Turning Facebook Followers Into Online Focus Groups
This post was written by David H. Freedman and originally appeared here.
Aaron Schwartz founded his three-person watch company last year with an unusual slogan: “We’re not craftsmen, we’re just good listeners” — listeners to customers, that is.
Clearly, Mr. Schwartz was not aiming at your typical fancy-watch buyer. Rather, he was looking to capture a younger, cooler buyer who would want a watch with aggressively hip designs, that could be worn swimming, and — this being the age of everyone wanting everything their way – that could be customized. “You can buy a great watch for $1,000 but a hundred bucks can get you nine different watches,” said Mr. Schwartz, referring to the fact that his watch faces and straps can be mixed and matched. The name of his Berkeley, Calif., company: Modify.
Given his stated dedication to listening to customers, Mr. Schwartz was all over Facebook from Day 1. But while he got a fair amount of attention, quickly building his following to more than 2,000 people, he found Facebook didn’t provide an opportunity for the sort of close, interactive engagement he believed would be critical for word-of-mouth marketing and, more importantly, to figure out which products and features would score with customers. After all, people can post whatever is on their minds on Facebook, and however valuable those exchanges might be, they don’t always answer the questions owners have.
So Mr. Schwartz turned to a relatively new service called Napkin Labs, which essentially helps companies funnel followers from Facebook and other sites into more intimate, more structured online communities intended to serve as focus groups. Mr. Schwartz has used his online “labs,” which can run as a Facebook app or on a separate Web site, to get people to chip in ideas about what new colors and designs they’d like to see, and where they’d like to see the watches sold. Each lab poses a “challenge,” such as “help us design a new watch,” and anyone can pitch in with ideas. As with real-life focus groups, anyone who joins in knows what other participants are sayings and can comment on their comments, creating a real dialogue among customers.
So far Mr. Schwartz has run five labs since he started a few months ago, and he said they have pulled in about 100 different participants and have attracted more than 100 suggestions. “There was a surprisingly big interest in seeing the watches sold in surf shops,” he said. (The Facebook-app labs are free, by the way, but Napkin Labs charges $99 a month and up to set up Web site-based labs.)
Check out this video clip from the Empact 100 event we hosted at the Startup America Headquarters.
One potential bonus of turning ordinary Facebook followers into focus groups is that it can provide a marketing bonanza. “Involving people in the product-development process makes them a network of evangelists,” said Riley Gibson, who founded Napkin Labs in 2010. Mr. Schwartz doesn’t claim to have created an army of evangelists just yet, but he noted that many of the lab participants have been happy to keep up one-to-one conversations with him on product development and other questions, suggesting he may indeed be creating super-fans.
While Napkin Labs seems fairly unusual in creating something akin to the focus-group experience online, it isn’t the only company offering to help businesses convert online communities into idea-generating engines and collaborators. Other crowdsourcing services include Userlytics, UserVoice, Get Satisfaction, and Jive, each providing its own take on getting online customers and potential customers to chip in with feedback and suggestions. And eYeka and Jovoto enable companies to offer contests and challenges intended to solicit new ideas and designs.
Mr. Schwartz remains enthusiastic about the concept. Correctly guessing that I’m a gadget guy, he assured me his new line of techie watches, now in the works and shaped in part by the results of his labs, will have special appeal. Hey, maybe I’ll surf by a lab to suggest bringing one out in my favorite color — stainless steel. O.K., hip, I’m not.