current writings on all things

Social Media: Is it good for your brand?

Is it good for your brand? There has been a lot of hype over the past year or so about Social Media Marketing, and how companies are using Twitter and Facebook to reach new consumers. In addition to being able to blog from their web site, everybody wants a Facebook page and a link to follow their company on Twitter. It seems that everyone is pushing social media as the ultimate “new” way to market products, services and brands to potential customers and their friends. But do these social media tactics really work, and are they appropriate for your brand?   Social media marketing, in theory, is about creating a following (or “tribe”) of people who will become advocates and champions for a company’s product or services. Because of the very nature of the Web, social media marketing is “viral,” meaning that people will forward to their friends what they like or don’t like. In this manner, social media can be compared with another, more dubious kind of marketing technique, the direct sales “party,” like those used by Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, Amway, and many others. The idea behind those business models is that if one person likes a brand, they will tell all of their friends about it (and even go so far as invite them to a sales party where guests can “learn” all about a product and feel trapped and obligated into making a purchase).   What is interesting to note about all of the hype surrounding Twitter and Facebook is that nobody, it seems, can clearly demonstrate how to monetize the tactics and make it a valuable promotional vehicle for a brand. Likewise, the waning popularity of other social networking sites such as MySpace and LinkedIn seems to indicate that the use of social media is more of a fad. And according to Nielsen Online, 60%-70% of users who use Twitter one month do not return the next. This is due to the fact that currently there is very little compelling content available—right now it seems to be more of a popularity contest between Ashton Kutcher and Larry King than (how many Facebook friends or Followers do you have?). Bombarding people with advertising and marketing messages while they are updating their Facebook page or ‘tweeting’ might elicit a negative response to the brand, as people don’t want to be distracted and “sold to” all the time.   This is not to say that all social media is bad or not worthwhile to pursue. Quite the contrary: it clearly is a powerful communication medium that proved its relevance during the recent Iranian elections, in which the medium was one of the only ways that the rest of the world could follow the turmoil that followed (Iranian television and media is controlled by the central government). Facebook is great for reconnecting with old friends or classmates, and to share personal lives with others. Some companies have posted Facebook pages (Indicia Design included), which allow for people to become “fans” of the brand, post comments to their “wall” and link back to the company’s web site. This is an example of how to use social media in a non-intrusive way that will help build perception and goodwill about your products or services.   If your company sells a product (B2B or B2C), social media can be a great way to solicit feedback and offer updates or special promotions to consumers. For example, a restaurant looking to fill empty tables can blast a coupon via Twitter and reach a broad range of people, from loyal customers to their friends. A recent article in BusinessWeek (July 13, 2009) showcases how Intuit is using social media to let diehard users of QuickBooks offer support to other users of the product through an online forum…in essence, free technical support. In doing so, Intuit’s market share allegedly jumped 4% since the launch of this new online community.   Using social media marketing to promote a brand can be much like opening the proverbial “Pandora’s box”—and unless a company is willing to take the good with the bad, it might be wise to wait out all the hype surrounding it before investing too much time or money. Editing negative comments from a blog or Facebook wall will make the brand appear to be disingenuous. Disgruntled or former employees can post harmful or derogatory remarks (as well as company secrets), and once released into cyberspace, it is impossible to retract. Short of paying a full time person to update an online forum, web site, or Facebook page, there is really no way to monitor the information that is being communicated about your brand. And unfortunately, the law is struggling to keep up with all of the issues that might arise through the use of social media marketing and tactics.   There are many unknowns when it comes to the effectiveness of social media marketing. As a communication tool, it has demonstrated its power to disseminate information to the masses. As a way of soliciting immediate feedback and targeting specific users for a mass-market consumer product, it may be effective in some instances. Before diving head first into what may be shallow water, companies might be wise to invest more resources into their current web sites by providing more relevant content or ways for consumers to interact with the brand online (through forms, surveys, online communities, blogs, etc.). These are uncharted waters, and while there may be hidden treasure below the surface, there are a lot of dangers as well. And one false move or misstep into social media marketing could derail even the most beloved brands.   —Ryan Hembree, principal/brand strategy