The "I Like You" Myth

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What does Social Media really mean to brands?

Brands will talk about listening. Brands will talk about using Social Media as an additional channel for their customer service. Brands will tell you that Social Media is all about a conversation. Let’s put aside the brands that are outright lying about it all – the ones that are simply attempting to leverage Social Media as a free media channel to blast consumers with their messages. We can put those brands aside and look at the ones that are actually trying to do something different and engaging in Social Media. The question is this: are those brands really all that "social"?

The argument for brands and Social Media.

Personally, I’m less excited about the idea that brands can engage in a "conversation." The more sniffing around I do, the less I see conversations and the more I see moments of engagement. For the most part, they’re not all that consistent and it’s hard to tell how the story comes together as an observer (what was the beginning, middle and the end?). What seems obvious between the brand and a consumer (a disgruntled or happy one) is somewhat hard to follow if all you’re doing is watching the back and forth take place. The brands that want to win in the Social Media space can start with a very simple tactic: make all of the interesting things that they do as shareable and as findable as possible. The brands that make their content as shareable and as findable as possible are the brands who will find and connect with the people who are actually interested in them. If the brand does a lot of things right, they can expect the outcome to be some nice engagement. If they really connect with consumers – and the consumers connect back to the brand and to one another – they may… just may… find a semblance of a conversation.

Most brands still do a lot of naval gazing.

Even the brands that we hold up as best case examples for engaging in Social Media still tend to have a massive case of narcissism going on. How often do you run into a Facebook page for a brand that you like and the main call to action is "like us on Facebook!" The lack of subtlety is painfully obvious. They want you (the consumer) to like them. If you (the consumer) would like to connect, share and exchange… you have to like them. Here’s a novel idea: it’s called, Social Media… Instead of consumers liking brands, why don’t brands start liking consumers? I’m not just talking about an autofollow command. I’m talking about genuinely and authentically taking the time to not only follow them back, but to add value to their community… in their spaces.

For example… 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many brands have a Blog and then be able to see how often they respond to comments on their own Blog versus how often they engage in the comments section of the Blogs of their consumers and the industry that they serve? How active are they really in the community that they serve? We tend to applaud brands for having a Twitter account or a Facebook page as if the very act of being present should be enough for consumers. We give standing ovations to those who resolve customer service issues on Twitter and Facebook, but – in the end – isn’t all of that really one-sided in favor of the brand?

True Social Media Marketing.

The future of brands won’t be about ads on Facebook or responding to a crisis on Twitter. The true future of brands will be about how truly social they are. Being social isn’t a one-way street (that is broadcasting and that is traditional media). The new, integrated brands that win will be the ones who are more active within the community than they are in their own spaces. If they’re not, then they’re just broadcasting and creating some engagement as a well-intentioned form of pandering to the new channels (and, it way more like advertising than marketing). It’s important for brands to live what they truly stand for. Brands that are currently spending their days chasings, fans, friends, likes, follows and ratings are completely missing the point.

What do you think? Are brands active enough in their communities?


  1. I agree with you Mitch. Facebook is really a massive display ad network. Nothing more. Remove it and social is much smaller. There is no conversation. We dive bomb in and out randomly aside from the 2 or 3 brands we love that engage with us back. It is a great instant customer service tool that takes away some calls and gives freedom enough to see praise or criticism of a more authentic nature. But I really don’t want to talk with brands via social media. I see them everywhere I know they have a web site I know someone monitors the Twitter even though for a popular brand good luck being responded too. But I think you can leverage it in ways that didn’t exist before such as brand ambassadors and even a more personal experience vs brand to person.

  2. Too often brands lack the will to invest the time, the resources and the energy that are required to do it right. They are missing an opportunity to stay current with what the market wants. You can learn more by being active in your community than with “biased” focus groups and surveys (I say bias because people do not always speak their mind due ti the format or the questions). Moreover, a switch into the measure of success is needed before we can see their community managers do something less than chasing likes, fans and followers.

  3. Nice point, instead of the current “social influence” which seems to be more about a popularity contest and vanity metrics, we should rate companies on their “social contribution”.
    The 2011 Chadwick Martin Bailey Consumer Pulse Report showed that 57% of consumers who like brands did so in order to benefit from an offer.
    It’s no wonder one of the biggest barriers to social marketing is inability to measure ROI, a “like” as you point out, does not represent a quantifiable return.
    Effort would certainly be better spent bringing value to their customers communities to generate real conversation and learn more about their markets, instead of chasing empty popularity numbers.

  4. Great post! I especially love the point about brands actually being genuinely involved in the communities they serve and being less narcissistic. Often times, brands enter the social media realm as a matter of necessity and do not embrace the nature of the medium; the result usually seems quite contrived.
    Unfortunately, many brands forget that conversation involves at least two parties.

  5. Excellent post. I think social media and other new (awesome) technologies have kind of blurred the issue. Brands should always be engaged in the communities regardless of platform. Brands should always be like people: 3 Dimensional, often exquisite, sometimes flawed and always willing to learn/improve.

  6. Well said! True engagement takes a LOT of effort. In our personal lives, it takes quite a bit of time and effort to catch up with our friends, comment on their statuses, read their blogs, etc.
    But brands could do this as well, they just need full time staff for it to work.

  7. I know you’ve heard this already this morning, but great post Mitch,
    The more we get involved with brands and how their marketing themselves, the more I see what you said above to be so true.
    They’ve been told (either by themselves or someone) that they gotta put up a Facebook page, and be on Twitter. They go onto these channels, trying to pump out good content (which is good), but that’s all they have budgeted for (i.e. Time).
    In addition to what you said above, I found that no matter what I said their mindset of “well produce tones of content, and just get people to follow us” didn’t change. This was until I started talking about customer experience, and how the best brands in the world regardless of social media us, all focus on amazing customer experience.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Well done Joel! Again you hit the sore spot that companies are afraid to look at. Social media is just that Social. Which means you join conversations, you do not force your pitch onto them. Could you imagine a conversation you are having with some friends, then someone comes over and gives a sales pitch. or asks you to like their company or brand. People forget that Social media is just and extension of social communication. If a company or brand can not make the effort to support the conversation then they should not be a part of it. Although I think most companies are afraid to admit that they do not know how to have conversations without being the marketer/sales persona. Maybe it’s time brands start practicing being people.

  9. I agree with your post, Mitch, but I think this problem is less about narcissism than it is about overwhelming fear of the public’s reaction. Many brands still seem to live in that world of reactivity and crisis management. The Internet and social media have forced brands to pull their heads out of the sand and see what LOTS of people are saying, more people than ever before. Because of that fact I think there’s panic about the fact that that segment of the population that isn’t impressed with your product is able to publicize their thoughts for all to see. But you can’t please all the people all the time, right? Seeing those people who aren’t pleased is nervewracking, though, and it feels like brands are still reacting to that vulnerability and exposure rather than moving past it to a proactive place. So they rely on what they know — broadcasting and naval gazing.
    It’s cruddy, and it’ll be refreshing when some brands start jumping from the ship of panic and heading toward the land of acceptance and, thus, valuable contribution.

  10. I too like and agree with your post. Too often it is a numbers game just collecting likes and follows. For the large corporations it’s about ROI, and they are not convinced that the investment in the social community will do them more good than harm. Some get it. Most do not.

  11. I actually don’t want people to “Like” my product – I want them to use it. So somewhat tongue in cheek I did a “Please Don’t Like Us” Facebook landing page for
    I actually do believe that we have nothing to say that would be so compelling in someone’s Facebook news feed that they would want to read it – as people don’t tend to use Facebook for its feed – like they use Twitter.
    Maybe “not liking” will catch on, and virtual and real conversations will still be the norm with people telling other people about a brand they like and why so and so should use it/buy it.

  12. I’m conflicted about this post. I have had the opportunity to see inside several major brands over the past months and I think many of them would be delighted to see social media go away. It won’t, but I think the ROI on engagement is still hazy. One brand has 20-25 people on a Twitter staff. Another has created a new “connections” department. Lot of cost … But you have to be there, right? Right?

  13. Mitch, I’m going to have to kindly disagree. As Chris Bradley pointed out, most people ‘Like’ a business of Facebook to get an offer or save some cash with a coupon, not to sing kumbaya and dish about the latest gossip about their in-laws.
    That’s what FRIENDS are for (“Keep smilin’/Keep shinin’…”).
    This was pointed out before (I think maybe Jay Baer mentioned it), but how many brands that you actually like have you actually ‘Liked’? I love Apple products, but I don’t ‘Like’ their Facebook Page, ‘Follow’ them on Twitter, or ‘Yelp’ about them on well, Yelp. But I have a stronger connection to that brand than some of the businesses I have ‘Liked’ to save some money.
    And yeah, the coupons I’ve received for them brought me to their door and helped open my wallet at their cash register. And some have impressed me enough to turn me into a repeat customer.
    But I have no illusions about what the relationship is. I’m a customer of that business. I’m not their friend, I’m not their homey, I’m not their penpal. I am someone who’s willing to buy their services.
    People don’t connect with brands or businesses. People connect with people. And no, Corporations are not actual people, no matter what the law says.
    And people aren’t dumb. If it wasn’t for my wallet, these companies wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I know it, and they know it.
    And that’s what BUSINESS is for.

  14. I agree with Nick: Consumers see businesses for what they are: a place to buy stuff. They don’t see them as friends, and probably never will.
    Consumers also understand that no matter how wonderful a “customer experience” is, the relationship between consumer and company is still financial.
    A company will never treat you like a friend, because a friend will give you the shirt off his back. A company will insist you pay for it.

  15. Brands and consumers (people) are different. People are social, brands are institutions. Very rarely are brands also people (exceptions being in sports, entertainment, politics, etc… where the person is the brand).
    When I make a purchase at Target, I have a social interaction with the Target employee, not Target. And that’s all I want and need.
    As a consumer, I don’t expect a brand to be social, nor do I have any desire for this.

  16. I work from the brand side and personally I think we can be out of touch. We have a great opportunity through social media and microblogging sites to prove our industry expertise and we yet we don’t. Partly, this is due to rules and regs on forums and internally and it’s partly due to laziness.
    However, you do find some staff engaging off their own back which is fantastic. I just hope this doesn’t lead them into internal trouble by talking about things outside their area.
    Myself, I enage on the web about my job area rather than my industry (I’m in financial services so it’s tricky business) and I also look at the industries of the products we sell in terms of news, technology and what other people are doing. I think this is very important when creating a community that is of use to you, and which you can engage in.

  17. Social media is overwhelming for many brands and consumers. Creating a community is a long and engaging process. To have meaningful conversation with your friends you have to be willing to share who you are truthfully and take the time to keep that friendship alive. I think most of the time FB seems very superficial. Its another platform for more advertising. Lets see some real conversation… real generosity and unity.

  18. If a brand is going to have a conversation with the community – its clients and potential clients – then the topics for discussion need to be about the community, not the brand. That’s the idea behind, which we launched at Sun Life last month. We’re trying to fascilitate the sharing of ideas about money, health, family, working life, retirement – and we are focused on hoping they like the content as opposed to liking us.

  19. Two thumbs up, Mitch. I have also noted the broadcast versus collaboration tension within the social media realm. Broadcasting information is a superficial mechanism for building relationships and results in “fair-weather friends” or short-term interaction at best. Long-term relationships require true intimacy, a “digging deeper” into knowing and being known, which only comes from collaboration. True collaboration does go beyond commenting on each others blogs and enters the realm of co-creating. However, we cannot begin the co-creative process without engaging through such vehicles as blogs. So, here is my first attempt at intimacy within your community. I look forward to the possibility of co-creation.

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