Social Media from Outer Space
Confession Number One: I don’t have Facebook.
That is not actually that unusual anymore. In the past few years, I’ve noticed a steady stream of friends quitting the blue shores, weary of tag-tyranny and acronym-overdose. FOMO? YOLO! SUMO!? (Okay, I made that one up). So these days, I am not alone. But wait! There’s more.
Confession Number Two: I never had Facebook.
This, I believe, is more unusual for someone of my generation (too young to remember Thundercats; too old to comprehend High School Musical). It was never a purposeful boycott. I tend to use time as a quality filter when it comes to pop culture trends, so figured I’d leave it a few years and see if all the fuss was worthwhile (I’ll be all over Breaking Bad in about three years, promise).
By the time it became clear that social networks were around to stay, not only had others emerged, complicating the landscape, but I’d evolved a researcher’s fascination with observing the whole phenomenon from the outside. It’s from the outside that you start to spot broader patterns. The longer I’ve spent in brand and media research, particularly working on numerous social listening, buzz monitoring and [insert next marketing hype term] projects, the more I have begun to notice a disconnect.
Brands often seem to approach and discuss social media in a completely different way to the people who are actually using it.
Here’s the thing. Friends and strangers have naturally gawped at my alien status over the years, and incredulously wondered how I’ve managed to survive. Common queries include:
How do you keep in touch with everyone from school? (I don’t. What a terrifying concept).
How do you find out when your friends are having parties? (Kind-hearted people text me).
How do you know when hideous photos of you have been posted? (I live in ignorant bliss).
But do you know what nobody has EVER said?
‘Oh my gosh! You don’t have Twitface? How DO you keep up with your favourite brands?’
I find this intriguing. At work, I hear companies and marketers agonising over how to engage their consumers over social media, yet it’s much less frequently that I hear any of those consumers commenting on the fruits of these efforts – as they might with, say, a TV ad. Fundamentally, engaging with brands is not what social media is for. And from an outside perspective, the way brands are dealing with this feels clunky.
So instead of adding to a wealth of sensible articles on good social media strategy already existing, I’d like to take a step back and look at the whole concept from the outside. If I was an alien landing on Planet Earth and – forsaking the usual pursuit of body snatching – trying to understand the relationship between social media and brands, here are 3 key things I would want to know, and that brands could challenge themselves to think about:
Does this add anything at all to your product or service?
Are your Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest pages helping people enjoy or use your products better? Or are they all just an opportunistic advertising channel? The two aren’t mutually exclusive and there’s no doubt it’s a grey area. But I was impressed to see that when my friend tweeted lamenting a broken part on his trusty vacuum cleaner, Dyson were in touch within minutes with details of their part replacement service and a helpline he could call. Promoting your brand via social media is all very well, but asking for customers’ precious time and attention in return for a few promotions or discounts feels pretty thin as an exercise is long-term brand building – can you use social media to actually enhance your brand?
Do your customers actually WANT to be friends with you? Do you want to be friends with them?
Are you a friendly brand? Should you be? Obviously questions have been raised around the true commercial value of a fan and the real, fairly transactional reasons people sometimes ‘like’ Facebook pages. These aside, the concept of being friends with your customers isn’t necessarily a given. Our Brand Desire study shows that one of the key drivers of a desirable brand is having a personality that connects with your consumer – how they view themselves currently, their aspirations and their expectations of the category. If you’re a bank or a financial services provider, your audience might want reassurance from you, or advice – not a poll asking them what they think of the latest X-Factor result. There’s no doubt that more engagement is to be encouraged, but the tone of voice and personality needs to be sensitive to the kind of relationship you want to have with your customers – and they want to have with you.
Lastly, and potentially most brutal: do you actually have anything interesting to say?
We can’t all be witty and entertaining all the time. I’ve been involved in running a brand Facebook page and I know how hard it can be to come up with content. But watching brands try and shoe-horn their product into an ‘engaging’ post about the upcoming national holiday or public event is… well, it can get pretty desperate. Maybe you sell boilers. This is an admirable and necessary pursuit. Is this a fascinating topic for your users? For the majority, probably not. There are only so many ways you can spin it.
So be honest with yourself: if social media is all about sharing, what have you got to share that is actually of interest?
From my spaceship, I’m genuinely curious.
by Rosa Halford, Insight Consultant