A version of this article originally appeared on WSJ.com
When considering potential partnerships for your business, you might be missing a big opportunity for collaboration right in front of you — your audience.
They may already know you. They may already know your business. They are probably itching to be heard if only you gave them the chance.
If you think about it, they’re the reason your business has succeeded thus far, and they likely have the potential to make or break you in the future.
Why is it then that so many business owners are not tapping this readily accessible and valuable resource? Marketing and customer service departments around the world dismiss legitimate criticisms or recommendations from their communities as nothing more than nagging voices to be silenced.
United Airlines’ disgruntled customers have an entire website called Untied.com dedicated to lampooning their less than stellar customer service. Wouldn’t it be so much more worthwhile to attempt to win these people over instead of trying to legally strong-armthem out of existence?
No matter how great or well liked you think your product or service is, it can likely be improved by listening intently to what your existing community of users has to say. Don’t take my word for it, just look at Twitter.
Back in Twitter’s early days it would be hardly recognizable to someone who signed up yesterday. The service was little more than a platform for broadcasting short SMS messages to a group of users.
While there’s no denying the brilliance of the original idea, much of Twitter’s success stemmed from its willingness to truly listen to their most valuable asset — their dedicated community.
Many of Twitter’s defining features can be attributed to a single user. The Retweet, for example, was coined by a user named Eric Rice and was then adopted by word-of-mouth across the service. Another case is the now iconic “hashtag,” whose core functionality was laid out in a detailed plan by a user named Chris Messina. Both of these features would end up being formally adopted by Twitter years after their informal inception.
The one common thread between all these innovations is that they did not originate in some boardroom within the Twitter offices, or even from some partner company, they came from the users themselves.
Not only were all of these innovations free, they had passed the ultimate test a feature could. They were inherently usable. The fact that the community adopted these new conventions when they were not even part of the platform meant that the demand was there. All Twitter had to do was respond.
It’s hard to imagine what Twitter would look like had they not partnered with their audience from the very beginning. Take this lesson into mind when considering partnerships on behalf of your startup by working closely with your audience to build the best product that suits their needs while growing your business.
To partner with your audience, start by establishing a line of communication with them whether by email, social media or otherwise, listen to their feedback, filter out their best insights, respond to their input, apply some of their most reasonable suggestions and continue to allow their participation in your future online campaigns.
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