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Last week I was invited to attend the ShopSmart Summit, a conference produced by the publishers of ShopSmart, a Consumer Reports magazine. There were a number of guest speakers on the bill which definitely piqued my interest. The most notable of those being Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame.  This is the first of two posts on the Summit.

The summit itself included two panels, the first on community, the second on scams and sandwiched between the two was a keynote / interview with Jeff. After the second panel, the bloggers and journalists who were invited were also give a tour of the Consumer Reports testing labs which was fascinating. As I drove from Yonkers toward the White Plains airport, I began to think through how I would write about all the great info that came out of this summit and planned on writing about it on the flight to Atlanta. My plans were disrupted when my flight was delayed, my laptop battery ran out of juice and an available outlet was nowhere to be found in White Plains airport’s massive departure lobby. In hindsight, I’m glad this happened. After looking back at my notes from the panels and the keynote, and from a conversation I was able to have with Jeff Bezos following his talk, I saw some very some common patterns emerge across the speakers’ viewpoints.

I recently posted an entry on the not-so-newness of social commerce ideas, drawing on the legacy sales approach that evolved at Tupperware. What is new is social media and how this changes the speed and breadth of a community’s impact. Ben Kaufman, CEO of Quirky, summed up the impact of the Quirky community well:

“All of us are smarter than any one of us”

I can buy that. In fact, I think that can be applied to any community, and not only the community of inventors that Quirky embraces. Ben went on to say that, “Every [person] has a product idea in them.”  I would venture to say that if a company truly embraces their online community, especially the frequent participants, many things would improve: Products, Customer Service and probably revenue. So why do some companies continue to struggle with the idea of an online community interacting freely with online shops or web sites?  I can understand that there are those executives who are anxiety laden when it comes to granting public access to what has typically been a company controlled area. But people will talk anyway. Good and Bad. It’s not controllable, but it can be quite useful.

” The notion of trust is the foundation of any community.” -Judy Rohlena, ShopSmart

This is true of the communities in which we live and work, not just the communities we associate ourselves with online. Companies should endeavor to embrace their communities and make them a part of the overall experience for all customers, online and offline. Stephanie Brocoum of RueLaLa summed it up perfectly saying, “Businesses like ours have to listen”. And what better way than active listening is there to build the foundation of trust?

These notions aren’t anything new: Listening to and trusting your customers, soliciting ideas, and gathering suggestions for improvement from a wide audience. Companies used to pay big bucks to do market and product research, many still do, but by properly integrating social media with your online presence, and interacting with the community, much of this sort of feedback can be gathered on the cheap. But companies still have to invest in interacting with the community. This doesn’t happen automatically.

The challenges that await companies integrating social media into their overall user experience are more along the lines of how best to duplicate a genuine “social” experience. Brocoum summed this up well in saying that, for RueLaLa, “Scaling the intimacy is important”. RueLaLa has created value for consumers by recreating the “velvet rope” online through Private Event Retailing. Brocoum understands what drives RueLaLa’s community and takes care to carefully monitor the experience as the company scales.

To sum it up, social commerce is based on traditional approaches to involving a community in your company’s activity. Understanding what drives a community is important and, if that understanding is fairly represented in how a user experience is tailored for that community, participation will result. Listen to your community. Trust their feedback and ideas. Grow your business!