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SHIN Hyung-Won

How Companies Can Gain from Directly Communicating Online

SHIN Hyung-Won

Nov. 13, 2009

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It has long been proven a fact through a number of studies and corporate experiences that direct communication with consumers effectively raises customer satisfaction and loyalty. By taking into account customers' individual preferences and their potential value, direct communication allows companies to deliver customized service by immediately providing a solution, thus raising customer satisfaction.

In reality, however, not enough direct communication has been done due to cost, time and regional restraints. Against this backdrop, companies are increasingly realizing direct online communication in public relations and marketing. Four tips can be suggested for companies in utilizing Internet as a strategic means for a direct-to-consumer communication.

First, develop creative ideas in sharing product information through the Internet. To induce a customer click, fun and interesting contents or interface are necessary. Korea Tourism Organization's online marketing offers a success model as it has provided both information and fun resources. It opened a website that features a gallery of Korean and Japanese celebrities (famous Korean Wave star Lee Dong-Kun and Japanese actress Haruka Ayase) to attract Japanese tourists in their 20s. Two celebrities travel around Seoul, Jeju, Gyeongju and Busan together, and as paparazzi ceaselessly hunt them they are impressed with the vistas of Koreas . Website visitors track their travel story and in the process can obtain detailed travel information. Since the launch of the website, the increase rate of Japanese in their 20s traveling to Korea has more than doubled that of overall Japanese travelers.

Second, use word-of-mouth marketing strategy. Online community sites like Twitter have triggered an explosive of interactive networking. Companies are looking for online opinion leaders and using them as pivotal spokespersons to spread information by word of mouth. For example, Microsoft operates a MVP program through which it selects 100 online opinion leaders worldwide, including power bloggers and community site operators. It induces these opinion leaders to explain product information and evaluate products in a positive manner. Another form of word-of-mouth online marketing takes advantage of a company's own brand community site. Cuckoo Homesys, Korea's rice cooker manufacturer, sponsors a culinary platform called "Cuckoo Mission," which allows its community-site members to register their recipes. Members upload content, including photos at the company's site, and the best recipes are awarded. With a storehouse of recipes piled up online, netizens search for a specific recipe at a portal site, and find recipes that use Cuckoo's wares.

Third, the Internet can be used to minimize the spread of fatal problems to the company such as safety and quality accidents. Paul A. Argenti, an authority in crisis communication, proposes companies simplify their communication channel and tell customers all they can -- and fast. This is to pre-empt potentially fatal rumors or prejudice due to lack of information. The Internet in this regard is very effective in providing information promptly and on demand. Via Internet videos, CEOs and managers in charge can frankly express their sincerity and help prevent minimize damage. US toymaker Mattel faced a fatal crisis with lead paint detected on one of its biggest sellers, the Barbie doll, but CEO Robert Eckert made a sincere apology and showed efforts to prevent possible future damages by recording a video at the company website that contained Mattel's philosophy on safety. The action helped mitigate consumer anger.

Last but not least, it is crucial to create a space online for directly communicating with consumers. Younger generations are highly attuned to communicating online, which can enable companies to develop a more frank and close relationship with them. Samsung Group operates a non-profit website called "youngsamsung.com" targeting people in their 20s. Here, members create content themselves and propose ideas for better services to the webmaster. The most active members either act as a reporter and write articles, thus serving as an actual operator or planner of the site, with the company only helping them from the sidelines. The site, logging 2.4 million members and 70,000 visitors a day, is the largest of its kind in Korea .

When directly communicating with consumers through Internet, companies should judge when to act and when not to act. As for customer complaints for products and negative rumors, they should act promptly to prevent adverse effects from spreading. Within the space for communication, it will be desirable for the company to take one step back and prompt natural information communication among customers. Of course, acting is not easy even when one knows about the positive effects of interactive web communication. This is because although it is widely known that online communication is cost-reducing, it can actually generate huge costs and when incorrectly operated can have adverse effects. Another burden is that consumers' voices can be exposed to top management. However, it is now increasingly being utilized as a strategic way to differentiate a company from rivals. It is indeed crucial not to remain just a website operator but to make a step forward and attempt to communicate with consumers more closely online.

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