Circos Brand Karma

Official Blog of Circos

Is Social Media David or the Emperor (Part II)?

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The following is a continuation of a post that discussed whether social media is the Emperor without clothes or David in David v. Goliath.  This post focuses on brand engagement in social channels.

One of the questions I often get asked is, “How can I use social networks like Facebook and Twitter for my brand?”

And while they teach us in school not to answer a question with a question, I inevitably always do.

“What are you trying to accomplish?” is my usual reply.

Before you engage in social anything, you should have a good answer to this question.  Are you trying to increase brand awareness?  Extend your brand experience online? Attract influencers? Create an alternative communication channel? Obtain lifestyle information to incorporate into your CRM? Make a few sales?  None of the above, some of the above, or…  all of the above?

What, exactly, does success look like?  This is step 1 and the one question that you must answer.

There is no simple answer to the question, “How can I use social networks for my brand?” because a good answer involves your overall brand strategy.  Without proper planning, throwing up a fan page or a micro-blog, in any language, is a one-way road to zero in terms of impact. Facebook, Kaixin001, RenRen, Twitter, Weibo, YouTube, YouKu, etc. — all of the popular social services that have millions of users — are littered with failed attempts by brands trying to authentically join consumer conversations without a clear plan as to how.  Social networks, and the user-generated content each network’s members produce, are not cubs but lions of brand communications.  This is a serious medium, and one that should not be handed over to a junior intern unless you want to deal with the consequences (see Marc Jacobs’ recent situation for what could happen).

Facebook is Like Big Bang

Digital social engagement is new human behavior, and not everyone likes it.  Also, we’re adapting to the variables of this medium at the same time the medium is being formed and changing.  In a way, Facebook is really like the Big Bang — and its resulting universe is still volatile and changing.  However, like the laws of physics that govern our offline universe, it is the rules of human relationships that provide valuable insights on how brands can engage within the online (or social) universe.

To have a better chance at engaging successfully, I recommend understanding the 5 development stages in interpersonal relationships.  According to Wikipedia, these are:

  1. Acquaintance – Becoming acquainted depends on previous relationships, physical proximity, first impressions, and a variety of other factors.  If two people begin to like each other, continued interactions may lead to the next stage, but acquaintance can continue indefinitely.
  2. Buildup – During this stage, people begin to trust and care about each other.  The need for intimacy, compatibility and such filtering agents as common background and goals will influence whether or not interaction continues.
  3. Continuation – This stage follows a mutual commitment to a long-term friendship, romantic relationship, or marriage. It is generally a long, relative stable period.  Nevertheless, continued growth and development will occur during this time.  Mutual trust is important for sustaining the relationship.
  4. Deterioration – Not all relationships deteriorate, but those that do tend to show signs of trouble.  Boredom, resentment, and dissatisfaction may occur, and individuals may communicate less and avoid self-disclosure.  Loss of trust and betrayals may take place as the downward spiral continues, eventually ending the relationship.  (Alternately, the participants may find some way to resolve the problems and reestablish trust.)
  5. Termination – The final stage marks the end of the relationship, either by death in the case of a healthy relationship, or by separation.

While the stages in this model were first developed to describe adult, romantic relationships, then later applied to other relationships, sociologists have found applicability of this model to consumer-brand relationships.  Social networks have accelerated the understanding of this model because the evidences of these relationships can more or less be easily seen… and over many many relationships, which, by the way, is another reason why understanding social media about your brand is critical.  Not doing so is tantamount to not ever listening to the compliments or complaints of your friend/spouse/co-worker/parent/child/teacher/etc.

Back to engagement: understanding stages 1-3 is critical for every brand manager in order to avoid stages 4-5.  Note that “selling as a hidden agenda” is a quick way to get to stage 4 — either because the other party feels bored by the constant hawking or betrayed from an abuse of trust.

So what are the social network manifestations of stages 1-3?

In the Acquaintance stage — it’s important to establish a positive first impression.  So — you should think, where will people get their first impression, and how positive will that impression be?  Here, you’ve got a paradigm shift.  Whereas in most of the 20th century the ‘where’ and ‘how positive’ first impressions could be largely controlled by a (very good) advertising agency and a (very good) PR agency — that’s no longer the case.  Nowadays, in addition to the controllable sources, the first impression people have of your brand can, and most likely will, come from 1) snippets in organic Google search results (from sites that have user reviews like TripAdvisor) or 2) fan likes/posts/comments on walls.  If you want the maximum prospects, pay attention to the non-traditional sources and make sure you’re making a good impression.

A slight aside — it is completely possible that you have the best brand but no one knows about it.  So one way in which you could gain more acquaintance is through advertising.  In this way — any type of online advertising will do.  Banner, PPC, SEM, social advertising, etc.  Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses.  For social advertising — if the goal is to gain more acquaintances — then you should make sure you clearly identify whom you want to be acquainted with.  Ideally, the whom should look pretty close to the profile of your ideal customers — i.e. the ones that are going to be most satisfied with your service AND also allow you to declare success if you get the chance to have a relationship with them.  This means that it’s just as important for you to define whom you won’t target (i.e. the type of friends that would raise eyebrows if you brought them home to meet your family).

In the Build Up stage — the trust and caring begins for both parties in the relationship.  For brand managers, it’s the make or break stage.

[In Part III, the final part of this series, we’ll look into how brands can make Build Up a successful stage for them, leading to Continuation, and what that means to the bottom line.]


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  1. […] [The following is the final part of this series.  It was co-written with David Ransom, who is one of our new contributing authors.  If you're interested, here are Part I and Part II.] […]

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