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Trapping Mavens With The Web

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell coins the term “maven trap.” Mavens are experts in a particular field who are always trying to help others with their knowledge. They are the kind of people you turn to for advice when you want to buy a car or a HDTV, book a trip to Europe, or remodel your kitchen.

So what is a maven trap? Gladwell uses this term to refer to the methods that companies use to find people who are expert users of their products. For these companies, the mavens are an invaluable source of  feedback about their products as well as ideas for future enhancements. How do these companies find them? Gladwell uses the example of a toll-free telephone number that you would find on the packaging of a soap. Have you ever found such a number on a box of soaps and wondered who would want to call that number? It appears that among the many people who use that brand of soap, there are likely to be a few experts on soap who would feel compelled to call the soap maker with some comments about the product. These are the mavens that the companies look for.  These experts can tell them exactly what is right or wrong with the product and how it compares with others in the market. Gladwell also writes about how Lexus converted a distastrous recall situation into an opportunity to find Lexus mavens who were also very loyal to the brand.

Looking from this perspective, it is easy to see why  many technology companies host user community web-forums. These are great portals to gather many users of their products  in one place, and look for a few mavens who can help them figure out how to beat the competition. If  you browse a few of these websites, you will typically find some very interesting posts by  a handful of  users who are very likely to be the mavens.

Many e-commerce retail companies like Amazon encourage customers to sign for for an account and post reviews of products they bought. If  these retailers or the companies that sell through them want to find mavens for specific types or brand of products, they just need to search their review database. For example, if a shoe company wanted to run a survey to gather data for their next line of shoes, they would know exactly whom to target from the huge community of reviewers on Amazon.

So the next time you get an email request to fill out a survey from an online store with a gift attached, think before you delete it. May be they think you are a maven 🙂

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