Coca-Cola's Sweet Lessons in Online Community-Building

Anna Ritchie : Community Maven
Anna Ritchie
Marketing & communications practitioner, and product manager for TMCnet. Focus on content marketing and social media with a specialty in Online Community-building for businesses. Follow @Connectincloud and @apritchie
| Expertise and Advice on Successful Online Communities

Coca-Cola's Sweet Lessons in Online Community-Building

Recently, I stumbled upon this article, which outlines how companies are changing their retail strategies to meet the changing needs of consumers who, though spending less due to the current economic conditions, are also still highly engaged in mobile, video, social and traditional e-commerce activities. The article highlights Coca-Cola, who launched an exciting social and interactive campaign in 2009 with their “Freestyle”  vending machines which people can use to select flavors and combinations of their choice for a unique, personalized drink. Now, the company is taking this feature online with an interactive Facebook page and Smartphone Apps that allow people to choose a mix, name the drink, get a code then go to a machine to get their blend dispensed.

That’s more than a yummy refreshment. That’s marketing magic.

Giving consumers the power to “design their own” drink is a great way to nurture their community by giving them 3 things they really want.

1)      Social interaction

2)      Input into a product and the ability to tailor it to meet their needs

3)      To have FUN

The article further highlights that “Companies that are very responsive to their online community -- retailers like Nordstrom and Victoria's Secret -- get more out of the interaction than just online sales. Like Coke's vending machine, which sends data back to the Atlanta headquarters about taste preferences and shopping activity, a thriving online community can also give retailers a huge amount of market data -- a window into what customers want.”

This is, as we’ve discussed before, one of the greatest strengths of an online community: The ability to learn from your customers, ask them questions, give them answers to their questions, and nurture them. Even if you don’t sell something “cool” like a soft drink, you can still find a way to make your online community fun, and meaningful for your audience.

1)      Gather Customer Input

Most companies don’t have the ability to tailor their products based on their customer’s preferences, so a solution like the Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machine might not be suitable for everyone. But, what you can do via your online community is ask for product input from your audience. Say you’re planning a product upgrade: Post a poll on your online community asking your audience to vote on which feature should be added next. Or, hold a contest asking your customers for their ideas on a future video, white paper topic or webinar, and reward a winner with a discount (or gift) and notoriety on your site. These activities don’t take too much time, and won’t deter from your bigger business activities, but will likely have a huge impact on your reputation, creating loyal customers who want to stay engaged with you because they know you’re listening to them.

2)      Integrate Mobile & Social

These days, most people have Smartphones, and are using them to browse the internet, check emails, and stay connected with their social networks. The smartest thing a company can do is take advantage of this by making it easy for customers to find, and interact with you, by using these devices.

An App is a great way for people to stay up-to-date with your company “on-the-go”. Offer an App as a place for people to have Live Chats with your customer service representatives, or receive ‘alerts’ on product updates and breaking news. You can even offer your customers the ability to pay via an App, or access their account information, for real-time interactions.

Even if an App isn’t the solution for your business, there are still ways to make your online community mobile and social-friendly. Make links to your social sites prominent, post daily stories or “alerts” or offer a case study download for “Following” or “Friending” your site. Finally, work with your design team to ensure your site is visually appealing and easy-to-navigate from all types of devices (i.e. less use of Flash).

3)      Make the Transition from Research to Purchase Easy

Your online community shouldn’t be ‘all about you’ but rather your industry as a whole:  It should provide your target audience with education and be a place to learn, discuss, engage and share. But, as a marketer you know that the ultimate goal is to get those community visitors to buy from you.  One method I’ve seen work well is to have a simple call to action on each page, article, educational piece and link with simple wording, like “Click here for a demo" or “Learn more”. By not seeming too “over promotional” but still providing a bridge for your audience to go from your community to company site, you’re feeding your sales cycle without losing credibility. Another method I’ve seen work well is to have a “Sign Up” box for a eNewsletter, or link to social site, so people can actively sign-up to updates from you on their own terms.

So, there are still some sweet options for those of you who crave the cool-factor a personalized soft drink vending machine gives Coca-Cola, and these days the online world is your oyster: The more fun, innovative and unique your online community, the bigger bang you’re going to get.

What are some ways you’re using online communities to keep your consumers engaged? Facebook  | LinkedIn | Twitter

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1 Comment

Yes, I agree social media sites not only provides community but also topics, discussions and so on. We can foster a variety of different social interactions online if we provide the unique tools to support them.