Social media: the new world disorder
While social media platforms are great for building brands, they can be equally as effective in destroying them.
4 Jun 2010 13:25
Social media is not just another brand tool or communications platform - it's indicative of a new world disorder. It's not structured; it's not controlled and has a life of its own. This has prompted new rules of brand engagement that marketers have to be aware of: social media can turn your brand into a runaway success overnight, but it can also wipe you out in a single shot.
For a start, users of these platforms think of themselves as sussed people; they're slightly off the beaten track in some cases but have a weird sense of social responsibility and values.
Companies often fall into the trap of 'let me get out there and hammer the universe with propaganda'. The fact is hard sell goes down like a ton of bricks in this space. Interacting in this sphere should be about building relationships - often with millions of faceless people. Brands operating successfully here acknowledge they have to provide a level of entertainment and engagement. They have to give something back to users and must operate with absolute integrity.
Because of this, tone is everything - you have to come across as though you're part of that world. If you're writing a blog, for instance, it can't be a front. So you can't be an individual pushing your company's products, you have to be seen as person, an objective observer with your own personal insights. Think thought leadership as opposed to sales talk.
This is the first golden rule for operating in this space: authenticity and intent. Yes it's a potent sales tool, but you have to use it correctly. Just because it's new media, it doesn't mean some of the old-school rules don't apply. So are these platforms even right for your brand?
Before you rush out and ignorantly push your products online, go back to the marketing basics and assess your target market to see if social media platforms are really the right channels for you. Don't be blindsided by the hype; do your homework first and adopt a strategic approach to your social media strategy. It may be a cost-effective medium, but just as you wouldn't place a print ad in a myriad of irrelevant print titles, so you shouldn't mindlessly blitz all the social networks you can find.
People are increasingly becoming part of niche communities and discussion groups and these present powerful opportunities for brands to engage targeted audiences in more meaningful ways. Consider intelligent forums as part of your online branding strategy.
Another major pitfall of branding in social media is the speed at which information travels. These platforms have powerful viral abilities and if you get onto the wrong side of this avalanche of response, you could practically be destroyed.
There's a lot of 'evil empire' thinking that's starting to permeate SA society. People feel ripped off by the banks, insurance companies, telecommunications companies, health insurance firms, for example, and social media allows them to voice these opinions, and even form their own consumer lobbies.
You have to consistently monitor online communications to know what people are saying about your brand and respond as quickly as possible. Crisis management is now more important than ever before. These platforms provide channels for constant interaction and two-way dialogue - something traditional marketers aren't perhaps that used to, but something they need to master - quickly.
If you consciously operate within these networks, you have to manage your presence, and part of that is committing the resources to do so. There's no point inviting users to engage, but then not interacting with them when they do. A brand is ultimately a promise delivered, and it's critical that you deliver in this space - one which dramatically accelerates that promise. The backlash if you don't breaks that promise and undermines your brand. Have a dedicated individual or team monitor and manage your communications and be ready to engage users when they reach out.
One of the easiest ways for marketers to cover all their bases when wading through the quagmire that is social media and protect their brand in this new world, is to have a social media policy that encompasses best practice. Although these platforms are constantly changing and dynamically developing, you can start by deciding how you want to engage online, where you want to have a presence and what your company determines as acceptable do's and don'ts.
Remember too the importance of integration - don't discard traditional media; rather integrate your new media campaigns with existing media for maximum effect. And in the same way that you might use traditional market research, use the data gleaned from networking with your customers to enhance your offerings.
Although social media platforms have become 'god domains', they might just be a temporary phenomena that evolve into more focused versions in time. For now, be strategic, be engaging, operate with integrity, deliver on your promise... and don't be a friend whore.
About the author
Sean McCoy is Group CEO and Johan van Wyk is Creative Director at HKLM.