Social Media (or any other form of Marketing and Communications) won't save a bad product, brand or service.
This may seem like an obvious statement out of the gates, but it is something that many brand managers don't really wrap their heads around. If you love the TV show Mad Men (and who, in their right mind, doesn't?) the subtext of the early days of advertising (and something that kept happening until very recently) was the ability for a brand to engage with a Madison Avenue type of advertising agency to help them turn a coal into a diamond. The germ of mass media advertising was about creating an allure or desire for products and over-selling them. Making them seem and feel bigger than they really were.
Social Media changed all of that... and more.
While advertising still works on creating this perceived desire, things do change when all voices (the brand, the advertising agency and the consumer) have an equalized platform. Any one individual with a gripe or with something nice to say can get to the top of the search engines or have their online social network share their story (in places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc...)so brands, products and services have to be able to deliver. In fact, with customer reviews (or peer reviews) individuals can affect a sales outcome right there where the "buy now" button lives.
Ultimately, your brands, products and services have to hold up to this very simple adage: "it is what it is and it does what it does."
It's great if it can do more (but if it could do more, you would probably say so in all of your marketing and communications), but it really doesn't have to. So, when you use words like, "better, brighter, faster, 20% more, 40% off, etc..." you can disguise the true realities of the marketing initiative in the small print. Social Media is forcing companies to do away with that fine print. Seth Godin wrote brilliantly about how brilliant brands are the only way to go in his seminal best-selling business book, Purple Cow. While being remarkable should be every brand's lighthouse, the conversation around what it takes and those who have actually done it eludes the majority of companies. Most companies still do make regular products for regular people (in fact, if everyone was able to create a Purple Cow, how would we know? We would probably need a phrase for something that is more remarkable than a Purple Cow - Purple Panda anyone?). Seth's right, we need to get there, but most brands are falling woefully short of those purple pastures.
The point is to ensure that your product is what it is and that it does what it's supposed to do.
That - in and of itself - is enough to begin some semblance of a conversation and the initial strikes at building a community. Sadly, most brands don't even do that. They'll make claims in their advertising and fight for people to understand "their side" on Twitter. It's sad, because it is only the brands that are the exceptions to this rule that we can point to... and we can't even do that one hundred percent of the time... and there aren't enough great examples (hint: we need more!).
Why? Why? Why?
Why don't brands live up to that one simple adage? Why can't we all (as Marketers) make a commitment that our initiatives, programs and campaigns will be based on creating an appetite for something that can do what it claims and that works? One hundred percent of the time. All of the time. Without any small print. We would have a very different world. One where consumers actually enjoyed (maybe even looked forward to) advertising and one where the notion of brand loyalty would go beyond sending out mass emails to individuals who relinquished some of their privacy to simply save a few bucks.
Wouldn't it be nice?