Stop, collaborate and listen: what wikis can do for brand engagement

John LewisOne hundred and fifty years old but still not past it, John Lewis has been crowned the UK’s most collaborative brand online. Beating the likes of Google and Apple to claim the top spot in a recent survey by .wiki (in conjunction with YouGov), John Lewis is perceived to be a brand that not only listens, but also acts on the views of its loyal customers.

Any brand worth its salt is harnessing the power of social media channels to improve customer service and promote their products. However, unlike John Lewis, many consumer-facing companies are still failing to nurture meaningful two-way dialogues with customers. In fact, half of the consumers that we surveyed (51% in the US, 49% in the UK) said that they have little to no opportunity to collaborate with their favourite brands over the internet.

Why should brands work in concert with their customers online? First, half of consumers (52% US, 48% UK) hold a better perception of brands that enlist the help of their customer base online. Second, the internet is the greatest information resource ever created – any brand would be mad to ignore the trove of knowledge that is now easily accessible via the web.

Swap retweets for building resources

The beauty of the internet is that there are plenty of ways to leverage the knowledge and passion of your customer base online. Moving beyond the empty ‘follows’ and ‘likes’ of social media channels, brands can more meaningfully engage consumers by enlisting their help and expertise.

For brands that want to build dedicated online resources around their business or industry, community-driven platforms like wikis are a solid starting point. Wikipedia is a great example of an external wiki, which is open to editing by the general public and has become an invaluable resource for people all over the world. However, many companies that already allow employees to collaborate across their business via internal wikis are failing to harness the potential of external wikis.

With 28% of Brits and Americans stating that they would contribute to a branded wiki if they could make a difference to a brand that they feel passionately about, this attitude needs to change. By creating external wikis, brands can learn more about how customers use their products and what can be improved.

Both Microsoft and Oracle host wikis on their products as a way to enlist system administrators to share solutions and build more comprehensive resources. In the future, we expect companies to create industry-wide wikis to highlight their expertise. For example, a company like Netflix could launch a wiki around filmmaking or TV fandom, where it delves into the entertainment industry as a way to stay ahead of the curve.

How to tap into the public’s genius

We also found that a significant proportion of people (22% US, 15% UK) would like to collaborate over the future technologies that their favourite brands offer. Having recognised this willingness, consumer goods giant Unilever has set up the Open Innovation Portal. Any individual or business can submit their solutions to problems like removing fatty stains from clothing and reducing the amount of packaging used for its products.

Even more playful brands can pool the ideas of their fans to boost innovation. Lego has a dedicated ideas page which asks customers to submit their thoughts on what should be made into Lego next. Far from being a gimmick, the best ideas as voted for by the community are put forward to Lego’s development team to potentially be made into a reality.

By opening their doors to ideas from unconventional sources, brands can benefit from an untapped knowledge pool and give dedicated customers the opportunity to shape the future of a brand they feel invested in.

Don’t be the last one to the party

Brands that are interested in engaging with their customer base to grow and optimise their products must provide a platform for meaningful interaction. The public revels in finding new ways to make the most out of different products and sharing these inventive ideas with others. Neglecting to create a corner of the internet where these exchanges can take place will ultimately cut the brand out of the conversation, as customers opt to build their own community.

US pharmacy chain, Walgreens, is among the first of the big brands to jump on the opportunity through the plethora of new web extensions now going live online. To date, Walgreens has secured a number of domains related to their business under the .wiki web extension – haircare.wiki, prescriptions.wiki and scooters.wiki, to name but a few. This is a shrewd move that will ensure Walgreens influences online conversations on its chosen topic areas and get a leg up on the competition.

Ray King is chief executive of Top Level Design