When I look at the surprising amount of inactivity in social media from brands (and yes, there’s clearly inactivity when you compare brand vs. consumer involvement), I get the sense it’s not a failure of understanding potential; it’s the result of not finding appropriate entry points. So, I thought I’d throw out 2 of the easiest (and most under utilized) ways of leveraging social media for any brand.
1. Start by listening, not talking
Instead of starting with “what’s my Facebook strategy” or the even more dangerous premise that social media is just a new channel to broadcast your brand message, it’s actually easiest to start by using social media as an input. What most brands balk at when they first consider making that Facebook page or Twitter handle “official” is the pressure of always having something to say. Well, it turns out that it’s a lot easier to respond to people already saying things that you want to address. I’ve always dismissed the idea that you must have a well-articulated strategy for such responses. The very nature of social media environments is the same as conversations—that is, one of ongoing action/reaction. A fully developed strategy might help, but simply acting human when someone says something to or about your brand is surprisingly easy. Just be sure someone is given that responsibility, the appropriate “voice” and the commensurate authority to make things happen inside the company. Just look at the humble beginnings of @comcastcares or our recent work for @tacobelltruck. The former has very humble beginnings and now is a case study to learn from, while the latter is still nascent but evolving week by week.
If that’s still too intimidating, why not just be a silent eavesdropper? Knowing what people are saying and seeing the ebbs and flows of the brand conversation is an amazing set of data. It often provides that coveted and easily lost facet of brand effectiveness: perspective. Most brands spend lots of money gathering other types of data to fill the equivalent need, and generally yield more biased results, contrary to the claims of their research vendor.
2. Have a fling if you’re not ready for a relationship
Probably the biggest missed opportunity for brands in social media is the temporary communities that are created within it. There is a preoccupation with ongoing relationships. An obsession with Fans on Facebook or Followers on Twitter is a myopic view of this landscape. In fact, those are the objectives that tend to be most daunting once brands think through what level of commitment they’re signing up for. Some brands do this phenomenally well (multiple P&G brands illustrate this pattern of having an editorial/promotional calendar that’s used to scale up ongoing relationships) and I would encourage any brand capable of it to start there; it’s too valuable an opportunity to pass on if feasible.
That said, many of the more hesitant brands might find it much easier to capitalize on communities of non-friends. “Social media” as it’s written on marketing department whiteboards tends to convey networks of people that already know each other using digital tools to STAY in touch. But, what about those relationships that exist only as a RESULT of social media? The communities that pop-up via YouTube video responses, @-mentions on Twitter, mobile networking at the same event, or shared comments on a piece of popular editorial?
These clearly aren’t communities of “friends.” These people aren’t looking at each other’s family photos or inviting one another out for dinner, yet they share powerful connections nonetheless. Most brands neglect this facet of social media, but this more fleeting end of the social media spectrum offers the easiest entry point. These opportunities to engage momentarily require few resources, yet are potentially powerful. Sure, credibility is a concern as no one wants to have your brand pop into a conversation and talk about themselves, but joining a conversation with a relevant point-of-view or contribution is simple if you know what your brand stands for. In fact, using questions rather than statements in this scenario tends to be met with acceptance and a surprising amount of interaction.
Yes the points above are only a first step, but in all the talk about brands in the social media space, it’s easy to forget that this step tends to be the hardest.