What does Social Media really mean to brands?
Brands will talk about listening. Brands will talk about using Social Media as an additional channel for their customer service. Brands will tell you that Social Media is all about a conversation. Let's put aside the brands that are outright lying about it all - the ones that are simply attempting to leverage Social Media as a free media channel to blast consumers with their messages. We can put those brands aside and look at the ones that are actually trying to do something different and engaging in Social Media. The question is this: are those brands really all that "social"?
The argument for brands and Social Media.
Personally, I'm less excited about the idea that brands can engage in a "conversation." The more sniffing around I do, the less I see conversations and the more I see moments of engagement. For the most part, they're not all that consistent and it's hard to tell how the story comes together as an observer (what was the beginning, middle and the end?). What seems obvious between the brand and a consumer (a disgruntled or happy one) is somewhat hard to follow if all you're doing is watching the back and forth take place. The brands that want to win in the Social Media space can start with a very simple tactic: make all of the interesting things that they do as shareable and as findable as possible. The brands that make their content as shareable and as findable as possible are the brands who will find and connect with the people who are actually interested in them. If the brand does a lot of things right, they can expect the outcome to be some nice engagement. If they really connect with consumers - and the consumers connect back to the brand and to one another - they may... just may... find a semblance of a conversation.
Most brands still do a lot of naval gazing.
Even the brands that we hold up as best case examples for engaging in Social Media still tend to have a massive case of narcissism going on. How often do you run into a Facebook page for a brand that you like and the main call to action is "like us on Facebook!" The lack of subtlety is painfully obvious. They want you (the consumer) to like them. If you (the consumer) would like to connect, share and exchange... you have to like them. Here's a novel idea: it's called, Social Media... Instead of consumers liking brands, why don't brands start liking consumers? I'm not just talking about an autofollow command. I'm talking about genuinely and authentically taking the time to not only follow them back, but to add value to their community... in their spaces.
Wouldn't it be interesting to see how many brands have a Blog and then be able to see how often they respond to comments on their own Blog versus how often they engage in the comments section of the Blogs of their consumers and the industry that they serve? How active are they really in the community that they serve? We tend to applaud brands for having a Twitter account or a Facebook page as if the very act of being present should be enough for consumers. We give standing ovations to those who resolve customer service issues on Twitter and Facebook, but - in the end - isn't all of that really one-sided in favor of the brand?
True Social Media Marketing.
The future of brands won't be about ads on Facebook or responding to a crisis on Twitter. The true future of brands will be about how truly social they are. Being social isn't a one-way street (that is broadcasting and that is traditional media). The new, integrated brands that win will be the ones who are more active within the community than they are in their own spaces. If they're not, then they're just broadcasting and creating some engagement as a well-intentioned form of pandering to the new channels (and, it way more like advertising than marketing). It's important for brands to live what they truly stand for. Brands that are currently spending their days chasings, fans, friends, likes, follows and ratings are completely missing the point.
What do you think? Are brands active enough in their communities?