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Passenger Opens Up
Online community provider extends its private network to Facebook and Twitter.
Posted Jan 23, 2010
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Companies are looking to customers for insight and to do so, they're scouring social media channel and setting up communities for customers to gather and discuss. Passenger recently announced that it's opening up its private online brand communities by allowing members to share images, videos, and activities out onto Facebook and Twitter. The intent is to enable brand advocates to spread their influence to a broader audience and in effect, increase brand awareness and, hopefully, loyalty.

According to the company, the motivation to bridge private and public social network communities was to empower consumer advocacy, explains Samantha Skey, chief marketing officer of Passenger. The private communities have historically been focused on providing valuable information to three audiences:

  • brand marketers;
  • product development executives; and
  • market researchers.

Now, the communities have become "catalysts for word-of-mouth marketing and brand advocacy," Skey says, as the social media trend continues to mature.

Brad Bortner, principal analyst at Forrester Research, focuses primarily on online communities as it applies for market research purposes. What Passenger's new feature is helping to bridge the two primary motivations for establishing a brand community:

  • marketing; and
  • market research.

"There's sort of this fusion between market research and marketing," he says. Oftentimes, companies are confused as to which purpose was the real impetus: Was the community set up for acquiring consumer insight or to create viral marketing?

Skey assures that the objectives of the activities conducted within the communities have not changed, which is "to improve upon the brand's relationship with its customers and gather insight that can be used for various product development and marketing initiatives." The tool, however, does bring Passenger into a space that goes beyond just market resarch. Community members are already sharing their experience with friends and family members outside of the network, but are now able to do so more seamlessly by linking to the Twitter and Facebook share features. "We have an opportunity to offer them yet another element they desire," Skey says, "the ability to share their good work, on a pre-approved basis, with their greater network."

With this release, Passenger is extending what Bortner says is a "easy, scalable" platform that will allow companies to take advantage of the marketing aspect of communities-which, he notes, is more co mmon-as well as the market research. This will be most compelling for companies that previously didn't want a private community but are looking to build its viral message, or ones who now want to do both.

Depending on whether the conversation is bidirectional — that is, if insight from the Facebook and Twitter is feeding back into the private community-the advantages of this solution on the market research perspective is yet unclear, Bortner says. Nevertheless, opening up the community to the public networks could offer two advantages:

  • brand awareness; and
  • recruit new members and advocates.

"[Passenger] is building doorways from controlled community out into the open community networks," Bortner says. Though an interesting feature, this doesn't necessarily "shake [Bortner's] world," but he adds that the company has been doing a good job of constantly innovating its platform nor does he know of any other private community vendors doing something similar.

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