What is the truth about a brand?
Every brand thinks that they are either able to control their brand message or (at the very least) manage it through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and beyond. Sugared beverages will spend millions trying to convince you that they care about youth obesity by sharing healthy factoids about humanity, while fried food companies will try to calm your nerves with recipe suggestions. It’s not manipulation so much as it is their newfound ability to be a publisher and put out into their world thinly-veiled content as an engine of positive brand perception. It’s not for the intelligentsia… it’s for the great masses. Those in the middle. Those who are vaguely paying attention to the newfound brand narrative. In some instances, it works, it connects and populates. In most instances, the brands don’t even stick with it long enough to know if it moved any needles. We used to say that Google is like an elephant… it never forgets. Now, in a world of Snapchat, retweets and 15 seconds of video on Instagram, it’s less about the Internet never forgetting and much more about, "what have you done for me in this instance?"
The feeds lie.
Glance through your newsfeeds. What do you see? It could be Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or whatever. All that we see is what’s in the moment. If someone is ranting against an airline, that will be the bulk of what you see. The vast majority won’t do the journalistic work of digging beyond these micro pieces of content to see if there’s any truth or substance to what we see. It gets stranger than that. How often have you been in a scenario when an individual’s tweet gets retweeted and adjusted. It could be for context or because some space had to made to fit within the 140 characters limit? I’m guilty as charged of changing someone’s tweet to fit the maximum space. I do my best to respect the context, but who knows if those individuals are happy about it.
Enter Weird Twitter.
Yes, Weird Twitter. Originally, this non-connected group on Twitter popped up by creating strange and absurd scenarios in response to people’s tweets. It quickly evolved to the point where they would retweet and "tweak" someone else’s tweets (and not in a good way). In a world where any piece of content can be shared, these Weird Twitter people are now pulling off their own version of AdBusters as a way to culturejam the brands or subvert their messages. As reported in the Wall Street Journal‘s August 4th, 2013 article, Some Twitter Users Push Back on Ads (make sure to listen to the audio component as well in the link), it’s not just that individuals are changing the brand’s content in their own newsfeeds, they’re now starting to engage with the brands. This may seem minimal at this point, in terms of time wasted, but it’s not hard to imagine how this can escalate.
The reason this matters.
If Weird Twitter is any inkling about how users truly feel about the commercialization and advertising that is both pervasive and lucrative in social media, brands will also have to begin to accept that they not only don’t control their brands (not a new concept), but that even attempting to find the truth (for those who would be inclined to search, dig and better understand the discourse) may as well be all but lost in a world where the manipulation of content is as simple as touching a screen. Can brands protect themselves? They can. It will be costly, time consuming and – ultimately – not worth the hassle and headache. As such, we may be entering the age of truth in branding. A place where a brand is not a unique set of shared emotions through general consensus, but rather an ambiguous mix of content and emotions that are not as clear or easy to define as it once was.
The truth about brands was never really about that one thing that the corporations wanted us all to believe. Now, that mix of emotions is available for all to see and it’s morphing at warp speed.