CAN’T BRANDS BE FRIENDS?

Many have referred to this era as the “social age.” And with Facebook’s IPO this year, one can’t argue that the advent of social media networks has revolutionized both our culture and the media landscape.

Social media has undoubtedly influenced marketing budgets as well. A recent CMO study echoed the growing favor of social – unveiling that CMOs expect to increase their current levels of 7.1% of marketing budget to 10.1% over the next year and to 17.5% in the next five years. But any specific reasons why? Is it because marketers are compelled to use a new media channel? Or are brands investing more on the evolution of how people behave? Is your brand truly sociable? Sociability creates bonds between people. But, does being in social media make you sociable.

In any online social group, we have two kinds of people: contributors and followers. The contributors are able to seamlessly attract people with amazing content. The followers are those who follow such content contribution by spreading the news to his network or community.

Coming back to the amazing world of brands each of them are like election candidates. Calling out to people to vote for them and keeping a count on the number of votes received. But how many brands really know the people who are in their circle (buying their product) or in their communities? As old as it may seem, many brands still define their audiences by demographics – for example, 21 to 44-year-old women. It’s not how you’d describe your aunt -a friend on your social network. Who is that person? What do you really know about them? You’ve gained fans. Do you know who they are? Are they people you want as fans? What’s their role in your social group? What’s their value within your community?

Ford has evolved their blog “the Ford story” into a new program called Ford Social, an experience that encourages people to submit their stories and ideas to Ford – and with the community at large. Not only putting customers first, but through this, they can really get to know their community of fans. They don’t know just what cars they bought – they know why they’re significant to them and they know every car and its owner have a story to tell. Such strategies help earn content through the crowd and inspire others to be a part of the community.

Being sociable not only helps to understand your fans – but spreads the message for free and inspires others to join.

Think about that person in your social circle whom you really like being around, that CONTRIBUTOR. He’s INTERESTING – right?  He has interesting things to share, provokes good conversations among the group. That’s no surprise. But importantly, they don’t just flaunt the things they know. They are truly interested in YOU as well. They are outstanding listeners. They don’t just listen blindly.  Rather, they ask questions and take a productive part in interactions with friends. They want to know about you. Because they are active listeners, they’re able to constantly adapt to the conversation, incorporating new information and building deeper connections with their friends. It’s all about feedback and interaction with people.

Again, think of brands. Are they interesting? Or more important, interested?

We talk a lot about creating a dialogue, but being interesting doesn’t mean just talking back and forth, it means that you’re adding value in some way. Interesting people give you something to think about, or something to do, check out, share. As a brand, what value are you adding to people in your community? What’s making you interesting through their eyes?

Red Bull actually does a great job of being interesting. Red Bull provides fans exclusive content about the things their drinkers care about – not the product itself. Tory Burch shares her experiences and influences, building a more personal connection with those that buy – or aspire to buy her clothes.

There are small ways of being interested too. One of today’s social media best practices says to ask questions in your wall posts. How many brands pay attention to the answers and respond?  Expedia recently posted “What is your favorite souvenir from your travels?” More than 200 people commented. But Expedia didn’t acknowledge any of the answers. What if they had showed interest in why that was your favorite? Imagine asking a question of someone in the real world and just walking away before they answer. Brands have the opportunity to truly have a conversation, demonstrate interest and learn more about you in the process. Yes, that takes time and effort. But isn’t that the effort that pays off in friendship?

Brands have the opportunity to push beyond the ROI of gaining a fan, building a capability or mastering a process. Social media isn’t just a channel, it’s a call to marketers and brands to change their behavior. To think and act more like people.  To focus on emotion, not promotion.  To be truly sociable, not just active in social.

PS: I am looking for job opportunities to contribute my passion and skills in digital marketing and technology. Please help me by referring me to or communicating to me about job opportunities in your enterprise. You can download my updated resume here: http://bit.ly/VrM9hr check out my visual resume here: http://slidesha.re/UhLvIr and get in touch with me on sagarsea@gmail.com

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