Why you need to train your brand to be social

Brands are like people. They are conceived, born, maybe not all equally, and become the responsibility of the brand manager or the parent.

They learn, adapt, develop and mature. Most importantly, they interact with their external environment and develop relationships. Like people, they become social beings – they look for friends and people look to become friends with them. All easier said than done.

Brands appear on TV and in newspapers. They compete for space on supermarket and retail shelves. They adorn billboards and the back of buses. The point is, like the popular kids, they spread themselves around. But has this approach become too impersonal? Good friends want to socialise. And so do consumers.

Check out these stats:

• 91 percent say consumer reviews are the #1 aid to making buying decisions. (JC Williams Group)
• 87 percent trust a friend’s recommendation over a critic’s review. (Marketing Sherpa)
• Consumers are three times more likely to trust peer opinion, over advertising messages when making purchasing decisions. (Jupiter Research)
• One word-of-mouth conversation has the impact of 200 TV ads. (BuzzAgent)

Consumers want to do their socialising with brands online away from the glare and anonymity of media chatter. Spitting out one-way messages between Friends reruns won’t cut it in the digital space.

Sadly, too many brands don’t have the skills to hold online conversations. They’re awkward and ill at ease.

If brands are to venture online they’re expected to engage and take part in meaningful, two-way conversations. This means listening first and responding last.

According to Nielsen, nearly two million Kiwis have looked to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands, and almost half have published their own opinions specifically about products, services and brands.

Social media isn’t just about chat. It’s a channel that can also provide important brand insights.

Remember, people information is power:

• Market segmentation: generate better understanding by listening to who is talking about your brand and what they are saying. Divide the conversations up by demographic: age, gender, location and so on.
• Competitor analysis: learn what people are saying about your competitors. Use these insights to respond.
• Reputation management: understand what your market really thinks so you can refine your brand messages and create meaningful content, respond immediately to unhappy customers and reward the happy ones.
• Online research: learn about new trends in your industry.
R&D: find gaps in the market and develop new ideas.
Internal engagement: If your staff don’t love what they do, they won’t love the brand. Empower them to speak for the brand online and they’ll become your best brand ambassadors.

But whatever social media strategy is adopted, it doesn’t replace a brand strategy. And while successful branding has always been about storytelling, social media has given consumers the vehicle to become storytellers as well. They are telling stories in real time – and you'd better make sure  you’re reading from the same page.

Kaleb Francis is senior account manager at Marque Creative

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