The Value Of Brands In Social Media

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What if we started with business… how would we do?

How badly do people want to be connected with brands? I’ve been thinking a lot about the pervasiveness of brands in the social media channels. From a business perspective, it could not make me happier. Watching brands do everything they can do to better connect with their consumers and create a powerful and direct relationship will be critical for their future success and loyalty. From a consumer perspective, it’s doubtful that there was ever a moment in time where they have been so inundated by brands in every nook and cranny of their media diet. As the pervasiveness of social media rolls on, we’re now seeing brands in some of our most intimate social spaces.

Where the brands are.

So, here’s the thing. This week, Facebook made some significant changes in how people can connect with brands (and vice-versa). It all started with an article from ReadWrite titled, Mark Cuban: Facebook Is Driving Away Brands – Starting With Mine. From the article: "Cuban and other corporate Facebook members are howling because new rules on the social network make it harder for brands to reach people without spending big money on sponsored posts. That’s because in September Facebook changed the algorithm that controls which messages get through to which members. The result is that some brands a sharp dropoff in the reach of their posts – as much as 50% in some cases. Facebook insists it isn’t choking off reach as a way to push brands to spend more on sponsored posts. Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine which people see which posts. EdgeRank uses a lot of factors, including how often your friends log in to Facebook and what settings they choose on their news feeds, the company says." Later in the week, Facebook announced that they would rolling out a feed for "pages only." "The feature lets you access the new view on your News Feed homepage by clicking ‘Pages feed’ on the left-hand side," says the news item, Facebook’s New Pages Feed Corrals Brands — And Gives Brand-Fatigued Users Some Space, published today on ReadWrite. "Though Page owners might be nominally pleased by the gesture, it’s hard to imagine what might inspire a Facebook user to hop over to the new view. Facebook says the new brand-only feed makes it ‘even easier for people to keep up with the Pages they care about most.’ Corraling Pages into their own pen could at least ease some psychological brand weariness among users, a flavor of fatigue that’s already begun taking its toll on brands and users alike."

The moment of truth.

In January 2010, I published a blog post titled, The Moment Of Truth. That blog post looked at how The New York Times was about to launch a paywall. The moment of truth was about figuring out whether or not the mass public would pay for content online. I believe that these next few months may well be the moment of truth for social media.

But first, let’s make up a story…

Imagine a new online social network that was created by brands, for brands. Anyone can join (and membership is free) and this online social network allows everyone to connect to the brands that matter most to them. They can comment on products and services, speak with brand ambassadors, check out sales, new product information, get special promotions and more. Sure, you could chat with your friends and fellow brand lovers, but the main purpose of this, specific, online social network would be to connect to brands. Does this sound interesting? Do you think this would be a viable business model? Do you believe that people would have a desire (similar to the way they engage with Twitter and Facebook) to be active on this type of online social network? Could this become a destination?

We shall see.

These next few years are going to be very telling for brands. Companies like Facebook are doing the right thing: they’re allowing brands more access to people. What will be interesting is to see what the customers really, really want from brands, and just how much engagement they’re actually interested in. My guess is that it’s going to be significantly less than what brands would have hoped for. In that, these brands are going to blame social media for a lack of performance. Sad, isn’t it? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and everything else is simply a place where people are congregating. Thinking that this is a treasure trove for brands could be a mistake.

What’s your take?


  1. I pause live TV so that I can FF through adverts. I hit mute if there is no pause. The first I ever noticed the Pages Feed was reading this post. IOW, I hate the noise of ads. Having said that, not all Pages are ads, so there is a lot of interest in seeing the non-ad pages. In fact… I just now realized that I have been missing a lot of content that I am interested in.
    Funny thing is that several of the pages I subscribe to are also followed on Twitter, so I didn’t miss everything.
    Perhaps a nice balance would be to show pages on the right and news feed on the left of the new bifurcated column structure on Facebook. That would make more sense than having half of your news feed on the left and half on the right (which is like reading a newspaper article back and forth across two columns.)
    Good article Mitch. Like figuring out which tax policy works, the only way to find out is to try and that will ALWAYS be a disruptive method.

  2. Nobody ever created a social network because they thought it would be a great way for brands to connect to their customers (your fake story is bang on there). Brands have shown up to the social media party basically uninvited.
    As a marketer, I face a conundrum here – while The consumer side of me has little or no interest in talking to a “brand” on twitter or Facebook, the marketer side of me continually looks for ways to connect brands I work with to people using these tools.
    I think what needs to happen is, brands need to stop putting their products, services, and company image first, and start putting their people first. I’d rather know George at Pepsi than “faceless community manager du jour” at Pepsi. I don’t care if you’re the community manager. I care that you’re a real, interesting human being with a life. Get to know me, I’ll get to know you, and the next time I reach for a drink out of the cooler at the Mac’s Milk, it might just be yours.

  3. Interesting piece Mitch. I kinda think you’ve falled into the same trap that a lot of digital strategists fall into though.
    It’s counter-productive to talk in terms of brands and consumers and engagement, etc.
    These terms are too broad and lack definition.
    Working backwards… engagement means different things to different people. To some brands, “likes” equal engagement (the same goes for retweets). But from the point of view of the person who clicked “like” or retweeted something, it might simply be that they responded to a piece of content… not the brand.
    I might take advantage of the two-for-one offer code on the Dominos Pizza Facebook page, but I might not want my friends to think of me as a cheapskate who eats a lot of convenience food. It might feel like engagement to Dominos, to me it feels like cheap pizza.
    I could write another 500 words on this. But this isn’t the place.
    As for consumers and brands… a consumer of hotdogs is not the same as a consumer of high-end cosmetics. An 18 year old who wears Levis and owns an iPhone is not the same beast as his/her 50 mother who also wears Levis and owns an iPhone.
    Brands that sell to businesses have harder battles to fight than those who sell to consumers (*generalisation klaxon*) when it comes to justifying their use of digital channels.
    Ultimately, I think that brands obsess way too much about engaging with people.
    It’s too artificial a concept.

  4. Susan – I couldn’t agree more. I often find myself reading things from social marketers (and it usually is people who work in social who do this) and all their talk of engagement and audience and what-have-you leaves me thinking…. “this was written by someone who has heard of people, but never actually met any.”

  5. Hi Mitch,
    Love your blog, posts, content, muse and thoughts. We agree with you and Mark Cuban – Facebook has no well articulated strategy for business accounts (brands).
    Understandably, their growth engine has been consumer-centric. But, they need to support business accounts moving forward. For smaller brands (not majors a la Victoria Secrets, Zappos, etc.) it’s so hard setting up business accounts and even doing things that should be simple like connecting other apps (Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) to a business profile is maddening and convoluted. And, then the Newsfeed doesn’t work right half of the time, Likes are not added properly (the server hiccups over and over), they change the rules of the road with yet another “Edge Rank” change.
    We manage multiple client brands and we experience the same problems over and over. As you and Mark pointed out, paying for exposure for social connections is highway robbery. We and many small brands would much prefer (I know we may sound like heretics) paying a reasonable monthly fee for a business account that would come with at least minimal (better than LinkedIn) customer service support and ongoing connectivity to Fans, Followers without paying some kind of surcharge. Maybe a sliding charge based on connections that would not be astronomical.
    All Facebook has to do is look at LinkedIn’s model but improving the TOS. I could go on and rant some more. But, again, wanted to underscore some of your points with our own experiences and perspective.
    Lee Traupel

  6. Sean – the fact that you care that you made a typo is one of the many reasons why I always read the comments on this blog (and pretty much only here). The comments are well written and thoughtful. This community of readers cares about ideas and communicating them clearly.
    And … I didn’t even notice your error πŸ™‚

  7. Lee, I’m with you here – a small fee for access is something I’d present to my client brands for consideration.
    But I’d like to challenge Mitch’s theoretical social media channel scenario by adding some complexity in the form of Privacy and VRM (Vendor Relationship Management).
    As a consumer, there are times when I do not want to be contacted by brands, be exposed to brand messages or be sold to. Enable my privacy and keep silent when I say so.
    When I DO want brands to communicate with me, is generally when I’m thinking of buying and entering the research step of the sales funnel. Imagine I can share limited information about myself in order to gain car insurance quotes from a range of suppliers… I review the information but only reveal my actual name and email address to the one I select to do business with.
    I would also love to have a customer service route for the times when I want to complain / get attention and get service that is driven through social – it’s easy to use.
    Take a look at Doc Searl’s and Adriana Lukas work on VRM
    Also – William Heath’s personal identity store which is being adopted by the UK government
    A personal data store (PDS) can be opened and closed at will – you can share what you want with whom you want and shut off that access if the brand misbehaves.
    VRM and PDS will keep brands honest – those that mis-judge customer communications will be shut out of the conversation and shut out of access to consumers’ personal contact details.
    What sort of responsibility will that push onto brands?
    What sort of lobbying power will consumers have if they can en masse block an unfavored brand?
    Welcome to the brave new world!

  8. Stellar post Rebecca and thank you so much for the kudos too.
    MyDex is “game changing” technology. Not sure how it would be integrated with the social graph though; but, love the concept; i.e. putting control back in the hands of consumers, which we are all in dire need of.

  9. Rebecca you captured my initial, gut reaction exactly.
    As marketers, we all want to believe that customers will want to engage with us because we are so great and our products are so earth shattering. We hear many experts tell us that we need to be everywhere to build “community” and foster “coversation” so we set up profiles on Twitter, pages on Facebook and every other possible network that might be “the one” where we catch on.
    Through that all, we ignore the consumer side of our brain that fast forwards commercials, installs ad blocking software and moves to because we’re frustrated with promoted tweets on Twitter.
    It’s the rare customer who actually wants to engage with a “brand” anywhere, let alone where they spend their social time. But, in the instances where the “brand” was represented by an actual person, there seems to have been some uptake. Look at Richard @ Dell, for example. People know they are connecting with a person.
    Even in those cases, though, these social tools are little more than faster or easier ways to connect with customer service. It’s hard to identify those brands that people connect with in the same way they connect with their friends and family.
    I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s tons of evidence out there of what the answer isn’t.
    Whoever figures it out, though, is going to make a killing…

  10. Personally, I like the connect with customer service route – so many people use it that is is becoming the de-facto call center solution. What I don’t like is the fact that brands don’t tell ALL their customers that using social media will get you to the front of the queue faster. That dis-enfranchises those without an internet connection.
    I am a die-hard direct marketer and so although you forecast someone making a killing by enabling brands to connect through social with their audiences, I just don’t think that is part of the role a brand should be playing.
    Marketing communications can use social channels and can run funny contests, share memes and so on, but it’s not about brand engagement. Don’t fool yourself – consumers aren’t out there to make friends with a cornflake packet.

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