Critical elements to becoming a ‘Social Brand’

Once upon a time Brands lived in a world where consumers listened to them. People would believe the advertising they saw. Brands didn’t need to listen. They didn’t need to “join a conversation” with customers. Their focus was a single message, shouted as loud as possible to as many people as possible. Life was simple back then.

Then along came social media.

Suddenly this gave customers a voice. They could contact brands directly, and communicate with them one-on-one. They could share their “like” for brands with not only immediate friends and family, but also hundreds of contacts they hadn’t seen in years, and even complete strangers who had chosen to “follow” them. It also became just as easy for customers to voice their displeasure about a brand, and even more worrying for brands – to a much larger audience of online contacts that consumers have connected with.

Some brands started to adapt. They recognized the change in technology, and in the way people express themselves online and in every day life. These brands recognized that they needed to earn their place in peoples lives, not just expect it. They learned that to be “liked” by consumers you must give then something of value in return. They learnt that if people spoke to them, it was only polite to respond.

Brands like BestBuy have adapted well to this new world. But for every brand that has evolved, there are countless others who have not evolved. Or their attempts at “becoming social” have fallen over because they have treated it as a short-term campaign that has a start and an end date. Developing a social brand is more than setting up a facebook page or a twitter account. It involves many aspects including behavioral research, content creation, monitoring and measurement, and the most time-consuming bit – community management.

In a recent blog post Katy Thorbahn from Razorfish highlights some of the critical elements required in building a social brand. She points out that marketers need to shift “away from being obsessed with social platforms (“I need a Facebook page!”) and back to really understanding the audience and creating compelling, engaging and meaningful programs for them as a result.

Critical elements to becoming a social brands

1) Behaviorally focused account planning.
Having a deep understanding of the audience demographic and psychographic profiles is critical. Brands need to not only know what people think and feel, but also how they behave, respond, and interact. This information is critical to be able to develop social experiences that the customers will connect with.

2) Content strategy and creation.
In the world of social media you need Content. It is one of the key social currencies that brands need to generate. Content needs to be planned in advance. Each piece of content must have a purpose that appeals in some way to the audience that will consume it. There needs to be a content creation plan. Who will generate the content? Who needs to sign it off? How frequently will it be generated? What online channels should we distribute it via? How can we make it easier for consumers to share our content? There are lots of questions that need to be answered when devising a content strategy.

3) User-experience design driven by customer insight.
When you know the needs of your audience, you can create online experiences that closely align with these needs, and ultimately magnify user engagement. Katy Thorbahn puts it nicely when she says it “… becomes the differentiator between simply having a presence in social and really enabling a social experience with your brand.”

4) Deep technological expertise.
The main social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are evolving rapidly, and becoming more and more complex as they develop new and more powerful functionality that brands can leverage. To take advantage of this new functionality you need to keep on top of these changes. The Facebook Social Graph API is one example of this. Without a deep understanding of this technology it would be easy to miss some of the most powerful features that Facebook can offer brands.

5) Interactive media design.
Media planning is still playing a critical role in social media. Although social media provides an opportunity for “earned media” when people start interacting with your content, “paid media” can also play a big part in building campaign awareness and initial groundswell. Although often not executed very well by media agencies, there is a big opportunity to design a media plan that reflects the behavior of the audience online and through social networks. Different social networks also appeal to users in different ways, so what is right for facebook, may not be right for twitter. Campaign planning and the supporting media must take this into consideration.

6) Real-time data analytics.
Digital media has prided itself on being measurable with the invention of the “click”. When it comes to social media, “conversation” and “user interactions” are the two metrics that need to be tracked. A single-view of this is sometimes difficult to get, but things are slowly improving. The most important thing is to analyse any data you get, and look for trends and insights that will help evolve your social strategy in the future.

If a brand factors these things in before jumping into social media, they will be doing a lot better than most. What do you think? Are there other critical factors that will help a brand become social?

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