Brand leadership through social media
Not so long ago, the relationship that brands had with their customers was a one-way street. The brand was the boss. They told their customers what to like and how to like it. The only say the customer had was the decision to buy. This is no longer the case. Customers are very publicly talking back and it is making the management teams of some brands very nervous. Web-based social networking platforms give customers power not seen before. Now one voice can be heard by thousands of people. Brands need to learn to deal with this evolution, so here is a primer.
First, some background on how the internet has altered consumer behaviour. The internet, and particularly the rise of social media, has allowed people with similar interests to connect. This becomes obvious when one trawls through Twitter, where the common social network model of simply connecting with people you know tends to give way to people connecting in groups according to interest. Indeed, people interested in any topic imaginable from all areas of the world are connecting. It’s like subject-based forums on steroids. People are forming tribes.
Humans have always formed tribes. Religion, family, sports and fashion are all examples of tribal behaviour. The difference now is that any interest group can form a tribe almost instantly. Social media has allowed any fringe idea to become the basis of a tribe and a movement. People want desperately to be connected, but, even more importantly, they want to be led. We are in a time of massive change, which is driven by everybody’s desire to do things in a new way and to be heard.
Barack Obama’s recent landslide victory is a good example of this. He promised change, he communicated differently and led with integrity. He connected to his audience through social media. He started a movement, formed a tribe and then he and his followers charged to victory. What the world discovered is that you can now make an ad campaign as slick as you want, but if the product is poor then it simply doesn’t matter.
So “advertising is dead” in the sense the old methods don’t work the same way they used to. Obama’s opponents didn’t fully understand the impact that social networking has had on society. They continued to use the old and trusted methods of marketing. These transparent methods are diminishing in influence as social networking begins to infiltrate every media touch-point. In two recent articles I wrote for Anthill I talked about how this is already happening to television and how the newspaper industry needs to change to avoid becoming irrelevant.
Social media is much more than a passing phase. Human civilisation is built around social interaction. It’s what the people want and this new media is only going to get bigger. It will eventually become part of everything. Individual social media companies might fade away (MySpace seems to be in that category) as better designed products come onto the market, but the world has spoken and it wants to be connected. Brands that don’t adapt to this reality will be left behind. They will become the guy at the party that no one wants to sit next to because he just keeps talking about himself.
Blogs have become socially and commercially influential. From what started out as individuals chatting on about their lives, blogs have become business tools and revenue producing ventures. They influence groups, buying patterns and fashion. They are modern tribal leaders.
Not so long ago commentators speculated that blogging was simply a passing fad. What these commentators didn’t realise was that it was yet to achieve maturation and once it had it would signal big trouble for the large media organisations. Now anyone with a camera or a desire to write is ‘the press’. This pattern is being repeated for micro-blogging, a category in which Twitter is the current market leader. Some commentators question the relevance of utilising Twitter to listen to people “drone on about their lives”. But Twitter, and other micro-blogs, are in the early stages of their development. They too will mature, most probably much quicker than the original blogs, and enable much bigger tribes to develop around even more specific subject matter.
The tribal leaders of these new social media can be reached and persuaded to support you, no matter what platform they decide to use. Unlike the old ‘one way’ approach however, they need to be interacted with on their own terms. Provided they have a group of true fans, they can influence hundreds of thousands of people – in a matter of hours. This is what gives them such power.
And this is what marketers in the current environment have to understand. The ‘mass-market’ model is on the decline. What is needed now is a pattern of marketing to the ‘early adopters’ – the ones at the front of the bell curve who have a true interest in what you have to provide – and form a base of evangelists that will market for you. You no longer have to aim to connect with everybody. This really leaves the field wide open for the smaller brands to break through – the ones willing to challenge.
The Age of the Challenger
In marketing speak, a ‘challenger brand’ is code for ‘the small brand’. A challenger brand is one that is meant to be fast, flexible and innovative in its communications. But in my view the word ‘challenger’ should instead be short-hand for ’emerging leader’.
Emerging leaders challenge the status quo, they challenge themselves and they connect with others who have similar ideas – those people who need a leader to show what to do and inspire them. The market leader wants the status quo to remain just that. They want to speak and be heard in a mass market. No discussion thanks. The challenger realises that, in order to create a movement there needs to be systems in place for everybody in that tribe to be heard, and they commit to leading that tribe with everything they’ve got.
Traditional advertising is not about interaction with the individual. It is predominately a one-way conversation to a mass audience. But no one likes to be forced into making decisions. This is why the traditional advertising model is beginning to fail. It relies on mass media, and this media is itself being transformed by social networks.
What can Social Networking do for Your Brand?
All of this may sound a bit scary for brand managers. It’s true that it does take time and effort to build a community. And to be truly effective, you have to obey some rules. Even so, it is not a hard thing to do. It takes far more time and resources to build that fan base with traditional advertising. Be honest, be helpful and contribute to the community and you’ll get supporters fast.
Social networking is far more than having a Facebook profile. It is any platform that gives the end user an ability to contribute. Many companies have realised that developing an internal social media platform can aid in communication but have yet to work out how it can help shape their brand personality.
About The Author
Article by Mark Cameron – www.workingthree.com