For Public Relations Success, Try Consumer Participation

When you really like something, sometimes you just have to have it. We all know of people who have worked hard to obtain something they desire: children who saved pennies for that very special toy, friends who worked long hours to earn extra vacation days, or perhaps students who voiced themselves on campus to win a long-standing debate.

But, how many people do you know have worked extra hard to save a soda?

...me neither.

However, that is exactly what Eric Karkovack did when he launched SaveSurge.org, a website dedicated to getting the Coca-Cola company to re-launch their very green, very caffeinated soda product, Surge.

(On a side note, I did a science fair experiment with Surge when I was in 6th grade. I designed an experiment to test whether caffeine affects memory. The results of my test: after 3 students were given one cup of Surge each, no negative affect on memory. I know, not a very accurate study, but hey, I was in 6th grade!)

After hearing of Surge's production cessation and speaking with fellow "soda activists," Karkovack began a mission to unite Surge fans, locate the last of the Surge supply, and take action to convince the soda company that Surge was worth saving. The SaveSurge.org website was a hub of consumer interaction. Visitors could upload photos, participate in discussion forums, and even send pre-written letters to soda company officials. In fact, the website eventually became one of the top hits in the Google search results.

Although Surge has yet to make a comeback, this example of consumers taking action and voicing themselves to major companies and businesses exemplifies a point that I believe is (or will become) pivotal to the practice of public relations: consumer participation.

"...even if it is not as important as curing cancer or saving the environment. People want to feel a part of something," mentioned Karkovack.

I think most people like to feel that they have the ability to participate, to contribute something of their own, whether this is to a cause (saving Surge) or to any other product or company they have any type of relationship with. Karkovack mentions that one of the reasons his Surge website showed up in Google search results, above even Coca-Cola's main website, is because his website had more interactive components to offer.

My observation has been that companies with interactive websites or other interactive public relations efforts tend to be successful. Take for example, Starbucks – that’s a pretty successful company, right?

Starbucks not only engages with social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but also has its own sort of social network – My Starbucks Idea.

My Starbucks Idea allows customers to share their ideas on all and anything related to Starbucks. You can see what other users have suggested, vote on others ideas, and even watch as Starbucks tracks and implements many of the proposed ideas. This site actually allows customers a small part in the decision making process of Starbucks. I cannot think of a better way to get customers feeling involved – they are actually making a contribution.

When you allow a destination where consumers are free to be involved and make a contribution, I think they generally will. Of course, only companies who feel confident in their reputation will want to do this. With the recent example of Nestle in mind, you would not want to post an open site for customer feedback during a crisis event (read more about the Nestle crisis on the Social Media for PR Class blog). Consumer participation can potentially create a good vibe among consumers, but also provides beneficial feedback for the business. It creates a place where you can see what consumers like, what they respond well to, etc..

Public relations practitioners are going to have to start being even more creative. We all receive massive amounts of e-mails a day, no doubt visit many websites throughout the week, and are bombarded with messages everywhere we go, and let’s face it – the old fashion press release is nearing extinction. I think to be effective, there needs to be more incentive. What better way to draw people in than by making them feel involved and welcoming them to participate? What kinds of interactive PR strategies do you find effective? What companies are using creative ways to build and maintain business?

1 comment:

  1. I'm honored to have been mentioned - thanks so much for bringing back great memories of SaveSURGE.org!
    Eric Karkovack