Online networks foster closer consumer-brand relationships

General Mills and Kraft recently launched online networks for consumers to interact with their brands.

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General Mills and Kraft recently launched online networks for consumers to interact with their brands. The sites – and – give consumers the opportunity to sample products, make recommendations, and converse with others about the brand. They also provide the companies with opportunities to survey and observe some of their customers.

Representatives from Kraft and General Mills were unavailable to comment by press time.

Why does it matter?

MaryLee Sachs, director of worldwide marketing communications at Hill & Knowlton, says the creation of online networks allows companies to further engage with consumers, as well as build a community around the brand.

“One of the big benefits is the immediacy of response, and really being able to track the immediate effect of things,” Sachs says.

John Bell, MD and executive creative director of Ogilvy PR's 360 Digital Influence Group, says the development of a social network is a great way for a company to integrate word of mouth into traditional marketing and build long-term relationships with consumers.

“Anyone who's involved when you're asking their opinion is spending time and investing more of themselves with you,” Bell says. “They are going to become better word-of-mouth ambassadors.”

He adds that because of the opportunity to respond to consumers, the networks are a good place to learn their opinions.

“It's better to hear about it quickly and directly from them because they are going to talk about your product... anyhow,” he says.

Sachs notes that to maintain transparency, the companies need to allow positive and negative consumer commentary.

Five facts:

1. Procter & Gamble uses the 350,000 members of its Tremor online network for moms to get feedback about products through surveys, products sampling, and more.

2. Starbucks launched in March 2008. Consumers are encouraged to submit, vote on, and discuss changes the company should make.

3. Dell's online social network IdeaStorm allows consumers to collaborate and share ideas about products and services they would like the software maker to develop.

4. The social network JeepSpace, which aims to provide Jeep owners with a place to interact, has more than 171,600 members after launching in March 2008.

5. Networked Insights launched in November 2007 with $4 million in venture capital as a way for companies to track consumers' brand discussions on social networks.

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