Customer Reviews Software specialist Bazaarvoice has just published a useful report on the emotional power of participatory media “Participation Chains Connect Customers to Your Brand”.

The report is noteworthy because it goes beyond the usual formula; reviews = utility = sales.

Instead, Sam Decker and Ze Frank show that customer contributions also foster emotional engagement, which leads to loyalty, which is another generator of sales (a McKinsey report found that contributors visit sites 9x more than non-contributors and make purchases 2x as often).  It’s been dubbed the Ikea Effect (also know as the Hawthorne Effect) – when you participate in something you value it more highly.

The new news, introduced in the report, is the “Participation Chain”, the idea that brands should actively manage customer participation from easy first steps (posting a review), to more involved participation such as contributing to Customer Q&A forums and posting testimonials.  Once a first participatory step has been made, a second more involved (and more loyalty building) step becomes more likely. Not only does this build loyalty with the participating customers, but that customer’s content itself can drive sales – by working as a decision accelerator for new customers.

Of course, the Participation Chain concept helps sells Bazaarvoice’s participatory marketing tools – Customer Q&A forums (Ask & Answer) and Customer testimonials (Customer Stories).

But psychologically speaking, it’s smart stuff. Ever since psychologist Ernest Dichter told Betty Crocker to remove dried eggs from cake mix so customers could “add an egg” (and therefore feel they make valued contribution), we’ve known the value of allowing customers to make their own “creative contributions”.  And from a practical pint of view, participation chains demystify engagement, and break it down into measurable contributory components.

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The challenge and opportunity for Bazaarvoice will be offer deeper forms of participation, specifically brand/site ambassadors and brand/site advisor programs to drive loyalty and word of mouth.  It’s what Martin Oetting and I have called “empowered involvement“.  It’s powerful, and it works.