In following many of the higher ranked, populated and community-focused Blogs about Marketing, you will spot an interesting trend...
Many Bloggers (and their community members) feel that brands are not very "social" unless they are a part of the "conversation." Top-line, this does seem like common sense: for a brand to be trusted and accepted in Social Media it should be an active voice within the community. After all, if someone is complaining about (or applauding) your brand and you're not responding, what does that say about you?
Brands don't care?
Is it true that if a brand does not respond it is because it does not care? Do brands have any semblance of an acceptable reason not to be active participants in the online channels where their consumers are talking about, reviewing and attempting to engage with them? If a brand is saying, "we don't have the human resources to really have these types of conversations," or "we're not organized internally to appropriately deal with this type of communication" is that an acceptable response? Many (yes, I'm looking at you Joseph Jaffe) would say the answer is, "no." And, while I tend to agree, let's also not forget that a brand can be social in other ways.
There are a lot of things about Social Media that we have forgotten or take for granted.
One of the core functions of Social Media is to make whatever it is that a brand is doing more open, shareable and findable. We tend to focus on the more intensive activities (like brand-to-individual communications) because Social Media has evolved so quickly, but it bears repeating and reflecting on that a brand that isn't active within a conversation can still be very social in nature by simply sharing their content. While attending the Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit 2010 these past few days in Austin, Texas, it was amazing to see the retail brands (and beyond) that have customer reviews (or peer reviews) enabled on their sites, and those that are also active by leveraging another one of Bazaarvoice's services called, Ask & Answer, and yet how challenged those exact same brands are when it comes to building a community (be it on their own with a Blog or Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc...).
Once again, your version of Social Media may not be their version of Social Media.
Would you then say that those brands are not engaged in Social Media simply because they're grappling (both internally and externally) with how to engage in a conversation and how to turn those conversations into a community? Do all brands have to have that one-to-one dialogue? It's an interesting thought to ponder. Brands that allow people to say whatever they want about their products and services on their own space and in any additional channel that the consumer wants is a highly social activity (if you ask me).
And, what is the strategy?
A good Social Media strategy could start (and end) with allowing your content to be more open. With allowing consumers to say whatever they want about it and to publish that content - not only on your own websites and platforms (for all to see) - but for that consumer generated content to be shared by consumers wherever they like as well. Enabling and empowering people to take pictures and post them to flickr, while other consumers create video reviews for places like YouTube, etc... are simple acts of brands opening up what they do to criticism. In doing so, those baseline acts seem very Social Media to me.
Or, do you think brands must do the conversation part/thing as well?