Execs: Marketers Should Tap Online Communities

The Web can offer unprecedented insights into how consumers view brands, but marketers still need to learn how to tap into online communities to take advantage of this information, a panel of executives said this week at the OMMA conference in New York.

"What we have now is a virtual focus group happening every single day that we can listen in on," said Jeff Montgomery, vice president of sales for Tribal Fusion. "It's up to us as marketers to not fear the conversations--to listen to them."

Shervin Pishevar, president of Freewebs, added that brands can't be in control of online conversations without ruining the authenticity of those discussions. "You can't own that conversation--you can't be in control," he said. "But the dividends it can pay are far larger than anything we've seen before."

But Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen BuzzMetrics said that brands might have more control than they realize over Web conversations, provided that they can communicate with the most influential consumers. "They simply need more agility with their touchpoints with their consumers," he said.

Once a brand enters the conversation, via a blog or an "official" poster on a message board or forum, it's useful to be able to put a face on the company, said Rohit Bhargava, vice president of interactive marketing for Ogilvy Public Relations. "A blog enables an organization to connect their consumers to an individual or individuals within their organization," he said.

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