The customer as the new social media influencer


When home services startup Urban Company re-started after the nationwide lockdown to contain covid-19, the biggest challenge was convincing customers that was safe to let electricians, plumbers and beauticians into their homes again.

Urban Company, previously Urban Clap, worked on blog posts, TV commercials and personal messages from founders about their new hygiene protocols—but they realized what worked best was Instagram stories and posts from users before or during their service sessions. Real customer endorsement did more to build trust than any amount of content they posted themselves.

“It was purely organic. Users just posted about the service they got—how the beautician was sanitizing everything before a haircut, or how the AC repair mechanics wore masks and used sanitizer,” says Varun Khaitan, co-founder of Urban Company. “Content posted by someone who has used the service and felt safe influenced decisions of other customers more than anything else.”

The pandemic has shaken trust in brands. Hygiene and safety are new concerns, especially when it comes to food, beauty services and commuting. In the new circumstances, companies have found that celebrity endorsements mean little. It’s the customer who’s turning influencer, as a positive review or video on social media draws more users than any marketing campaign.

“The usual campaigns with actors, celebrities or paid influencers are likely to be ineffective at this time. The best way to build trust under such circumstances is by having customers review your services. It makes the brand more believable and helps overcome the confidence deficit consumers have at this time due to the prevailing fear mindset,” says Saurabh Uboweja, founder and managing partner, BOD Consulting.

Cab aggregator Ola has also taken to social media to regain trust. Instead of hiring actors, it got employees and other customers to shoot videos of their experiences booking and using a cab in the new circumstances.

The food business has taken an outsize hit from covid-19 as restaurants have been closed and many are wary to order in. Chefs have taken to social media to endorse their colleagues, and point out the sanitization protocols they’re following. Radhika Khandelwal, executive chef and owner, Radish Hospitality, which owns Fig & Maple in Delhi, has been ordering food from various small and independent eateries and posting reviews with a particular focus on the hygiene practices on her social media channels. Other chefs who order from Fig & Maple have started returning the gesture. This is not something they do consciously, she says. “Chefs often bounce ideas off one another and share feedback. This is just an extension of it,” she says. “Building a sense of community in these times is also paramount,” she says. “If just posting a picture makes a difference to my peers and their work, I’m really glad to do it.”

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