Social Brands

The first report produced by Headstream in 2011 (www.headstream.com) detailed for a brand to be social it had to connect and demonstrate social principles consistently. These principles were a willingness to listen and respond, to demonstrate compelling social behaviours that are transparent and to create a win win relationship with individuals. Buckley (2011) details that social media has disrupted branding and the challenge has changed from communicating a better brand to being a better brand.

Being a social brand can be a challenge. What is a social brand? Ho (2011) distinguishes between a social brand and a social business. He posits the social brand focuses on external communications and engagement, is owned by marketing rather than the business, is measured with a variety of metrics including  clicks, impressions and likes. The goal however is the same as for the business in creating value. Ho talks about a social customer as being a customer who creates value through insights and opinions about the brand experience. Social brands may not be popular and may not be the largest global brands either. The 2011 report looked at behaviours on Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, Four Square and Gowalla.

Authenticity of engagement was seen to be a desirable behaviour despite there being a lack of clarity over the engagement concept. Behaviours include starting conversations, providing engaging content and responding. Clearly if conversations are going to be part of building relationships with the brand it is important that they are two way, seen to be meaningful and worthwhile as with any conversation.
Companies may receive many brand mentions in posts but choose not to engage in conversations with them all. There may be posts to which you deliberately choose not to respond to such as SPAM messages. Some conversations may be going on which you listen to but don’t talk at: does this mean listening is not engagement as mental processing may still be taking place?

Dahlen at al (2010) discuss engagement in the context of advertising. Where activity is required as the result of a message there are both advantages and disadvantages. People may be more attracted, they may remember an advert more and the communication effects may be superior. However despite high numbers choosing to engage in social media, many don’t and what are the motivations of those that do? Engagement leads to a lack of control about the message so although the concept of flawsomeness has been discussed staff need to be enfranchised to engage without fear of punishment. The view of a service or product after interaction may be more negative.

Dahlen et al (2010) cite the IBM digital consumer survey which categorises interaction with video. The bulk of the population were massive passives, unlikely to engage with new media with a group of kool kids who were engaged, influencers who rated the content and authors who uploaded the video. Deloitte published a media survey 2013 looking at how UK consumers interacted with media. Social media sites were seen to be far more important by the younger generation with less than a third over 25s seeing them as important with a steady decline of interest as people were older. The difference in the info graphic highlights under 24 being social first whereas over search first. It will be interesting to map whether the habits of the 24 years and under are set or will change as they need more information. A stunning figure was the average person owns 11.4 media devices.  Social networks are seen to be niche with careful targeting needed and only Facebook being important in the UK.

The practicalities of engagement depend on systems and devices. Continually logging in and out of websites to share or post comments is a frustrating activity particularly when users have different passwords for different platforms. The available technologies must prevent some engagement due to the hassle factor. Facemire and McCarthy (2013) detail design has to change from 3 tier architecture to a 4 tier engagement platform.

Both failure and success have to be acknowledged so brands indicate humanity and flawsomeness. The win win relationship is demonstrated through appropriate interactions which demonstrate the needs of the customer being understood and responded to rather than a one way message and spin. In order for the relationship to be good, brands are expected to respond and delight the customer through their interaction; the narrative that accompanies the brand is important in conveying meaning. Dahlen et al (2010) model the importance of the narrative as surrounding aspects of the brand including such things as values, beliefs with the product at the centre. The brand community may need investment in order to be able to support and deliver the brand narrative.

The creation of value is suggested to come from greater involvement of people in the brand. There are some brands which demand more involvement than others of the consumer: these could be argued to be those services where a prosumer is responsible for the collective experience e.g. contributing to discussions in a class lesson. The spirit of the brand is seen as more important than the brand guidelines. This could be a headache for those organisations who aim to tightly manage their employees through HR policies and procedures, particularly those who write tight policies around social media.

Both negative and positive sentiment has to be acknowledged. This means firms need to admit when things go wrong. Is this view a different perspective from those held by the legal beagles?

Social brands should be authentic, compelling, transparent and true argue the authors. The damage to brands through inappropriate behaviours such as phone tapping or key personnel making serious errors of judgement in their personal life is never far away from the news in November 2013. However does admission of liability make a firm more vulnerable to legal action by admitting its culpability?

The desirability of brands to be good, sell good products and services and offer good customer service would not be disagreed with as a concept. Christopher et al (1991) modelled relationship marketing as being the 3 overlapping circles of marketing, customer service and quality which underpins this last point about social brands.

The moral centre of the brand could be interpreted as being the brand values based on corporate social responsibility and people, planet with profit, however the difficulty with morals is different cultures have different underlining values and codes so one man’s moral compass may be offensive to another’s.

In the 2011 report Starbucks is number 3, yet there has been concern expressed by many about whether the brand pays its tax due in the UK: the issue is not about fraud but about how much tax should a firm pay when profits are earned in a county which differs from the head office of the company.

With this base it is interesting to look at the 2013 report. It purports to benchmark brand engagement. The survey period is reduced from the 3 months in 2011 to the six week period and the channels considered are only You Tube, Facebook and Twitter. As such the methodology would appear to be biased in favour of B2C brands rather than B2B or C2C. There is a lack of detailed explanation on the detail of the qualitative and quantitative research used in the initial report but more detail on methodology in the 2013 issue. The analytics platform used is Analytics Pro. A number of KPIs are measured including fan growth and engagement rates.

The weighting on the platforms vary with Twitter and Facebook more than twice that of You Tube and the KPIs vary per platform. Twitter is seen as less important than Facebook in the Deloitte report.  The emphasis appears to be on quantitative data easily captured by algorithms not qualitative data. In a store whilst footfall may be measured more important indicators are average spend per customer, leakage, total revenue per week etc, the measures that can be seen to contribute directly to the bottom line. Promotion has always been challenging to evaluate as much of it is wasted hence the delight of marketers who run direct marketing campaigns or in store promotions where there is sufficient data to link promotional expenditure with sales.

It would be useful to see some questioning about how real conversations are possible on Twitter due to the length of a tweet and surely the nature of the medium dictates the messages that are seen to be part of a conversation? Also an analysis of who is supposed to be in the dialogue would also be helpful given the topic may not be relevant to followers, hashtags may not always be included in tweets. You Tube has changed how comments can be posted requiring users now to log in but many videos are uploaded by people without showing their real names. This makes it difficult to evaluate the quality of the source unless the author is a known tribe leader.

Four travel companies appear in the top five. Is there any surprise here as consumers are more likely to engage in different behaviours according to the products they have bought? The research therefore could be more useful on sector comparisons.

Sponder (2013) details 10% of marketing budgets are now spent on social media marketing so the pressure for companies to demonstrate that this money is worth spending may be intense. Word of mouth is seen to be important and this is driven by social media and increasing use of mobile phones which enable access of frequent messages. Sponder (2013) details the measurement of ROI is immature and the question has to be to what extent does social media usage by brands contribute to the bottom line. There is increasing investment in the area with skills being developed in house. Sponder (2013) highlights the importance of social media management systems: tools such as Vocus enable a more structured and targeted approach to be taken to managing social media although there are limited social media platforms integrated with it and for SMEs, they may be considered out of budget. Sponder (2013) details a constant stream of quality content is necessary meaning more work for those in PR.

Word of mouth has always been used by prospects when making certain purchasing decisions. The difference with social is a dissatisfied customer’s message may reach 1375 people (Tay, 2013) rather than eight or ten pre social media days. 92% trust word of mouth from friends and family, 85% refer to online reviews although the majority read six or less. A familiar face beside reviews gives legitimacy which is why imagery associated with reviews is important.

One has to be concerned however about the number of interactions in the workplace in workplace time from a productivity viewpoint. Social Media Today posted the average worker checks their emails 36 times an hour through FOMO, fear of missing out. This gave rise to the notion of Infomaniacs. There is a flood of information and making sense of it is challenging and in the snowstorm of communication messages are easily missed.

The marketing challenge to companies is stated by Sponder as being capitalising on word of mouth recommendations and mobilising brand advocates. With word of mouth recommendations the emphasis shifts to consumers from companies who are more likely to seek out business providers which means coma lines need to e responsive and agile to inbound marketing queries. Vocus enables tracking of positive prospect interest and direct targeting to prospects when twitter feeds for example are monitored. Conversations such as queries related to where to source a product are clear buying signals. Whilst brand advocates are desirable and on the stage to becoming potential partners according to the relationship ladder of loyalty theories companies need to decide how best to use these brand advocates in practice. If the relationship becomes too commercial then the result is either paid or unpaid salesmen in the field: as soon as payment is involved in any scheme does word of mouth become worthless? There are already examples of companies manipulating behaviour such as a burger house that gave away  a burger to a customer if a number of friends were dropped: it was so successful the relevant platform pulled the burger page. There are also plenty of examples where products or brands are shared in Facebook feeds due to an incentive to the sharer to share, i.e. a sales promotion. This leads on to the question therefore whether all word of mouth is the same and what is the difference between positive narrative comment, likes, followers, subscribers etc.

Sponder (2013) details the influence of word of mouth may depend on the industry sector and the customer journey. There is perhaps an implicit assumption that it may be more important with high involvement goods but equally a share can bring a product or distribution outlet front of mind and influence behaviour.

A comment in an email that a tooth had been removed and a false one on a plate inserted led to advertisements from a dental implant centre in London on websites offering a service at a fairly cheap price. In this way product offerings become available in a timely manner and may be considered by a prospect. Perhaps it is difficult to isolate the effects of word of mouth in practice as other promotional activity happens along side through ppc campaigns.

Status updates based on a friend at a particular location such as the Royal Shakespeare Company can prompt a reader to consider whether they might also go there, or a favourable view of a theatre performance. Equally many others are ignored because they are not of remote interest to the reader and if very irritating may be hidden from feed.

According to the report three behaviours are looked for ” active listening, win win relationships and appropriate social behaviour ” which is seen to be authentic and truthful.

Reference is made to Jamain as being leaders in the social ecosystem.

Headstream discuss their interpretation of results. They detail that strategies should be considered for developing engagement. Social CRM is important in developing relationships which begs the question about CRM management tools.

Desirable behaviours of companies were seen to be the ” willingness to engage in conversations, be quick to respond”. Twitter is seen to be strong as a customer service channel. Product developments in Twitter which are reported to be ” Vine, music and Twitter cards” are seen to be important in developing the need for engagement.

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