset of users.

However, for this process to be truly effective, you’ll need to remove as much subjectivity as possible. Don’t attempt to position your favoured idea in a more positive light. This shouldn’t be about achieving the result you want to see, but rather about placing your concepts in front of a challenging audience and using their feedback to inform your approach.

Got a great creative idea, but need some help with bringing it to fruition? We’re here for you! Get in touch with us today.

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